Catalogue of the Marconi Archive now available online

7 November 2008

marconi_smallA detailed catalogue of the Marconi Archive in the Bodleian Library is now available online, unlocking this significant collection for wider use by researchers in a number of fields.

The online catalogue of the Marconi Archive will be launched on 7 November 2008 and provides a comprehensive guide to its contents, with links to the existing website featuring images of many of the significant documents described in the catalogue.

During the cataloguing process, a number of fascinating items were uncovered, including records relating to Marconi’s experimental work in the development of wireless telegraphy from his earliest demonstration in Britain carried out on the roof of the General Post Office in London in 1896, to the achievement of transatlantic wireless communication in 1901 and then to worldwide radio communication.

The catalogue permits the extent and scope of the collection to be fully appreciated for the first time. In all, the Marconi Archive extends to 4480 boxes, volumes and items, occupying some 400 linear metres of shelving and ranking it among the largest archival collections acquired by the Bodleian.

Of especial interest are records relating to the Titanic disaster in 1912. The role played by wireless telegraphy in saving lives during this tragic event is well documented in the archive, which features the logs of ships’ radio operators recording the first and last distress signals from the Titanic as well as thousands of other messages exchanged before, during and after the emergency.

Notable material in other parts of the Archive includes:

  • records relating to the Moscow trial of Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company engineers on charges of wrecking activities and spying in power stations in the Soviet Union in 1933;
  • papers of the British Thomson-Houston Company relating to its role in the construction and testing of Frank Whittle’s first experimental jet engine from 1935 onwards;
  • photographs of the English Electric Company’s aircraft works in Preston, showing the production of Halifax bombers during World War 2 - one of several fine series of images of products and premises in the collection.

Besides documents relating to Guglielmo Marconi and his Wireless Telegraph Company, there are records of numerous other electronic and electrical engineering companies, all of which were ultimately absorbed into the General Electric Company (GEC) which in 1999 changed its own name to Marconi.

The Marconi Collection was donated to the University of Oxford by Marconi plc in December 2004 and is currently housed in the Bodleian Library and the Museum of the History of Science. A three year project funded by the late Douglas Byrne under the auspices of the Wireless Preservation Society enabled the sorting, arrangement and cataloguing of the vast archive. A further grant is to fund the endowment of the Byrne Marconi Visiting Fellowship, intended to support study in the Marconi and related archives in Bodleian and the Marconi objects in the Museum of the History of Science.

Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director, Bodleian Library, said: ‘The collection will be of interest to researchers in the history of science, business and social history, and to technical enthusiasts who can draw on the outstanding depth and breadth of the archive. The Bodleian Library is delighted to have catalogued the Marconi Archive and to make it available online to the international community of scholars.’

Gordon Bussey, wireless historian and sometime historical consultant to GEC, said: ‘The Marconi Collection now at Oxford University is one of the pre-eminent collections in the world showing the development of radio.  It is, almost certainly, the most important collection of its kind in the United Kingdom.  It is wonderful that the items in the archive are now available for the first time through the Bodleian and its online catalogue.’

The Marconi Collection at the University of Oxford is featured in three main online resources:


PICTURE:  The cover of an early publicity brochure produced by Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company: Marconi Telegraphy: A Short History of its Invention, Evolution and Commercial Development, dated c.1905.

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