This post was published on August 06, 2014.
“Who invented the Radio?” When this question was asked during my school days, my answer was an immediate, “Marconi”. Since that answer would fetch me my points, I didn’t bother to look beyond. Recently, however, I realized that it has always been a controversial subject and that my answer could have been wrong. The villain… um.. no, the hero of the story is none other than Nikola Tesla, who is regarded as one of the greatest inventors of all time. Curious to know the story? Read on.
Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor who became famous for his contributions towards the growth and development of long distance radio transmission. Marconi was inspired by Hertz’s theory of electromagnetic waves and began his research on Hertz’s work during the 1894-1895 period. He was keen on inventing a wireless telegraph device. On May 13, 1897, Marconi succeeded in sending the world’s first ever wireless signal over open sea and the first message read ‘Are you ready?’ In 1904, the US Patent Office granted Marconi a patent, Apparatus for Wireless Telegraphy (US 763772) for the invention of the Radio.
In 1909, Marconi shared the Nobel Prize with Mr. Karl Braun, for his valuable contributions to Radio Communications. Nikola Tesla, on the other hand, is a Serbian-American inventor who is best known for his contribution towards Alternating Current (AC) electricity supply system. In as early as 1893, Tesla had given lectures and demonstrations in different universities and associations, about the possibility of transmission of radio waves. Tesla’s efforts finally paid off and he was granted two patents i.e. System of Transmitting Electrical Energy (US 645576 A), and an Electrical Transmitter (US 649621), by the US Patent Office. If you expected this to be the happy ending, well, this is just the beginning of a long battle.
When Marconi made his first ever transatlantic radio transmission, Tesla commented that 17 of his patents made this possible. In fact, Marconi was denied a patent for his radio invention when he initially filed for a patent in the year 1900, in light of Tesla’s patents. However, the increased popularity that Marconi’s invention gained in the next few years, prompted the US Patent Office to reverse the previous decision and grant the patent for Marconi’s radio invention, in the year 1904. This incident clearly made Tesla angry and he appealed against Marconi’s patent. A patent war ensued, that went on till 1943 and the US Supreme Court finally ruled in Tesla’s favour and restored Tesla’s patent (US 645576 A). Unfortunately, Tesla was not around to see his patents win the day.
Telsa died approximately 9 months prior to the final judgement day. It is not clear what motivated the US Supreme Court to rule in Tesla’s favour, but we would like to think that everything happened through a proper channel and that the Supreme Court, by deciding in Tesla’s favour, was appreciating Tesla’s work. There is, however, a popular counter theory.
In 1943, during the First World War, Marconi’s company sued the US Government for patent infringement. There are people out there who believe that the US Supreme Court’s decision to restore Tesla’s patent was to parry the infringement claims made by Marconi’s company. Whatever the controversies, no one can forget Tesla’s and Marconi’s contribution to mankind. Their research, without a doubt, paved the way to the world of communication that we enjoy today. So, if someone asks you who the Father of the Radio is, think twice before answering. It is still a controversial question!