THE RADIO WARS: TESLA VS MARCONI
Tesla was a prolific inventor, an ingenious thinker but most importantly a staunch believer of science, who used his boundless imagination and enviable knowledge to create extraordinary devices for the betterment of humanity. His contributions have molded our modern society into a luxurious landscape.
From his humble beginnings to the riveting rivalry with Edison, his life was nothing short of a great fiction novel worthy of becoming a Hollywood movie! Another series of events, which made his life more interesting and tragic, was the tussle between him and Marconi.
Towards the end of the current wars, Tesla was fed up with the endless barrage of insults and lawsuits being hurled at him and his invention. So, he decided to discontinue his association with Westinghouse and turned his attention away from alternating currents.
Cooped up in his Manhattan laboratory, he became obsessed with the idea of wireless communication. In 1892 invented the idea of the radio. In 1893 he gave a ground-breaking lecture in St. Louis where he “described in detail the principles of radio broadcasting” and “made the first public demonstration ever of radio communication”. Soon he developed a radio-controlled robotic boat, which he demonstrated on the waters of Manhattan in 1898.
Tesla filed and received the earliest radio patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He filed for his first radio patent entitled, “System of Transmission of Electrical Energy,” on September 2, 1897, and the patent was consequently issued in March 1900. Following this his second patent entitled, “Apparatus for Transmission of Electrical Energy”, was issued in May 1900.
In 1895 Guglielmo Marconi, a man who is revered by many as the inventor of the radio, demonstrated wireless having a ground connection, antenna, and other equipment, which bared an uncanny resemblance to the publications Tesla’s 1893 lecture. Despite Tesla getting a patent for his radio in 1900, Marconi received credit for this invention when he transmitted and received radio signals from across the Atlantic Ocean on December 12, 1901.
But Tesla did not give up his dream of a “wireless globe”, he convinced JP Morgan to invest $150,000 to build a giant transmission tower, but his dreams were swiftly shattered as he ran out of funds to complete the Wardenclyffe Tower. He could not persuade Morgan to invest more funds and he was unable to woo other investors as they were lining up to back Marconi.
Otis Pond, an engineer then working for Tesla, said, “Looks as if Marconi got the jump on you”, to which Tesla replied, “Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.”
Tesla’s calm demeanor and seeming indifference towards Marconi’s infringements emboldened Marconi, who used his powerful financial backing in the US to bribe the U.S. Patent Office into reversing Tesla’s patent and awarding him the patent for the invention of the radio. When Marconi won the Nobel Prize in 1911, Tesla was rightfully furious. In 1915, despite being in no financial condition to litigate a case against a major corporation, Tesla sued the Marconi Company for infringement in vain.
In 1943 the patents were restored posthumously in Tesla’s name by the U.S. Supreme Court. The reason behind this action was that the Marconi Company was suing the government for using their patented technology in World War I, to avoid a huge financial loss, they simply upheld Tesla’s patents.
Marconi had always maintained that he had never read any of Tesla’s work on radio, but there is no way of proving this statement. The fact remains that, Tesla was the first one to patent his radio technology. He lost his fight with Marconi due to the non-availability of funds and his misguided belief that Marconi would be decent enough to acknowledge his contributions.
There is no doubt that Tesla’s genius was unparalleled. But due to his lack of business acumen and his naïve nature, he inevitably became a victim of money-hungry capitalists. In Tesla’s case time eventually revealed the truth. Every day, more and more people become aware of his inventions and of the injustices he had faced. Although he did not get the due credit, he deserved years ago, today he is remembered as the man who invented the modern world.
Here’s the link to our previous story! TESLA VS EDISON : A RIVALRY THAT SHAPED THE MODERN WORLD