Wednesday, April 25, 2007

“Who Really Invented Radio?”

By: Vanessa Uy

The working title of this article should have been “Please, For The Love Of God Tell Me Who Invented Radio!” If you’re among the sorry, countless individuals who thought that Marconi solely invented radio, this article is not for you. For those with a passing interest for Nikola Tesla, you would find this either enlightening or a bit humbling. So without further ado, let me take you on a journey.of exploration.

Our story starts in the latter half of the 19th Century. The chaps, most of them from the United States, have a very interesting story on how they invented radio. One of them is Nathan B. Stubblefield of Murray, Kentucky. He began working on experiments and devices related to radio as early as 1892. His notable public demonstrations, like the one he performed on May 30, 1902 did not go unnoticed by serious publications and journals like Scientific American. But today this Murray, Kentucky native is a relative unknown to anyone not from his hometown.

At about the same time, Dr. Mahlon Loomis created a crude tuned-antenna circuit. Despite his prolific genius, he never received the grant he sought from congress. If he did, the invention of radio might have advanced a few decades. Even in Virginia, Dr. Loomis is probably known only to history buffs.

Two electricians that are being conveniently left out by the Tesla advocates are Oliver Lodge, whose patent anticipated Tesla’s in 1898 and John S. Stone, a month earlier than Tesla in 1900.

In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell created a device called a photophone. It worked by using a voice signal to modulate a light beam, but this was never more than a technological object d’art exhibited at world fairs. It’s the same principle behind fiber optic laser telecommunications.

One of more significance was the wireless telephone patented in 1886 by Amos Emerson Dolebear, a physics professor who demonstrated it publicly in the United States, Canada, and Europe. At about the same time, John Trowbridge at Harvard was doing extensive experiments in both induction and earth-or water-conduction wireless apparatus. Thomas Edison, the noted superstar inventor and de facto anti Tesla, developed wireless telegraph / telephone systems to communicate with moving trains during the 1880’s. Granville Woods and Lucius Phelps also developed a similar wireless communication system.

A chap called Alexandr Popov, who the Russians claimed invented radio, is also a viable candidate. When the former Soviet Union launched one of her first space probes to explore the far side of the moon. A crater was named after him.

When the United States Supreme Court entered into “The Great Radio Controversy” in October of 1942. A can of worms was opened, luckily its influence only affects history academics and Tesla fans. Though the invention of the radio had long been famously attributed to Gugliemo Marconi, the Supreme Court justices were intrigued by patents and scientific publications which pointed to Nikola Tesla as radio’s true creator. In June of 1943, the Court decided that Nikola Tesla had, in fact, invented modern radio technology. They ruled that Marconi’s patent were invalid and had been “anticipated.” Tesla was vindicated-though far from victorious. Some five months before, alone and destitute in a New York hotel room, the great inventor had passed away. His papers and notes were confiscated by the United States Alien Property Office, and are now housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I hope to visit there someday.

It’s not easy, but basing on existing proof. I pick Nikola Tesla as the true inventor of radio. To me Stubblefield, Loomis, and Lodge, as well as the others mentioned still await more proof in order to rise above their present status as mere “hometown heroes.” Which is also the similar predicament of Alexandr Popov.

Despite having a heavy metal band named in his honor and being portrayed by David Bowie in the magic show movie called “The Prestige”, Tesla is still a relatively unknown genius even today. Ask most accomplished electrical / electronics engineers today about who invented radio and most of them will answer “Marconi.” It’s one of those things that make you a bit sad, doesn’t it?

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