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He Gave Us Radio

The Static Over Radio's Inventor

For decades, Guglielmo Marconi was known as the father of radio. Marconi, an Italian nobleman with strong connections to British aristocracy and backing from Edison, contributed significantly to the field and made radio a business success. In 1904, he convinced the U.S. Patent Office to grant him the radio patent, despite previous rejections based on Tesla's widely recognized primacy [sources: Harkins; PBS].

Not until 1943 did the U.S. Supreme Court uphold Tesla's radio patent number 645,576, arguably to get the United States out of a lawsuit with the Marconi Company. The decision came six months after Tesla died and 34 years after radio had garnered Marconi the Nobel Prize in physics [sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Harkins; PBS].

Radio arose from an array of discoveries and innovations, but Tesla's work devising and refining its foundational technologies has earned him hard-fought recognition as its father [sources: Jonnes; Vujovic].

The scientist's work in the field grew out of his foray into the wireless transmission of energy -- which, if you think about it, is exactly what radio is.

Not only did Tesla file the first radio patents, he also gave a lecture in1893 -- two years before Marconi began experimenting with radio -- that laid out how radio broadcasting worked, complete with a demonstration of radio communication. By mid-1894, he had built and begun testing a small, portable radio-transmitting station [sources: Cheney; Jonnes].

As with the induction generator and transformer, Tesla built upon the work of his predecessors, but with unparalleled vision. James Clerk Maxwell had theorized electromagnetic waves, and Heinrich Hertz had figured out how to transmit them, but the Tesla coil, and Tesla's four tuned circuits for transmitting and receiving, made radio a reality. His patents describe the fundamental way we still transmit and receive radio signals [sources: Cheney and Uth; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Vujovic].

Tesla also pioneered radio control -- an idea he patented on Nov. 8, 1898, and demonstrated at the 1898 Electrical Exhibition at Madison Square Garden [sources: Jonnes; PBS; Vujovic].

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