Dec 12 - Happy "Marconi is a thief" day

12 Dec 2015

I use this title as a bit of sarcasm and a lot of truth. Every year, especially in this day of social media, we get these posts about "On this day, Dec. 12, 1901, Marconi sends the first Trans-Atlantic wireless message from England to Newfoundland." Yet where is the mention from early 1895 when Tesla was transmitting a signal over 50 miles?

The information available tends to be sporadic and tends to have some gaps, so they rely primarily on information publicly available, like Teslas patents, the illegitimately approved Marconi patents, and news stories from then. I think the bigger issue is despite Tesla constantly demonstrating how safe his inventions were, he had experienced several suspicious fires, one notable example is the fire to his New York (state) lab on March 13, 1895, not too long after he had successfully transmitted a few short signals over 50 miles to West Point, NY. If you look at timelines, shortly after Tesla would have a break through, his lab would get destroyed by fire (almost always during periods when his equipment was not insured). Other lost experiments that were in practical use, including a system where the (AC alternate current) lighting was powered by wireless power system which he was working on debuting to the public. Within hours after the fire, he was busy giving out designs for parts of the oscillator that was used in the wireless power transmission system, so he could get a new lab up as quickly as possible.

One of the key Tesla patents that would later become our beloved amateur radio hobby was submitted in 1897 and many were granted in 1900, taking so long to approve because they were so far beyond anything that had been filed or conceived of. Marconi attempted to modify some aspects of that Tesla patent and submit other Patents as his own, which was filed on November 10, 1900, and was quickly turned down. He had attempted to submit barely modified versions multiple times and was turned down each time. The Patent Office made this comment: "Many of the claims are not patentable over Tesla patent numbers 645,576 and 649,621, of record, the amendment to overcome said references as well as Marconi's pretended ignorance of the nature of a "Tesla oscillator" being little short of absurd... the term "Tesla oscillator" has become a household word on both continents [Europe and North America]." Of course that didn't stop Marconi, instead he did most of his work, based on the stolen patent schematics, in Europe which was outside of the grasp of the US Patent Office. Even if they did attempt to come after him, his family connections to British aristocracy helped shield him. Plus he was able to label it a "spark transmitter" in order to attempt to claim it as his own, but later documents showed he knew it was a Tesla coil. With the connections to the aristocrats and politicians (likely being paid off), he was free to continue his experimentation. When it came time to set up his receiver device on the western side of the Atlantic, his devices were denied access to US soil because the device was known to violate Teslas US Patents, thus why the original transmission was England to Newfoundland (Canada).

Even a conversation between Tesla and an engineer working for him (Otis Pond) showed that at least at that time, Tesla knew Marconi was using his patents, and was likely hoping it would catch hold and Tesla would start getting licensing opportunities which would help fund his continuing work. It was quoted where Pond said "Looks as if Marconi got the jump on you." Tesla replied, "Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents." Unfortunately it did not pan out this way as Marconis British company Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd. quickly escalated in the stock markets from $3 to $22 per share and gaining international attention.

On the technical side, at the time the Tesla coil (aka spark transmitter) was a very wide frequency signal that was entirely reliant on the length of the antenna itself to determine the transmitted frequency range (for example, an antenna 20 inches long would transmit approximately 10MHz wide from 140-150MHz). The famous trans-Atlantic signal, extrapolated from known information was estimated to be around 850kHz, in today MF (medium frequency) band. Tesla understood the need for that type of transmission would need to go up in frequency within a "sweet spot" frequency (today what we know as daytime 10-20m openings and night time 40-160m openings), into todays "HF" bands, yet Marconi not fully understanding what he was doing since he was working with technology he stole, thus did not understand, continued to make his antennas larger and larger causing the transmitted signal to go down in frequency. Marconi kept building increasingly larger antenna systems since he was striving for greater transmission distance and improved signal reception, which lowered the operating frequency. At Poldhu the frequency of his station in October 1902 was 272 kHz. His initial station at Table Head, Glace Bay, NS in December 1902 was a massive structure comprising 400 wires suspended from four 61 meter wooden towers, with down leads brought together in an inverted cone at the point of entry into the building. The frequency was 182 kHz. By 1904 his English antenna had become a pyramidal monopole with umbrella wires, and the frequency was 70 kHz. In 1905 his Canadian antenna, moved to Marconi Towers, Glace Bay was a capacitive top-loaded structure, with 200 horizontal radial wires each 305 meters long, at a height of 55 meters, and the frequency was 82 kHz. By 1907 he had antennas that were in use at approximately 45kHz. Yet in 1899-1900, when Tesla was in Colorado, he had successfully transmitted signals back to an office in New York, using simple end fed long wires but at a higher power output (today what we may call NVIS or end fed wire).

Due to Marconis connections (the Brit aristocrats, as well as stateside connections with Edison, Carnegie, and other anti-Tesla interests) were able to use political pressure via American politicians to sway the Patent Office to reverse their decision in 1904 and (illegally) approve the Marconi patents. This paved the way for Marconi to receive the Nobel Prize in 1911, and even after the attempted lawsuit against Marconi in 1915 for patent infringement, Tesla was in no financial condition to continue the case against the deep pockets of Marconi (which was backed by a lot of other people like Carnegie with their own deep pockets).

The Marconi patents stood until 1943 and helped make Marconi even more wealthy as he collected fees for licensing and attempted to ensure Tesla was relegated to some footnote. The turning point was a few months after Teslas death in 1943, when the Marconi corporation had an ongoing lawsuit against the US Government for use of the Marconi patents without compensation during World War I. The US Supreme Court upheld Teslas original patent number 645,576 making many of Marconis Patents useless, plus further use of those patents or collection of royalties or licensing fees would result in massive fines. Sadly it took the government to use self-serving interests to restore the proper and original Tesla patents, but at least it has been rectified and the Marconi family could no longer prosper from those illegitimate patents.

A bonus to this ruling meant that manufacturers no longer needed to pay the exorbitant licensing fees and limiting licenses to Marconi and quickly ramped up production of various radio related equipment and technologies after WWII (many using surplus war radio equipment to do so). This helped fuel a massive expansion of new technologies in the 1950s including single-sideband, and the first amateur radio satellite (OSCAR 1) launched in 1961. All because of Tesla and his work, are we able to enjoy this wonderful hobby called amateur radio. Credit is due to Marconi for popularizing it among the general public, but at the cost of turning Nikola Tesla into a bitter man and keeping most of his discoveries to himself. If the tables had turned with the European and Canadian governments siding with the US Patent Office and Teslas patents, we would likely have free or very cheap wireless energy available to all to power our homes, electric cars, charging batteries, and who knows what other inventions would have come along based on cheap/free and best of all CLEAN energy, instead of gasoline, diesel and other polluting fuels used to power and move this plant. The American and world landscape overall would likely look very different.

Take care and 73s!

As more blog entries are added, some get moved to the archived blog entries page. As this is a new website, this will probably not need to be done for a month or two.