There were a number of inventors who were working on the radio. Inventors such as Alexander Popov, Nikola Tesla, Oliver Lodge, and Guglielmo Marconi were conducting research in this area.
But their work wasn't just about broadcasting signals to a radio receiver so we could listen to music or other forms of entertainment.
Their research was about radio waves and how these "electromagnetic" waves could transmit music, speech, pictures and other data invisibly through the air. It was the birth of wireless communication.
But early pioneers were faced with a huge problem.
Following the inventions of the telegraph and telephone, governments around the world invoked laws that placed these telecommunications under the monopoly of their postal services.
These services became know as "PTT"—the acronym for "Postal, Telegraph and Telephone" and these monopolies prohibited any private company or individual from using devices for sending messages for monetary gain.
In some countries, such as the United States, Japan and Canada, the postal services granted this monopoly to Western Union and Bell Telephone. This meant that the commercialization of any wireless communication technology would be subject to monopoly control.
This was a major problem for inventors. They could invent the technology but the monopoly would control it. So to a certain extent this dampened the enthusiasm of many inventors from trying to commercialize their own radio invention.
But Marconi was not so inclined. He came up with a plan.
Marconi was educated by private tutors. His mother encouraged him to pursue only subjects that interested him. What interested Marconi was electricity.
When he was 15 years old, Marconi was introduced to the phenomenon of electromagnetic waves by his tutor, physicist Vincenzo Rossa, and also studied the subject with another physicist named Augusto Righi who was a professor at the University of Bologna and a pioneer in electromagnetic wave research.
Marconi thought if radio waves could be used to send signals over great distances, it would benefit an industry that really needed it — marine vessels.
Ships used light beacons and flags for communication. But on the high seas, flashing lights and waving flags were only effective if someone could see them. Ships were isolated and detached from the rest of the world. Wireless communication would solve that problem.
Marconi was aware of the government monopolies but because ships sailed in international waters, and were beyond the jurisdiction of governments, the use of wireless technology on the open seas would not be subject to monopoly control.
Marconi studied the lectures and experiments published by physicists such as Lodge and Popov.
He read the lectures given by Telsa in the United States, which were published in periodicals such as the Italian science magazine "L'Elettricita.”
Oliver Lodge, an English physicist, was successful in transmitting wireless signals but only for short distances. The Russian physicist, Alexander Popov, demonstrated a receiver that could detect radio waves over many miles, but this didn't involve the transmission or reception of signals.
Marconi decided to conduct his own radio experiments at his family's country estate in Pontecchio, Italy. As an inventor, Marconi's approach to inventing was heuristic (using experiments, trial-and-error methods, investigation and conclusions based on workability).
In 1895, when he was just 21, Marconi successfully transmitted Morse code a distance of 2 km to a receiver but what Marconi did next was truly ingenious.
Marconi expressed his interest in possibly selling his invention to the British monopoly and solicited Preece's help in convincing the government of the value of his device.
Preece was excited about the possibility of acquiring this technology. He knew Marconi could not market his product unless he had an agreement with a government, British or otherwise.
Marconi suggested a demonstration of the technology was needed to show it’s effectiveness. Preece agreed and offered to organize demonstrations. Meanwhile, Marconi was in discussions with Lloyds of London, the world's largest insurer of ships. He presented Lloyds with a proposition.
Marconi asked them if they would be interested in "leasing" his radio invention to commercial ships. Marconi's plan was to lease operators and wireless transmission equipment to ships.
The wireless equipment would not be sold. There would be no charges for sending messages. The shipping lines could deduct the leasing costs as operating expenses. They could increase fees for transport to cover the cost for the equipment lease and to make a profit.
This plan effectively circumvented the monopoly laws that prohibited private companies from sending messages for monetary gain even though that law couldn’t be effectively enforced because the equipment was on ships at sea.
Marconi was doing a "run around" on the government monopolies but at the same time using them to prove the effectiveness of his radio invention and to gain widespread publicity.
Marconi's next move was to file a patent application in England. Meanwhile, Preece had organized public demonstrations of Marconi’s radio invention and the demonstrations were sponsored by the British government.
In March 1897, Marconi sent a Morse code transmission 6 kilometres (4 miles) across the Salisbury Plain. In May, he sent a transmission for 14 kilometres (9 miles) across the Bristol Channel.
These demonstrations were well attended by the press. Marconi received worldwide publicity, which generated a huge demand for his radio invention.
Lloyds began lining up customers. In July 1897, Marconi established the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, which was funded by shareholders.
A factory opened in Chelmsford, England to manufacture his invention and to train operators. Lloyds executed leasing contracts with commercial shipping fleets all over the world.
Marconi ensured that all leases prohibited the receipt or transmission of any messages from equipment not made by him. This effectively created another barrier and further deterred any potential competition.
Lloyds signed a 14-year exclusive contract with Marconi, which established a presence in every major seaport in the world. Shares in Wireless Telegraph and Signal soared in value.
The British government was understandably very upset with Marconi. They had laws that ensured them a monopoly but were embarrassed by Marconi who was able to circumvent them. The British government retaliated by cancelling Marconi's patent but reversed this decision after realizing it would undermine confidence in the patent system.
Marconi filed patents in the United States and established the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, Inc. (American Marconi). The U.S. government offered to purchase his radio invention but Marconi refused.
Marconi controlled wireless communications. He owned it. He had no competitors. But despite his fame and fortune, it suddenly and dramatically ended with the outbreak of the first world war.
The British and the U.S. governments recognized an opportunity to seize control of Marconi's radio invention. They invoked their “Secrecy Acts” and expropriated Marconi’s patents and his technology based upon their concern for national security.
It ended Marconi's control over wireless communication and he spent the rest of his life suing governments. But that's another story.
Source: Excerpt from 5 Big Lies - On Selling Invention Ideas, Randy Belaire. This is one of a series of free ebooks you can receive when you claim a free copy of 5 Big Lies - On Selling Invention Ideas. Graphic Credits: Voodoo4u2n, Arteram
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