It was soon apparent that radio would be an important world-wide communications technology, which triggered a number of commercial and political disputes. Although the review below, which is heavily biased in favor of Marconi's claims and rights, is best described as an "overwrought propaganda piece", it does give an overview of many of the major controversies related to the new technology's development.
Marconi often claimed that other experimenters were stealing his work, which lead to counter-claims that it was Marconi who had actually done the stealing. (Although this article includes the charge that Adolphus Slaby had appropriated Marconi's invention, it doesn't include Slaby's retort that it was Nikola Tesla who had first published the basic concepts of wireless communication, in 1894, before Marconi had even started his research.)
The "Deutschland incident" refers to the fact that Marconi shore stations refused, except in the case of emergency, to accept messages from ships operating equipment from other sources. This brought up a number of questions of fairness -- competitors claimed the Marconi companies were trying to set up a worldwide monopoly, while Marconi charged that his competitors were little more than parasites, wanting to take advantage of the investment his company had made in setting up the expensive shore stations.
Electrical World and Engineer, April 12, 1902, pages 656-658:
LETTER TO THE EDITORS.
Mr. Marconi and His Critics.
To the Editors of Electrical World and Engineer:
Sirs--So long as human nature remains pretty much what it is at present and apparently has been always, I suppose that one of the penalties of success, in whatever field of activity it may have been attained, will continue to be found in the subsequent forced endurance by the successful of whatever ill the rancor and disappointed spleen of outdistanced competitors may be powerful enough to inflict. Happily, however, this is not usually of very much account, and if ever a successful man was able to afford to consider the attacks of his unsuccessful rivals without anger and with some pity, I should imagine Mr. Marconi to be that man. After all, as one can easily conceive, it must be very, very annoying to Messieurs Slaby, d'Arco, Preece, Lodge, Thompson and the rest for whose arrows Mr. Marconi has lately in an especial measure found himself the target, really very annoying indeed, to feel themselves so utterly beaten in the race for success in wireless telegraphy, as they must do, I should suppose, in the privacy of their laboratories, however brave a face they may still strive to put upon it in the columns of the daily press. This consideration, however, though an explanation, can hardly be accepted as an excuse for the muddy torrent of press misrepresentation, to use no stronger term, which, since the Deutschland incident, has been let loose, principally from German sources, in the attempt--a very puny attempt, it must be agreed--to discredit Mr. Marconi and his system in this country. To that particular incident of the Deutschland and the wild vituperation and angry threats to which it moved Messrs. Slaby and d'Arco and their friends of the Allgemeine Electricitäts Gesellschaft, I think more prominence than they deserved has already been given by the press, but many of the statements current with regard to the affair have been so ridiculously beside the mark that, in the interests of accuracy, it may not be out of place that I should return to it in this place.
To mention first the bare facts of the incident itself: The Deutschland, as everybody knows, is the German passenger steamer which a few weeks ago was selected to have the honor of conveying Prince Henry on his voyage home from the United States. This steamer carries an installation of the so-called Slaby-d'Arco system of wireless telegraphy. I say "so-called" because Mr. Marconi has publicly expressed his opinion that the fundamental principles of that system are identical with those which he himself communicated to Professor Slaby some four or five years ago, when, at the request of the German Government, transmitted to him through the authorities of the British Post Office, he (Mr. Marconi), showed to Professor Slaby, who was his guest at the time for several weeks, the whole working of his system, so far as he had then developed it. If, therefore, as would appear from Mr. Marconi's statement to be the case, its details alone constitute the part of it for which the invention of Messrs. Slaby and d'Arco is truly responsible, it would seem to be doubtful how far it is appropriate to bestow a special designation of such nature upon what, on the above hypothesis, ought to be reckoned as a mere modification of the Marconi system, and, to judge by its results, a modification only for ill, at that. The point, of course, is one which cannot be finally decided in the columns of this or any other journal, but until the question of infringement is definitely settled by the proper tribunals, impartial persons will, I think, see that it behooves them to suspend their judgment as to whether anything to be fairly called a "Slaby-d'Arco system" is, in fact, in existence. The reason why the matter has not yet been raised is doubtless to be found in the slight importance attached by the Marconi Companies to the whole of the Slaby-d'Arco pretensions. Should these ever attain a more practical realization than any they have as yet reached; I mean to say, should the working of the system ever be extended by the efforts of the Allgemeine Electricitäts Gesellschaft or otherwise, to such a point as to cause the Marconi companies to consider an attack upon the validity of their patents to be worth their powder and shot, then undoubtedly the question will immediately be made the subject of rigorous test.
At present, however, no such degree of extension has been attained by the German system. The Deutschland is the solitary first-class passenger steamer which enters the port of New York--indeed, I might say, the only first-class passenger steamer in the world--carrying the Slaby-d'Arco installation. Nor is this a new installation, as one might well have supposed it to be, judging from the recent ebullition of wrath with respect to the steamer's disability to communicate with Marconi stations. On the contrary, I remember to have myself noticed her aerial wire as being arranged in a manner similar to that adopted by Mr. Marconi, when passing the Deutschland at her pier in New York harbor now nearly twelve months ago. I do not know how long before that the installation had been made and, I confess, it seems to me really a rather pitiable exhibition of Teutonic snobbery that until a German Prince happened to take passage on the ship, no particular public attention seems to have been paid to the disability in respect of wireless communication under which, of course, all along, her ordinary passengers have suffered. Be that as it may, the Deutschland, with Prince Henry on board, passed out into the ocean as usual without communication with Nantucket; made her voyage without any exchange with other transatlantic steamers, of messages such as frequently come to vary a little the monotony of the long sea days for passengers on vessels carrying the Marconi system; passed up the English Channel without speaking any Marconi station, and, as she approached Cuxhaven, the favored site of the lonely Slaby-d'Arco pole, was "jammed," it was alleged, by wicked persons sending Vs with wild persistence from a (purely imaginary) collection of sixteen transmitters stated to have been installed by the Marconi companies in Cornwall. Whereupon there arose in Germany a chorus of effervescent indignation, which quickly sped along the cables to the Herald office in New York, so that the American hardly less soon than the European public was treated to the unedifying spectacle of a learned professor, a noble Count and various other potent and distinguished personages alike, foaming at the mouth with a species of almost Berserk fury which, for brevity's sake, I will indicate as malignant Marconiphobia. And a very bad attack of it they had. To believe these gentlemen, nothing so uncivilized, nothing so "impolite," nothing, positively, so "inhuman"--dear Herr Professor!--had ever before been presented to the observation of a German Prince and, of the German people, as the alleged refusal of those odious Marconi people (who, by the way, however, were never officially asked), to take in even the message of a Hohenzollern when transmitted by Slaby-d'Arco apparatus. I hardly know what dreadful things in consequence were not going to happen to poor Mr. Marconi. One almost got the impression, indeed, that if the Kaiser did not forthwith order the German fleet to steam out, on the first really fine day, and shell Mr. Marconi's station at the Lizard, he would be doing something less than loyal Teutons had a right to expect from him! The whole thing was, in fact, as overdone as a German steak! Since, however, a doubt may have been left in some minds as to the exact relation of the Marconi companies to it all, I should like, so far as my information goes, to say a word or two on that point here. And, in the first place, let me mention that it is by no means clear that the Deutschland's failure to communicate with their stations on the occasion in question was exclusively to be set down to the hostile attitude of those companies. The contrary is, in truth, more than suggested by what occurred, according to the report which appeared in the New York Herald, sent direct to the paper from its own operators, at Nantucket. These operators, it seems, employed there by the Herald, and although their proceeding was in direct contravention of the Herald's contract with the Marconi companies, did in fact do their best to get in communication with the Deutschland on this famous voyage, and entirely failed, although, according to the testimony of that vessel's engineer, she passed so near that those on board her actually picked up the Nantucket light. This would seem to be a distinct evidence that the Deutschland's equipment of Slaby-d'Arco apparatus was not technically suitable for communication with a Marconi station, and that at least in one case, therefore, if Slaby-d'Arco could not work with Marconi apparatus the fault lay in the inherent unfitness of the former for the purpose. And, if this was proved in the case of one station, as it was in that of Nantucket, we may fairly conclude that the same experience would have been repeated had communication been attempted with the Marconi stations on the other side of the ocean, since these use for ordinary sea telegraphy installations in all respects similar to that employed at Nantucket.
But, however this be, as I understand the case, the Marconi companies would not at all wish to ride off on a side issue of such kind, and to the question whether the Deutschland would have been allowed to communicate through their stations, granting, for the sake of the argument, though the fact would seem to be the contrary, that she could, their answer has been a very unhesitating "No." I have not the honor of knowing Professor Slaby, except, of course, by repute, so I cannot judge how far a conjecture based upon his impassioned protest against the commercial spirit as applied to wireless telegraphy may be accurate. He has, however, I gather, ceased to have any commercial interest in what, if the Herald interviewer is to be trusted, he has himself described, rather suggestively, as the "exploitation" of the Slaby-d'Arco system, and there is, indeed, as we all must admit much to be said for the taking of short profits, since the practice has been known frequently to avoid the necessity of "cutting" a considerable loss. Professor Slaby's action in this respect has been marked, if I may say so without presumption, by a worldly wisdom and circumspection which I find it difficult to coordinate satisfactorily with this subsequent protest of his, which reminds one less of a man of affairs than of what one might expect from some mild, scholarly recluse among; it might be, those gentle dons of Oriel, who found themselves the other day referred to with such charming tenderness in Mr. Rhodes' will as being "like children in commercial matters."
Personally I happen myself to dislike in general that commercial spirit which so largely pervades contemporary life not less cordially than can, I think, even the most conservative of German professors. I recognize, however, as I think it might be recognized even by the latter, and as it must be recognized by everybody who looks the facts of existence in the face, that the class of enterprises which for their passage from the brain of the inventor to the service of the public require the expenditure of large sums of money and, naturally, in their earlier stages, at any rate, the taking of large risks by the parties who supply that requisite capital, is the very last class which could reasonably be expected to be conducted on other than strictly commercial principles. Professor Slaby apparently would reverse what, rightly or wrongly, has become in this connection the natural order of things. There is an English saying that trade follows the flag. It is even more certain that civilization, the modern brand of it, at any rate, such as it is, the civilization which, whatever it omits as it omits much does at any rate include a measure of the humanitarian element desiderated by Professor Slaby--it is even more certain, I say, that this sort of civilization follows trade. It would, no doubt, be all very well--for Professor Slaby, or rather, I beg pardon, for the assignees of Professor Slaby's commercial interests--that the Marconi stations should be thrown open to Slaby-d'Arco messages, and that free trade in wireless telegraphy, which is proposed so ingenuously by the chairman of the Allgemeine Electricitäts Gesellschaft, represents really a very charming and idyllic state of things which, were I financially interested in the success of the Slaby-d'Arco system, doubtless I should feel it my duty to do my utmost to promote. But at the same time I am sure I should expect a holder of Marconi stock to take a very different view and to insist with some pertinacity upon having from his directors a satisfactory answer to the vulgar question: "Yes, but where do I come in?" Seriously, the suggestion is absurd, for consider what the situation really is. Here, on the one hand, you have this so-called Slaby-d'Arco system with its one pole at Cuxhaven and its one--apparently not very workable--installation on the Deutschland, and, so far as I am aware, those two equipments indicate the limit of the system's present pretensions to free commercial development. And on the other hand, you have the Marconi system, which, apart altogether from its employ in the British and Italian navies and from its forthcoming undertaking of trans-oceanic work, is already, thanks to the genius of its inventor and the enterprise of his friends, in full commercial working upon some fifteen first-class passenger steamers plying to the port of New York alone, and at nearly forty land stations, established all, of course, at very considerable expense; a system which also, upon its merits, after a large expenditure of time and money upon the trials of other systems, has been selected exclusively for use by the Corporation of Lloyds at their telegraph stations--I think there are over 150 of them--throughout the world, through all of which stations as soon as equipped with the apparatus it must be remembered that the Marconi companies have right of way for their own messages. So that, in view of the fact that there is not anywhere in existence any corporation connected with the work of sea telegraphy and marine insurance to compare in importance with Lloyds, there would seem to be ample justification for the claim made by the Marconi directors in their last report that, for the present and during, at any rate, the fourteen years which their agreement with Lloyds has to run, their apparatus must be considered the standard apparatus for the ships of all nations.
It appears that the Kaiser's decree has gone forth in its favor and the Slaby-d'Arco system rejected by the British is to be used exclusively in the German Navy, which will thus, let us hope, find itself in good company, since from Professor Slaby's confidences to a Herald reporter the world learns that the said system is already in use in the navies--save the mark!--of Sweden and Norway, Denmark, and I know not what other world powers. I trust soon to hear that the Allgemeine Electricitäts Gesellschaft has placed an armed barge fully equipped with the Slaby-d'Arco system on a Swiss canal, in order that the list may be satisfactorily rounded off.
Truly, this German demand for wireless telegraphic free trade is explicable enough! But, so far from being "inhuman," it is, I fancy, very human indeed that the Marconi companies should see no reason at all why the Slaby-d'Arco people, who, as I notice that Mr. Marconi is reported to have remarked, very justly, have borne no part in the burden and heat of the day, the trouble and expense which it has cost them to get their own arrangements for sea telegraphy to their present advanced stage of development--should now come in as a matter of right, for that is the nature of their claim, and without the least recognition of the necessity of a preliminary coming to terms, or even so much as the suggestion of a thank you, merely to reap where Mr. Marconi and his companies have sown. It is really difficult to take such a proposition seriously. It is precisely as reasonable as would be the demand of a stranger who should have succeeded in tapping the circuit of a telephone company and ringing up the Central, to be connected with regular subscribers free gratis and for nothing. The suggestion has of course been made that Mr. Marconi's aim is to secure a monopoly of the ether, and that some international congress should be held for the purpose chiefly, it would appear, of restraining him therefrom. In the sense in which it is intended, the first of these suggestions is totally untrue, and on both points I certainly cannot do better than quote Mr. Marconi himself: "With any parties working a system," he has said, "'which could prove itself to be workable without infringement of my patents--and that, I may say, I do not believe to be provable in the case of the Slaby-d'Arco system--we should at any time be willing to discuss the question of co-operation with a view to a mutual understanding upon terms that should be deemed fair, in consideration of the advantages, enormous compared with any we could receive, which our long start of other competitors would enable us to offer under any such arrangement, and in view also of the common-law rights of the first comer." And with regard to the suggestion of an international conference, Mr. Marconi remarked further: "Nobody would welcome it more than I should myself, for the reason that I am quite certain that in no hands would the legal rights of the inventor--which are all that I claim--be safer or better protected."
I take it that these two passages convey a statement which is not only admirably clear as an exposition of Mr. Marconi's attitude, but meets also, fairly and squarely, precisely that which I think most unprejudiced persons will concede to be the justice of the case.
That for the present Mr. Marconi does possess a practical, as distinguished from that theoretical, monopoly, which apparently he has no desire whatever to claim, is due simply and solely to the sheer merit of his system, which to-day holds a position from which absolutely no serious rival is in sight. For that state of things Mr. Marconi's competitors have no one to blame but themselves. It is unfortunate for the dignity of controversy that some of them seem not to see that to abuse Mr. Marconi instead is a proceeding as vulgar as it is ridiculous.
| NEW YORK CITY.||WILFRID BLAYDES. |