UNITED STATES EARLY RADIO HISTORY
THOMAS H. WHITE
| s e c t i o n
Early Radio Industry Development (1897-1914)
As with most innovations, radio began with a series of incremental scientific discoveries and technical refinements, which eventually led to the development of commercial applications. But profits were slow in coming, and for many years the largest U.S. radio firms were better known for their fraudulent stock selling practices than for their financial viability.
EARLY U.S. EXPERIMENTATION AND DEVELOPMENT
In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi became the first person to successfully demonstrate the controlled transmission and reception of longrange radio signals. But once the details of his advances became widely known, a large number of competitors sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic, many of whom developed important refinements of their own.
Scientists in the United States were particularly intrigued by reports of Marconi's advances. A short notice in the January 23, 1897 Scientific American, Telegraphy Without Wires, stated that "a young Italian, a Mr. Marconi" had recently demonstrated to the London Post Office the ability to transmit radio signals across three-quarters of a mile (one kilometer), and that "if the invention was what he believed it to be, our mariners would have been given a new sense and a new friend which would make navigation infinitely easier and safer than it now was". (The May 14, 1898 issue of the same magazine, in a short note titled Wireless Telegraphy, repeated a completely unfounded rumor that Marconi had lost his financial backers, because "the syndicate which kept it going for over a year has arrived at the conclusion that there is no money in it".) A few months later, the May 26, 1897 New York Times' Topics of the Times--Marconi Extract reported that "English electricians, particularly those connected with the army and navy, are much interested in the Marconi system of telegraphy without wires" as the inventor had now increased the signaling range to two or three miles (five kilometers), with expectations of developing even greater ranges. At a December 15, 1897 meeting in New York City, W. J. Clarke gave "an exhibition of the Marconi apparatus" consisting of a spark-gap transmitter and a coherer receiver, reported in the Wireless Telegraphy section of the 1897 edition of Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. Two years later the Institute returned to the topic at a November 22, 1899 gathering, as reported in Possibilities of Wireless Telegraphy (New York Meeting) from the 1899 edition of the organization's Transactions. However, by now Marconi's work was better understood, and this time the participants, with much stronger electrical engineering backgrounds than the self-taught Marconi, identified certain inefficiencies and errors in Marconi's approach. Although the coherer receiver had sometimes been referred to as a "marvelously sensitive electric eye", Reginald Fessenden, a professor at the Western University of Pennsylvania, reviewed his experiments using detectors that were far more sensitive and reliable, and reported measurements which disputed Marconi's assertion that the range of radio signals was proportional to the product of the heights of the sending and receiving antennas. And although the Marconi companies would long promote the supposed superiority of the "whip-crack" effect of spark transmitters, Michael Pupin, a Columbia University professor, expressed his belief that spark transmitters were inherently inefficient, and suggested that an ideal transmitter would create undamped "oscillations in a wire without a spark-gap", outlining basic ideas which would eventually be incorporated in far more efficient continuous-wave transmitters.
An expansive review in the May 7, 1899 New York Times of the Future of Wireless Telegraphy predicted that, once a few technical obstacles were overcome, "no prudent man will try to set limits to the development of wireless telegraphy", including the possibility that "All the nations of the earth would be put upon terms of intimacy and men would be stunned by the tremendous volume of news and information that would ceaselessly pour in upon them". An article in the February 21, 1903 issue of Harper's Weekly Magazine, American Wireless Telegraphy, profiled Lee DeForest and Reginald Fessenden, who would be the two most prominent researchers in the United States during the first decade of the 1900s. (It was, however, a bit of a misnomer for this article to describe Fessenden's work as a "system of wholly American origin", because he was actually born in Canada.) A more technical overview of the industry, by William Maver, Jr., appeared in the August, 1904 The American Monthly Review of Reviews: Wireless Telegraphy To-day. Eugene P. Lyle, Jr.'s The Advance of "Wireless", from the January, 1905 issue of World's Work, gave readers a comprehensive look at the still developing industry, including various participants, government activities, outstanding technical issues, and radio's applications in such things as commercial shipboard use and military adaptations. The author also speculated about future developments, including the possibility that someday "a lone ranchman in Arizona might set up a pocket-receiver and learn the latest news", and that "millions of such little receivers" might eventually come into use.
EARLY COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Unlike the telephone, which was quickly adopted for business and home use, it took many years before radio's financial returns would match its great potential. In the United States, this resulted in a series of companies which sold stock at vastly inflated prices, backed mostly by vastly inflated visions of the companies' profits. Industry Comments appearing in 1901 issues of Western Electrician warned that the radio "field is still so uncertain that investors, remembering the liquid-air fiasco, should relinquish their money only after assuring themselves that display advertisements and glowing prospectuses are based on sound common sense". Wireless Telegraphy Stock, in the November 30, 1901 Electrical Review, noted the high prices already being paid for stock in companies with minimal assets and limited prospects, and opined that "The American public is to-day very much the same as it was when the late illustrious P. T. Barnum made his discovery that it liked to be fooled." In the November, 1904 issue of The Electrical Age, Wireless Telegraph Earnings warned that, even though "alluring" advertisements promoting stock sales continued to appear in the daily newspapers, there still was no reason to believe that the operations of any of the U.S. radio companies were even remotely profitable.
In this less regulated era, the first decade of the 1900s saw extensive stock promotion fraud, especially among radio stocks. The trend started with the American Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company, and a florid advertisement for its Federal Wireless subsidiary, which appeared in the financial section of the October 27, 1901 Washington Times, set the tone for the next decade, proclaiming "Don't Delay. The Opportunity is Yours. Will You Grasp It?" An advertisement for the parent company, appearing in the November 3rd edition of the same newspaper, was no more restrained, enticing investors to purchase the "best promising Industrial stock of the age". (Interestingly, while the parent company's advertisement stressed the revenues that it would receive by the sub-companies, the Federal sub-company stated: "No other company receives one dollar from the immense earning capacity of this company."). Ten years of financial advice, appearing in The Medical World from 1902 through 1912, repeatedly -- and not always successfully -- warned physicians about the dangers of investing in radio stocks promoted by unscrupulous sales agents. In early 1904 the successor to the American Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company was taken over by the only slightly less shady American DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company, which continued the stock promoting excesses, as an advertisement appearing in the June 16, 1904 issue of The New-York Tribune exhorted unwary investors to purchase American DeForest stock, because "For every $100 invested, it will return thousands". In late 1906 American DeForest was reorganized as United Wireless, but the unrestrained promotion continued apace, as a United Wireless Advertisement promoting the company's stock that appeared in the April 21, 1907 The San Francisco Call helpfully pictured the large pile of money that purchasers would no doubt accumulate because "shares of the United Wireless Telegraph Company are the nest eggs of fortune".
As this all was going on, reporter Frank Fayant, who was in the middle of writing a multi-part series about stock fraud -- Fools and Their Money -- stumbled across the shenanigans going on in radio stocks. The result was a two-part exposé, The Wireless Telegraph Bubble, which details the sorry state of much of the U.S. radio industry during its first decade -- Fools and Their Money/The Wireless Telegraph Bubble, Success Magazine, January, 1907 through July, 1907. Fayant's article included one hopeful note -- "A Westerner, with western ideas of common honesty, some months ago acquired a very large interest in American De Forest, and he has been trying to bring order out of chaos." However, if this was a reference to new United Wireless president Christopher Columbus Wilson, the assessment would prove to be wildly optimistic. To Holders of United Wireless Telegraph Company Stock, from the November, 1908 issue of United Wireless' The Aerogram, reviewed the company's new officers and directors, and stockholders would take little solace that the company treasurer -- Wilson's nephew -- was described as a "clean, clear-cut, able and conscientious young man".
How About Wireless?, from the August 31, 1907 Electrical World, featured an impatient reviewer noting that "behind all the dubious experiments and more dubious financiering lies something that the world really needs" and although, as "one of the biggest things of the new century... some day wireless telegraphy will come into its own", until then "the period of exploitation seems indefinitely prolonged, and the procrastination grows tiresome". And in the December, 1907 issue of The World's Work, Transatlantic Marconigrams Now and Hereafter (Stock fraud extract), cataloged the ongoing excesses, noting that "The time may come when the wireless will become suitable for consideration by investors. It will not come until some strong, clean, honest financial interests take charge and utterly eliminate the miserable, fraudulent, unwholesome methods that have marked the whole market history of these issues." But a year later, the inflated claims in promotional articles, such as Robert Matthews' assertion that the "The wireless telegraph is here, real, virile, expanding." in American Development of the Wireless Telegraph from the November, 1908 issue of United Wireless' The Aerogram, showed that the stock promotion schemes were continuing unabated. In the April 10, 1909 United States Investor, P. De Medici's Phantom Wireless Stocks sounded a warning about the on-going dubious practices within the industry, noting that for many companies "as the dollars came in from the sale of stock they flipped these dollars up to the ceiling, and the dollars that stuck to the ceiling belonged to the stockholders, and those that came down belonged to the promoters", while concluding that "Wireless stockholders, therefore, are deserving of commiseration because their stock certificates evidently represent nothing but the tremendous overcapitalization of a phantom hope." Still, the overwrought promotions continued, as selected articles from the May, 1909 issue of Wireless, a promotional broadsheet issued by The New York Selling Agency, exorted the unwary that "You should buy United Wireless now--without delay, because now is your opportunity", due to the fact that "When the 'speculative' investors begin to fully understand and appreciate the wireless situation, United stock will undoubtedly be snapped up at whatever price is asked for it and will start bounding upward to quickly sell at big figures, the size of which would now seem impossible."
UNITED WIRELESS PROSECUTION
In the 1909 edition of Operator's Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Hand-book, Victor H. Laughter lamented the current state of the industry, but felt that radio's bright future was assured, predicting "It will only be a matter of time before all the 'get rich quick' wireless concerns will be forced out of existence", even as calls for action started to appear, with Wireless Stockholders Protest Against Management, from Telephony's July 10, 1909 issue, reporting on a brewing revolt by United Wireless investors. In late 1909, John L. Schuyleman, of Portland, Oregon, began warning United Wireless stockholders that their shares had been purchased at vastly inflated prices, moreover, the company was guilty of numerous frauds. His accusations were true. However, his proposed solution was to offer to exchange these shares for Clark Wireless stock, and Fred S. Stewart, a United Wireless promoter, counter-charged that the Clark Wireless stock was completely worthless. This also turned out to be true. The ensuing bitter feud between these two disreputable promoters was publicly played out in Oregon newspapers.
Finally, the federal government moved to shut down what it called "one of the most gigantic schemes to defraud investors that has ever been unearthed in this country", and arrested the principal United Wireless officers, as reported in Government Raids United Wireless, New York Times, June 16, 1910. A few weeks later, the August 4th issue of the newspaper announced the indictment of the United Wireless defendants, plus the marriage of the 64-year-old company President to his 18-year-old secretary, as an odd mixture of social and criminal news was documented in Wireless Man Weds Day He's Indicted. A detailed expose of The Great "United Wireless" Fraud was splashed across the front page of the June 16, 1910 Seattle Daily Times, followed the next day by Parker Tarred by Same Brush as Associates. A company advertisement addressed To The Stockholders of the United Wireless Telegraph Co. in the June 26, 1910 Atlanta Constitution attempted to defend the arrested officials, claiming that "the advances in market price of the stock authorized by the Executive Committee were amply justified by the increase in business". But this opinion was in the minority, as C. M. Keys' The Get-Rich-Quick Game, which appeared in the March, 1911 issue of The World's Work noted "this [United Wireless] fraud was so patent that it has been a four-years' marvel to me how it could be carried on so long without someone stopping it". Commenting on the seemingly endless list of victims, Keys closed pessimistically with "It seems quite hopeless, this article. When a patent and above-board swindle like the United Wireless sells stocks to 28,000 people... how may one hope to stop the pillage?" But progress was being made against the United Wireless frauds, and a story on the front page of the May 30, 1911 New York Times reported that Five Wireless Men Are Found Guilty, with the prosecuting attorney celebrating that "For once a lot of crooks are going to jail after being convicted at their own expense." One of these crooks was George Parker, United's Western Sales Agent, based in Seattle, Washington -- articles in the 1907 through 1911 issues of Portland, Oregon newspapers chronicled his exploits, as he issued "masterpieces of extravagant statements, of frenzied visions of the countless millions to be earned by his company". Company president Wilson did not survive his sentence at the Atlanta federal prison -- the August 27, 1912 New York Times carried the notice that C. C. Wilson is Dead in Prison. In addition to stock fraud, United Wireless was also guilty of extensive patent infringement. It was sued by the Marconi company, and had no defense. Receivers appointed to oversee United Wireless' financial affairs entered into negotiations with Marconi for the company to be taken over, and a short time later the settlement was reported in United Wireless Arrangements / Wireless Suit Settled in the March 26, 1912 Wall Street Journal, with the final details reported by Wireless Liquidating Co. from the paper's October 1, 1912 issue. A review of the transaction, United Wireless Under New Name, which appeared in The Financial World on August 3, 1912, estimated that United Wireless stockholders had gotten back perhaps ten percent of their ill-fated investments.
CONTINENTAL WIRELESS PROSECUTION
A second major company to face Federal prosecution for stock fraud was the Continental Wireless Telegraph & Telephone Company, which most prominently included A. Frederick Collins. In the April 17, 1909 New York Times, Wireless 'Phones in Use had made the dubious claim that a commercial wireless telephone service between Portland, Maine and nearby islands had been established by Collins. In response to a query about Continental Wireless appearing in Pearson's Magazine's January, 1911 Question Box For Investors, "Mrs. F. G." was bluntly warned that "Wireless stocks are not safe investments" -- meanwhile, Postal Raids Show Vast Stock Frauds, on the front page of the November 22, 1910 New York Times, announced that "Officers of Burr Bros. and Continental Wireless Co. Arrested in War on Swindling Concerns" as part of a major sweep against financial fraud, which was followed by further arrests, reported in Wireless Promoter Held from the January 12, 1911 issue of the newspaper. The September 17, 1912 Wall Street Journal reported the arraignment of the four Continental Wireless Case defendants, with their trial start reviewed in Say Wireless Had a Wire from the November 16, 1912 New York Times, and their sentencing reported in Continental Wireless Case from the Wall Street Journal for January 11, 1913.
Collins was particularly embittered by his treatment. In 1900, he had written "Such success as I may have attained is due in no small degree to my wife. Since our marriage, three years ago, she has constantly encouraged me, and by her knowledge of mathematics and interest in telephony has aided me with practical suggestions and unfailing sympathy." But following his release from prison, Jail Grouch Wrecks Home, a wire-service report appearing in a number of newspapers, including the September 20, 1917 Grand Rapids Tribune, reported that his wife had filed for a separation, stating that he had "often since coming home made long harangues and tirades of invectives against the world in general and the United States government in particular".
Collins returned to writing, and in the closing chapter of his 1919 juvenile novel, Jack Heaton: Wireless Operator, makes an appearance as himself. And although the book's protagonist describes him as "slightly stoop-shouldered... perchance because he couldn't shake the weight of his own tragedies from them", Collins in turn wrote confidently that he was "a bit battle scarred but my skin is as thick as that of a rhinoceros" and "I had not yet given up the ship". Collins' best known later work would be the well-received The Radio Amateur's Hand Book, which remained in print for over 60 years. In the initial 1922 edition he still credited himself as "Inventor of the Wireless Telephone 1899".
THE RADIO TELEPHONE COMPANY PROSECUTION
A couple months after being unceremoniously expelled from American DeForest, Lee DeForest in early 1907 formed the Radio Telephone Company, headquartered in New York City. This firm was one of the pioneers in promoting full-audio radio transmissions, in contrast to the Morse code telegraphy that had dominated the airwaves to date. DeForest employed his recently invented Audion vacuum-tubes as detectors in the company's receivers. However, it was not yet known that, properly engineered, vacuum-tubes could also be used for radio transmissions, so for audio transmissions the company generally employed arc-transmitters, saving money by not paying Valdemar Poulsen the royalties due him for his controlling patents of the technology. Although many of the Radio Telephone Company's activities were legitimate, these commonly did not produce enough revenue to pay all the bills, especially because large sums were being siphoned off from stock sales by company insiders. (This latter group did not include DeForest, although he was guilty of being oblivious to the rot around him, even after being warned by such persons as his then-wife, Nora Blatch.) The high point of the company's fortunes came fairly early in its corporate life, when, less than a year after its formation, the U.S. Navy purchased twenty-eight arc-transmitter radiotelephone sets, to be used for the world-wide voyage of the "Great White Fleet". The short-range sets were tested for their utility in tactical signalling, their use reviewed in Wireless Telephones Make Battleship Fleet One Gigantic Chain, from the December 29, 1907 Washington Times Magazine. Despite the positive note of this article, the tests actually showed that the technology had not yet advanced to the point that it was reliable enough for regular use.
Included in the fleet review was DeForest's claim that "it is a technical and scientific possibility in the near future for the transmission of the human voice from America to Europe", a promotional theme that, although never realized, would continue to play a prominent part in company literature. In the August 31, 1908 issue of The Evening World, "Hello, Paris!" "Hello, New York!" Without Wire Next Year is Definite Promise of the Wizard of Aerial Telephony proclaimed once again that a transatlantic radiotelephone link was imminent, and that "in a year... this connection will be completed". (Ignoring abundant evidence to the contrary, DeForest also proclaimed himself "inventor of the wireless telephone" -- later in life his self-appointed status would become even more grandiose, as he titled his autobiography "Father of Radio".) In Hello! Paris, from the May 19, 1909 issue of the Bend Bulletin, a fevered imagination described a supposedly upcoming gala society luncheon in New York, where portable wireless telephones would be given out as party favors, and "a message of President Taft to President Fallieres of France" would be radiotelephoned by "Nora Blatch DeForest in the Metropolitan tower... to a fair daughter of France" located at the Eiffel Tower. However, the "definite promise" of transatlantic operations was no closer to realization. Still, hope -- and stock promotion activities -- sprang eternal, and Wireless to Span the Ocean, from the November 28, 1909 New-York Daily Tribune, claimed that a link from New York to Paris would be set up shortly, and operations would commence with a "great official ceremony", as "President Taft will touch a gold key in the Washington station; the click will be heard in the Metropolitan Life station, where Dr. De Forest will be stationed at the key. The apparatus will already be attuned with the Eiffel Tower apparatus. The inventor will then start the electric waves across the ocean at the rate of 186,000 miles a second, bearing the greetings of the President of the United States to the President of France".
Severe financial trouble, caused by inferior equipment combined with stock promotion shenanigans, eventually drained the life from the company. Facing collapse, a reorganization combined the Radio Telephone Company with numerous other small firms of dubious character, under a new holding company, the North American Wireless Corporation, also of dubious character. A write-up appearing in the Seattle, Washington section of the May 21, 1910 The Mercantile and Financial Times reviewed the Big Wireless Merger which created North American Wireless, rashly predicting that "The North American company has a wonderfully bright future before it and we predict that the price of its shares will steadily and consistently advance". The article carried the standard byline of "Staff Correspondence" -- in truth the features in this notorious "journal" were produced and paid for by the companies being promoted. The May 8, 1910 Salt Lake City Herald-Republican featured a full page advertisement about the "enormous earning powers" of the North American Wireless Corporation, claiming numerous imminent money-making advances, including a national radiotelegraph service which would charge a fraction of the amount of a regular wire telegram. Also in this advertisement, an exuberant statement appearing above Lee DeForest's signature opened with a familiar theme -- "I feel certain that within a short time we will be able to be in wireless communication between our station on top of the Metropolitan Tower in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris."
Federal prosecutors continued to investigate dubious stock promotion practices, and in its December, 1911 issue, Modern Electrics reported in Twelfth Anniversary of Wireless that although some within the industry had used radio "as a tool for extorting money from thousands of victims", a "purification" was now taking place. In the November 25, 1911 Telephony, the unfolding troubles of James Dunlop Smith, former president of the Radio Telephone Company, and a number of his business associates, were reported in Wireless Telephone Promoter Arrested. A few months later it was Lee De Forest Under Arrest, as reported in the March 28, 1912 Atlanta Constitution. DeForest was eventually acquitted on all the counts except one, which the divided jury couldn't agree upon, and was never retried on this final count. However, three others were convicted, and the North American Wireless Corporation and its subsidiaries were effectively shut down, although DeForest would later revive the Radio Telephone Company.
During the trial, according to DeForest's autobiography, the prosecuting attorney made special note of the fact that "De Forest has said in many newspapers, and over his signature, that it would be possible to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic before many years!" (It is likely DeForest rewrote this statement somewhat, as the issue was not that he had been saying transatlantic transmissions would be achieved "before many years", but that for many years he had been making an unachieved claim of imminent fulfillment). The main reason DeForest brought up this episode is because in 1915 AT&T did successfully transmit the human voice by radio to the Eiffel Tower station, although this voice originated at the Navy's station, NAA, in Arlington, Virginia. Despite being completely uninvolved with the effort, DeForest claimed this validated his long unattained statements. However, instead of using arc-transmitters and crude Audion receivers, AT&T achieved success due to skilled engineering far beyond the talents of DeForest, resulting in the development of efficient vacuum-tube transmitters and receivers.
During 1912, Munsey's Magazine carried a regular column, "Financial Department", written by John Grant Dater. An entry in the June issue, Wireless and Worthless, answered inquiries from nervous investors about their holdings in Continental Wireless and North American Wireless. Noting that "more men are now in prison or under indictment for selling stock in wireless telephone and telegraph companies than is the case with any other line of industrial promotions of which I have knowledge", Dater concluded that "these various arrests and indictments have terminated the career of all these companies. The stocks are regarded as of no value whatever". (Additional details about the resulting prosecutions and bankruptcies are documented in entries from various editions of the Marvyn Scudder Manual of Extinct or Obsolete Companies.)
With the elimination of three major fraudulent U.S. radio firms, the field was cleared for legitimate companies. And with its takeover of the United Wireless assets, the American branch of Marconi Wireless was now by far the largest radio company in the United States, a status it would hold until after World War One. For some, however, the prospects for the radio industry were still in doubt. A somber analysis appeared in the March, 1914 Technical World Magazine, as George H. Cushing reviewed the still shaky finances of the various companies, and in Wireless' Fate speculated about the next fifteen years. Cushing's predictions were profoundly pessimistic, suggesting that the private radio companies would find that "a new method of carrying messages does not, of itself, create messages to be sent", and they would prove incapable of competing with the established land telegraph lines and international cables. Finding themselves unable to "find a new use for a new tool", the radio companies were seemingly doomed to eventual failure, which would lead to a government takeover of the industry.
WIRELESS POWER DISTRIBUTION EXPERIMENTATION
Radio's many accomplishments led to speculation about future developments. After it was learned how to transmit information and sound without connecting wires, the next question was whether it would also become possible to distribute electrical power wirelessly. Foremost in this quest was Nikola Tesla. Tesla's original ideas were influenced by Mahlon Loomis, for he, like Loomis, claimed it was possible to transmit electrical current through a conducting layer he believed existed in the upper atmosphere, as Tesla's Latest Wonder, from the November 13, 1898 issue of the San Francisco Call, reported Tesla's claim of the ability to "transmit almost any amount of power almost any distance without wires, and without loss". A further report in the October 9, 1899 Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette headlined that Tesla Will Eclipse Marconi, as the inventor was quoted as saying "it is by no means improbable that when the next International race comes off... vessels following alone the course will be propelled by wireless transmission of power". Using the upper atmosphere as a natural transmission line proved impossible, so Tesla next proposed the idea that large electrical currents could be transmitted great distances through the ground, although this also proved to be unworkable. In the June, 1911 issue of Popular Electricity, Arthur B. Reeve's reviewed the inventor's theories in Tesla and His Wireless Age. The 1912 edition of A. P. Morgan's Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony Simply Explained (Tesla extract) reported on his ongoing experimentation, which, according to Tesla, promised to one day "send the power of Niagara, which alone might be made to supply a fifth of all the power in the United States, and the energy of Victoria to the ends of the earth with little loss." An even more expansive review of Tesla's ideas about Wireless Power -- including flying cars -- appeared in the March 3, 1912 issue of the New-York Tribune Sunday Magazine, which included the sweeping announcement that "Professor Tesla has perfected a practical system of wireless power distribution. And the universal application of the wireless transmission of energy will speedily solve vast and far reaching problems in commerce and the industries, and will eventually revolutionize the whole structure of the world's social and political economy." (In contrast to Marconi, Tesla's "wireless power" approach did not involve radio waves -- instead, he proposed to use the Earth as a giant electrical condenser, to distribute alternating current.) Tesla continued to do extensive, although unsuccessful, experimental work. His most publicized effort was the Wardencliff facility constructed at Shoreham, Long Island, New York. This effort proved no more successful -- the symbolic end came with the dynamiting of the transmission tower, reported in the September, 1917 issue of The Electrical Experimenter: U. S. Blows Up Tesla Radio Tower. Tesla became increasingly embittered because most the scientific community refused to accept his ideas about the nature of light and electro-magnetic radiation. (He was one of the few to dispute that Hertz's experiments had proved Maxwell's hypothesis that radio-waves were composed of transverse radiation). In the May, 1919 Electrical Experimenter, Tesla claimed that The True Wireless would use his method of producing electrical currents through the Earth, and "Properly constructed, my system is safe against static and other interference and the amount of energy which may be transmitted is billions of times greater than with the Hertzian".
Tesla wasn't the only person investigating "wireless power". In the mid-1890s, Guglielmo Marconi, ignoring conventional wisdom, had discovered how to signal over long distances using radio waves. In the October, 1912 Technical World Magazine, Marconi's Plans for the World by Ivan Narodny reported that the inventor was now predicting another world-changing advance -- using radio waves to transmit power, heat, and lighting -- although again conventional wisdom said this was impossible. But if realized, wireless power distribution potentially would have a wide-ranging impact, because, in Marconi's words, "The main trouble with all the today's economic friction is that the energy can be owned by certain privileged individuals, who use it for their own selfish ends but not for the benefit of humanity", however, "As soon as the use of wireless energy becomes universal it will necessarily sweep out all the present privileged corporations of power and create a semi-socialistic state of affairs." Two years later, the April, 1914 Electrical Experimenter reported that Marconi Lights a Lamp Six Miles Away, although this report was not widely accepted. Marconi actually did little further investigation of wireless power transmission, although at an October 17, 1927 meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers the inventor did state that "I hope I shall not be thought too visionary if I say that it may perhaps be possible that some day electromagnetic waves may also be used for the transmission of power, should we succeed in perfecting devices for projecting the radiation in parallel beams in such a manner as to minimize their dispersion and diffusion into space."
A short notice in the September 12, 1902 The Electrician, Wireless Transmission of Power, reported a $3,000 prize would be offered at the upcoming Saint Louis World's Fair, for the successful transmission of sufficient energy to power an air-ship motor. However, no one at the Fair appears to have made any attempt to claim this prize. In the June 8, 1907 Electrical Review, Wireless Power For Ships noted that "prophesies have been made by visionaries" that someday steamships would be replaced by electrically-powered vessels, and further reported that Sir Hugh Bell, president of the British Iron and Steel Institute, was predicting that some day wireless signals would power the ships. Although dubious about the practicality of this idea, the magazine did allow that "theoretically, such a thing is not impossible".
There was great skepticism within the scientific community about the practicality of both Marconi's and Tesla's "wireless power" ideas. And General Electric's Charles P. Steinmetz's review of the Problem of Radio Power Transmission at the Chicago International Radio Congress, which was reprinted in a number of publications, including the September, 1922 Radio Age, came to the conclusion "that the present outlook for radio power transmission is very remote". As A. P. Morgan noted in 1912, "Only the future knows". With "the future" having subsequently arrived, we now know the skeptics were right, and wireless communication would not be followed by wireless power.
|"Thomas Clark, the head of Clark Wireless, which supplied the Great Lakes area, was forced out of business by United. He later recalled, 'In New York I had seen C. C. Wilson, President of United Wireless, and I told him he was discrediting wireless for himself and everyone. He told me he didn't give a damn.'" * * * * "Marconi was elated. He wrote to his wife, 'They [United Wireless] have admitted to having copied or stolen my patents and all their stations are to be called Marconi stations--this will do our company heaps of good.' 'So you see,' Marconi confided to his wife, 'Your Dick is slowly overcoming his enemies--of course it's not right to glory over it.' In public, he never did, but in private, he couldn't help himself. It was a momentous victory." -- Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1987.|