Whenever we talk about radio invention, the name of Guglielmo Marconi pops up. For sure, his experiment of sending and receiving radio signals in Italy, in 1895, proved the feasibility of radio communication. Marconi’s subsequent experiment of flashing the first wireless signal across the English Channel in 1899, and the demonstration of transatlantic radiotelegraph message (“S”) from England to Newfoundland, in 1902, solidified radio invention. However, like many other great inventions, radio invention is not the solo creative act of a genius. For sure, James Clerk Maxwell’s prediction of the existence of radio waves in the 1860s paved the way. Besides, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s demonstration that rapid variations of electric current could be projected into space in the form of radio waves, in 1886, was a formidable advancement in radio invention.
Similarly, Mahlon Loomis’ kite experiment in demonstrating wireless communication was a landmark achievement. Furthermore, contributions of Oliver Joseph Lodge, Édouard Branly, Reginald A. Fessenden, Joseph Henry, Michael Faraday, Hans Christian Ørsted, Oliver HeavisideDavid, Edward Hughes, Alexander Stepanovich Popov, John Stone Stone, Christmas Eve, Jagadish Chandra Bose, and others added up to the radio invention.
Radio invention is one of the transformative technologies for powering the second industrial revolution. Its role in mass communication has been remarkable. Like many other great inventions, it took many decades of work to establish theoretical underpinnings and conduct experimental investigations for discovering radio waves. It also needed engineering and technical developments related to the equipment for the transmission and detection. Such scientific, engineering and technical development had to precede in creating the foundation for Guglielmo Marconi’s to use radio waves in a wireless communication system.
Pre radio wave invention era—wireless communication theories and methods:
However, there were works in wireless telegraphy even prior to the discovery of electromagnetic waves and the development of radio communication. Some of the works were based on the theory that convection currents in the atmosphere could carry signals like a telegraph wire. Among notable contributions, William Henry Ward, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Sumner Tainter, and Mahlon Loomis received patents for the “wireless telegraph.” These activities spanned over 1872-1893.
Electromagnetism and Electromagnetic Waves: Precursors to Radio Invention
From 1800 to 1850, there were both theoretical and experimental works pertaining to electromagnetism. For example, in 1820, Hans Christian Ørsted demonstrated that a wire carrying a current could deflect a magnetized compass needle. Besides, through a series of experiments, Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction in 1831. Furthermore, between 1842 and 1850, Joseph Henry’s experiments detected inductive magnetic effects over a distance of 200 feet.
Subsequentially, James Clerk Maxwell developed his theory of electromagnetism. In 1873, he presented the theoretical basis of the propagation of electromagnetic waves in a paper. Observations on the effects of high-frequency oscillatory discharges of capacitors led to an important proposal in 1883. Through the discharge of a capacitor, Electromagnetic waves could be generated.
Through a series of experimental works, between 1886 and 1888, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz verified Maxwell’s theory. The first time, he succeeded in producing, transmitting, and detecting radio waves over a short distance. Furthermore, he was able to have some control over the frequencies of his radiated waves. He did it by altering the inductance and capacitance of his transmitting and receiving antennas. His experimentation also showed the light-like property of electromagnetic waves. Unfortunately, he died in 1894, leaving radio wave communication to others to implement for practical purposes.
Development of Radio Waves:
Works of Édouard Branly and Oliver Lodge led to the development of a sensitive device for detecting radio waves. Mr. Lodge called it coherer in 1893. Subsequent experimental works of Lodge and his public lectures inspired many radio pioneers. Notable ones are Augusto Righi, Guglielmo Marconi, Alexander Popov, Lee de Forest, and Jagadish Chandra Bose.
Among others, Jagadish Chandra Bose, in 1894, demonstrated the use of radio waves publicly in Calcutta. But he was neither interested in patenting nor commercially exploiting its potential. By the way, Mr. Bose’s non-responsiveness to claiming of patents for ideas and pursuing an entrepreneurial path for rolling out innovations around invented ideas appears to be a typical mindset of scientists in less developed countries. Perhaps, for this reason, they have been failing to develop an idea economy out of their capability in science.
For developing radio receiver better than coherer–based design, in 1894-95, the Russian physicist Alexander Stepanovich Popov conducted experiments. This development led to presenting his radio receiver to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society on May 7, 1895. Subsequently, in 1898, Nikola Tesla developed a radio/coherer-based remote-controlled boat.
Marconi’s Radio Invention—wireless telegraphy:
During his study at the Leghorn Technical School in 1894, Guglielmo Marconi became acquainted with the publications pertaining to related works, as explained in previous sections. Subsequently, he started experimentation leading to transmitting radio signals for about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) at the end of 1895. This demonstration led to winning a patent for radio with British patent No. 12,039. To commercialize the potential of this invention, Marconi founded Marconi Company Ltd. in 1897. In the same year, he established a radio station at Niton, Isle of Wight, England in the same year.
Marconi’s entrepreneurial move appears to be as important as his invention of radio communication. In the absence of it, demonstration of radio invention could have ended up in scientific experimentation. This move opened the pathway for continued refinement for diffusing innovations around radio invention deeper into society as progressive waves. Furthermore, it started creating jobs, firms, and industries. Hence, wealth creation out of the invention started to flow. This is a typical role model of linking curiosity, scientific discoveries, technology invention, and wealth creation out of science, technology, engineering, and math. Such examples are at the root of the endless frontier of growth.
Nobel Prize for Wireless Telegraphy:
However, the radio invention work did not stop at the point of Marconi’s demonstration and establishment of radio stations. It kept progressing with the contributions made by many others. One of the notable contributions was the introduction of a closed tuned circuit in the generating part of the transmitter. The solution also included its separation from the radiating part (the antenna) by means of inductive coupling by Ferdinand Braun (a German Electrical Engineer) in 1899. In addition to the crystal detector, Braun invented the phased array antenna in 1905. He carefully arranged three antennas to transmit a directional signal. Subsequently, Braun’s this invention led to the development of radar, smart antennas, and multiple-input and multiple-output technique for multiplying the capacity of a radio link. In recognition of the contribution to wireless telegraphy, both Marconi and Braun won Nobel Prize in 1909.