In the spring of 1897 Marconi was working for the Post Office experimenting with his invention over increasing distances of five, ten and fifteen kilometres in the Bristol channel. His scientific discovery had been unveiled to the public several months before, but nobody had the slightest idea of how it worked. Emperor Wilhelm II sent a German engineer, Adolf Slaby, to witness one of Marconi's experiments.
Slaby was born in Berlin in 1849. Professor, consultant and politician, he brought engineering to an important position during the new Reich. He worked on wireless telegraphy from 1897 to 1903 and although a brief period, he was welcomed as the "German Marconi" and the pioneer of "Funkentelegraphie" (spark telegraphy).
The Emperor was a great promoter of wireless telegraphy in Germany because he had a technical and scientific passion for it. He asked Slaby to investigate further into this new technology. After attending Marconi's demonstrations, Slaby decided to launch a research programme at the Technische Hochschule where he worked with Earl Georg von Arco. Slaby devised a system similar to Marconi's - but with features that allowed its independence. He also produced a series of patents and signed a commercial agreement with the company A.E.G.
During this time another German scientist, Karl Ferdinand Braun, invented a wireless telegraphic transmission system and struck a deal with Siemens. Therefore in Germany at the beginning of the 1900's there were two competing systems: the A.E.G. Slaby-Arco and the Braun-Siemens. The union of the two companies, favoured by the Emperor, was ratified in May 1903 with the foundation of a new company: Telefunken.
From then on Slaby's involvement in wireless telegraphy diminished. During his career he received great honours (although not the Nobel prize that he perhaps hoped for), but he was also criticised for the inaccuracy of his technical explanations. He died from complications due to illness in Berlin, in 1913.
In his speech held at the Swedish Royal Academy, Marconi recalled Slaby attending his experiments in Bristol. But many years later however, he regretted having been forced to invite the German professor. This behaviour several years after Slaby's death was quite unusual for a tactful person like Marconi. Perhaps he was exhausted by the long competition that took place between the Marconi Company and its German competitors at the beginning of the 1900's.
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