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Nikola Tesla

Between the 1800 and 1900's, many people questioned the value of Marconi's invention. There was one man though, Nikola Tesla, who had the right credentials to challenge the Italian inventor.

A Serbian, he was born in 1856 in what is today Croatia (which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). After completing his studies in Graz and Prague, he worked as an engineer in Budapest and Paris. In 1884 he moved to the United States and was employed by Thomas Alva Edison, who did not however recognize Tesla's professional talent. Tesla thus went on to work for George Westinghouse, where he gave a decisive contribution to the so-called "War of the Currents" establishing the alternating current system for electric power distribution.

Naturalized in 1891, Tesla then opened his own laboratory in New York. By the time he became an American citizen in 1897, he was already held in great esteem by local scientists and investors, allowing him to dedicate himself to some of his most challenging experiments. His research on high frequency and high-tension currents became of prominent importance and the name "Tesla currents" was coined. After 1890 he began studying the transmission of signals over distances and in 1893, two years prior to Marconi, he gave a demonstration of his experiments at the St. Louis Auditorium. But soon afterwards, as was often the case with Tesla, he abandoned his research in this direction without achieving a net result or making a significant commercial advancement.

In 1899 he moved to Colorado Springs, where he found the perfect conditions for his experiments. Tesla pursued thousands of projects, one of which was the Wardenclyffe Tower, a structure designed for the wireless transmission of both data and electricity, which was never fully operational due to economic impediments.

Although Tesla often managed to obtain substantial funding, he was declared bankrupt in 1916. From the 1920's he tried in vain to negotiate with the UK government for the construction of a radar system. He announced many extravagant projects such as the "death ray", the reception of extraterrestrial signals and teletransport, all of which contributed in gaining him the reputation of being a fascinating, although unreliable "wizard-scientist".

When, in 1943, Tesla died from a heart attack in New York he was destitute and lonely. In the same year the US Supreme Court issued a sentence on the use of some patents in the United States which penalized the Marconi Company, providing a sort of legal excuse (very poor indeed) for those who tended to nourish Tesla’s myth and claim his role as the “real” inventor of the radio.

Although quite popular, Nikola Tesla was never awarded the Nobel Prize, even if in 1915 the press rashly and mistakenly announced that he would share the Nobel with Edison, whom he despised. When in 1909 it was awarded to Marconi, Tesla felt betrayed. He considered the Italian scientist an usurper, but he was not entirely right. Tesla was undoubtedly the first scientist to demonstrate that an electric impulse could be sent over distances, but he was unable to transmit a message, as Marconi had, using the Morse code. Above all, Tesla was unable to develop his ideas into purposeful applications, whereas Marconi conceived and developed his ideas step by step, thus creating wireless telegraphy.








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