In search of the most innovative people in the field of technology I will start with the story of Reginald Fessenden, the Canadian born inventor who once worked for Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse and went on to develop radio and wireless communications.
When asked who invented radio, many names will get tossed out. Starting my career in communications, a name most often mentioned as the inventor of radio was Marconi. Another name often mentioned in the invention of radio is Nikola Tesla, who also once worked for Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. After doing quite a bit of research It was obvious that without a doubt, Reginald Fessenden did more to develop radio than either Marconi or Tesla.
Reginald Fessenden came to America in 1886, hoping to work for Thomas Edison. Fessenden started working for Edison as a junior technician, and eventually became his head chemist.
Ironically, after leaving Edison in 1890, Fessenden would cross paths with George Westinghouse, and helped Westinghouse in defeating Edison in the War of Currents. Westinghouse was impressed with Fessenden and personally recruited him for the newly created position of chair of the Electrical Engineering department at the Western University of Pennsylvania which would become the University of Pittsburgh.
Much of Fessenden's work in developing radio and wireless communications was done while he was chair of the electrical engineering department at Western University of Pennsylvania from 1893 to 1900. Fessenden began experimenting with wireless telephones in 1898, creating a wireless communication system functioning between Pittsburgh and Allegheny City.
Reginald A. Fessenden is not as well-known as his contemporary inventors such as Edison, Marconi, and Tesla. As I researched the question of "who invented radio" it become clear that in the end it was the work of Fessenden that established radio as one of the most powerful communication tools in history.
There were many radio visionaries that proved the concept of radio waves. In 1894, the Indian physicist, Jagadish Chandra Bose, demonstrated radio waves by igniting gunpowder and ringing bell at a distance using electromagnetic waves. Nikola Tesla first demonstrated to the public in 1898, a remotely controlled model boat at New York City's old Madison Square Garden.
Marconi gets credit for the invention of radio, but he was actually working on the idea of "wireless telegraphy," the transmission of telegraph messages without connecting wires as used by the electric telegraph. In 1901, the signal that Marconi sent across the Atlantic Ocean was a repetitive signal of three clicks, signifying the Morse code letter S.
But it was Fessenden who broadcast to ships at sea the first music and voice program which included himself playing the violin and reading from the Bible, on Christmas Eve 1906. Sailors who typically were listening for dots and dashes heard "O Holy Night" instead.
The invention of radio seems like it should have been a simple idea, but discussing the concept of radio stirs up some of the most fascination and complex debates over the history of technology. The US government always had their hands in the mix of mucking up the development of radio, and Reginald Fessenden was always involved in a battle to establish his ownership in the invention of radio.
After many years of patent litigation Fessenden eventually settled his claims against the government created monopoly that controlled radio known as the Radio Trust. With $500,000, and the right to be called the father of radio, Fessenden retired to the island of Bermuda. He died there in 1932, relatively unknown.
A greater appreciation of Westinghouse and Fessenden thanks to Tesla
As various social media posts and online magazines recently celebrated the 160th birthday of Nikola Tesla the myths were flowing proclaiming Tesla the inventor of everything during the industrial age, and making him the martyr of a cruel world who does not appreciate him.
Digging deeper into history of technology I have developed a greater appreciation of the forgotten geeks like George Westinghouse and Reginald Fessenden.
The internet is full of graphic memes and videos touting the War of Currents as the great battle between Tesla and the great wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison. The name of George Westinghouse is often left out of the conversation.
Tesla did not invent AC electricity, he was one member of the team. The War of Currents was won by the quiet soft-spoken genius George Westinghouse and Westinghouse Electric. Thomas Edison waged a nasty campaign against Westinghouse during the
Westinghouse was working of the idea of using AC (alternating current) for delivery electricity to our homes, for a few year before he learned of Nikola Tesla. Westinghouse had a vision, and he saw that the work that Tesla was doing with AC motors could be used in developing the greater vision. Not only did Westinghouse harness the power of alternating current for the good of the world, he also harnessed the mind and ideas of Nikola Tesla, like no one else has ever done.
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