In patent after patent, Marconi simply adapted and altered the discoveries and devices made by his former heroes. In several cases, he took the very diagrams which they had previously published with their own classic work on wireless. Marconi simply added some minor component to these systems, calling them his own. Marconi had no shame in this practice. Marconi claimed that such components were like the wheel-and-axle of ancient times, elements which were being developed. He further had the audacity to state that such components, though discovered by others, should be implemented in new ways. He stretched beyond limit the common Victorian laws which governed dignity and decorum. Those who published their discoveries in the traditional style, those who freely shared their inventions before protecting themselves, became favored sources for plagiaristic escapades.
With apparatus, gleaned from the whole world of European invention, Marconi demonstrated his characteristic panache to the hilt. First to admit that he had derived electrical components previously discovered and developed by others, he selectively gave credit to predecessors when it suited his pride to do so. Many of the legends from whom he “adapted components” were still living. By now, his extensive financial base permitted him to cover the numerous suits which were justly levelled against him. But Marconi was ever the victor in court He now fared with the rich of the earth who gave him strong aid in these bureaucratic matters. J. P. Morgan, no connoisseur of scientific originality, granted Marconi favor for various reasons. We have characterized the relationship between Morgan and Tesla as one of duplicity and excessive animosity. This mutual animosity derived from the fact that Tesla Technology so completely threatened the monopolistic ventures of Morgan. In fact, Tesla developed so many monopoly destabilizing technologies that he was actually targeted on several occasions for death. The commodore needed some individual to “cover” the name, the fame, and the scientific strides of Nikola Tesla. Attending advisors were given this very assignment. The now-public accolades which crowned the young Marconi attracted these attentions.
When questioned by knowledgeable reporters concerning accusations of plagiarism, Marconi was abrupt and diplomatic. He never claimed to have discovered the principles on which Radio was based. He never claimed to have invented Radio either. Marconi claimed that, while experimenters were fascinated by the transmission of electrical power through space, he saw the application of this technique for long-distance signalling. What he claimed was the application of existing components into a radiosignalling system where alternating currents were used to broadcast waves. In essence, Marconi was staking his claim on all wireless components, demanding that none of these inventions alone could be considered a true radio system. Essentially, Marconi expected others to do as he had always done, to view the inventions of his predecessors as “free and public domain”. Of course, these demands did not extend to his own patents! When others attempted the use of his own components, he was ruthless.
As his company grew, so also did his plagiaristic method. The “Marconi method” was to patent what he termed “systems”. These were always composed of existing apparatus. Connecting them in “new combinations”, he then claimed each system as an invention. Thereafter, Marconi engaged in patent “busting”, the latter Edisonian method by which previous patents could be changed and slighdy redesigned, being licensed as completely new and original inventions. One marvels that, during this period of time, fewer truly original patents appear in the Registry than in the late Nineteenth Century.
After Marconi, the “component derivative method” obtained patents for uninspired inventors who, like himself, made huge commercial profits on their “new and original systems”. Though brazenly implementing several of Tesla’s patents, Marconi refused to acknowledge Tesla at all. Marconi demonstrated his bureaucratic connections in several court cases. In each court decision, the Marconi claims were persistently upheld. Apparently it was important for certain moguls that Marconi’s wireless become the success which history records. Wireless could be used to monitor foreign oil and steel markets with rare swiftness. Unlike Tesla’s plan for broadcasting true power along with signals, the Marconi Radio System was a “safe” mode of communications which could not threaten existing fuel dynasties.
Coming mosdy from an uneducated populace, the accolades and applause were heaped on Marconi in ignorance of the fact that “his radio” was stolen merchandise. Unfortunately, he had neither the gratitude nor the decency to include those from whom he so liberally and openly stole. In fact, Marconi was a far more successful businessman than an inventor. According to Marconi, while each of these system components stood as original, they did not comprise an invention in combination. In the eyes of those who knew better, Marconi had simply tinkered together an assembly made of parts belonging to others; a system of components which should have delivered royalties to their true inventors. The list would have been staggering. In any other such system, Marconi would have not had enough profits for himself to make the system an international business success.
Unwilling to accept Teslian aether physics on the basis of pride and the fact that his systems appeared totally ineffective, Marconi restricted his scientific world-view to the existing convention, one which already rejected Tesla’s claims. Limited in this myopic viewpoint of natural science, Marconi never strayed far from the academically accepted world of electrical science. He always “played the science game straight”, so that ridicule and the possibility of social unpopularity would never come near him. He knew well what happened to Tesla. New and penetrating radio theories would not be heard spouting from his lips. Regardless of the true glory of the legend, Marconi chose to avoid Tesla’s legendary route of scientific martyrdom. He insisted that powerful high frequency alternating currents were the only useful means for broadcasting the weak alternating “radio” waves. Though completely inefficient as a message transactive means, Marconi boasted of his ability to make the system a practical utility. Science and finance were each watching, yet remaining uncommitted.
The necessary test of his radiosignalling system, the “acid test” imposed on him now, and annoying necessity. Before seizing the financial profits away from ordinary submarine telegraphic or telephonic exchanges, Marconi had to prove the ability of his weak waves to cross the Atlantic. To this end he was given funds with which to conduct a demonstration of the practical transmission and reception of signals, with clarity. The system had to bring the clarity and speed which submarine telegraphy afforded. High speed telegraphic transmission was the central feature toward which his efforts would be focussed.
- CHAPTER 1
- CHAPTER 3