Michael McAdams
March 1996

On November 4, 1995 there were a number of celebrations around the world marking the one hundredth anniversary of the first radio voice broadcast by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. It was indeed an important milestone and an exhibit at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts Theater a fitting commemoration. Many journalists wrote that Marconi "invented" radio a century ago. However, while Marconi was the first to broadcast the human voice, he did not invent radio. That honor and patent belong to the electrical genius Nikola Tesla who gave us, among other things, alternating current.

While it might seem that Serbs and Croatians can agree on little or nothing for the past five years, Tesla is a hero to both nations and is presently pictured on Serbian currency. Tesla was an Orthodox Serb from Lika, Croatia who moved to the United States in 1884 to work with the likes of Bell, Edison, and Westinghouse. Tesla's radio was invented in Europe in 1893 and a U.S. patent for the electronic transmission of signals and data was filed on September 2, 1897. The patent was allowed on March 20, 1900 (Patent No. 645,576) and became Tesla's second radio patent, the first being granted in 1898. Marconi's patent for voice transmission alone, was filed on November 10, 1900 and was rejected as a duplicate of Tesla's.

In later years the Marconi Company attempted to strip Tesla of his patent. After years of litigation and thousands of pages of testimony from the world's great scientists, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tesla's to be the sole valid patent in June 1943, only months after Tesla's death. The case was much more than academic. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company made millions and wanted sole ownership of radio. Like most of his inventions, Tesla was willing to give the technology to the world for free. In 1904 Tesla envisioned, to the disbelief of most of the world, "A cheap and simple device, which might be carried in one's pocket may then be set up anywhere on sea or land, and it will record the world's news or such special messages as may be intended for it. Thus the earth will be converted into a huge brain...the system will have a virtually infinite working capacity and immensely facilitate and cheapen the transmission of intelligence."

In life, Tesla was an eccentric and brilliant man, called the "prodigal genius." In death his legacy lives on as even today his theories continue to be explored and con-firmed. It is nearly impossible to enter a modern room or vehicle, whether an automobile or space shuttle and not see some device, whether a computer screen or a telephone, that can be traced back to his genius. But his greatest legacy may be in being one of the few shared heroes of Croatia and Serbia.

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