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The Invention of Radio

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The Invention of Radio

Guglielmo Marconi

Radio owes its development to two other inventions, the telegraph and the telephone, all three technologies are closely related. Radio technology began as "wireless telegraphy".

Radio can refer to either the electronic appliance that we listen with or the content listened to. However, it all started with the discovery of "radio waves" - electromagnetic waves that have the capacity to transmit music, speech, pictures and other data invisibly through the air. Many devices work by using electromagnetic waves including: radio, microwaves, cordless phones, remote controlled toys, television broadcasts, and more.

The Roots of Radio

During the 1860s, Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of radio waves; and in 1886, German physicist, Heinrich Rudolph Hertz demonstrated that rapid variations of electric current could be projected into space in the form of radio waves similar to those of light and heat.

In 1866, Mahlon Loomis, an American dentist, successfully demonstrated "wireless telegraphy." Loomis was able to make a meter connected to one kite cause another one to move, marking the first known instance of wireless aerial communication.

Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, proved the feasibility of radio communication. He sent and received his first radio signal in Italy in 1895. By 1899 he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel and two years later received the letter "S", telegraphed from England to Newfoundland. This was the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message in 1902.

Nikola Tesla

In addition to Marconi, two of his contemporaries Nikola Tesla and Nathan Stufflefield took out patents for wireless radio transmitters. Nikola Tesla is now credited with being the first person to patent radio technology; the Supreme Court overturned Marconi's patent in 1943 in favor of Tesla.

Growth of Radio - Radiotelegraph and Spark-Gap Transmitters

Radio-telegraphy is the sending by radio waves the same dot-dash message (morse code) used in a telegraph. Transmitters at that time were called spark-gap machines. It was developed mainly for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication. This was a way of communicating between two points, however, it was not public radio broadcasting as we know it today.

Wireless signals proved effective in communication for rescue work when a sea disaster occurred. A number of ocean liners installed wireless equipment. In 1899 the United States Army established wireless communications with a lightship off Fire Island, New York. Two years later the Navy adopted a wireless system. Up to then, the Navy had been using visual signaling and homing pigeons for communication.

In 1901, radiotelegraph service was instituted between five Hawaiian Islands. By 1903, a Marconi station located in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, carried an exchange or greetings between President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII. In 1905 the naval battle of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war was reported by wireless, and in 1906 the U.S. Weather Bureau experimented with radiotelegraphy to speed notice of weather conditions.

In 1909, Robert E. Peary, arctic explorer, radiotelegraphed: "I found the Pole". In 1910 Marconi opened regular American-European radiotelegraph service, which several months later, enabled an escaped British murderer to be apprehended on the high seas. In 1912, the first transpacific radiotelegraph service linked San Francisco with Hawaii.

Improvements to Radio Transmitters

Overseas radiotelegraph service developed slowly, primarily because the initial radiotelegraph transmitter discharged electricity within the circuit and between the electrodes was unstable causing a high amount of interference. The Alexanderson high-frequency alternator and the De Forest tube resolved many of these early technical problems.

Lee DeForest - AM Radio

Lee Deforest invented space telegraphy, the triode amplifier and the Audion. In the early 1900s, the great requirement for further development of radio was an efficient and delicate detector of electromagnetic radiation. Lee De Forest provided that detector. It made it possible to amplify the radio frequency signal picked up by the antenna before application to the receiver detector; thus, much weaker signals could be utilized than had previously been possible. De Forest was also the person who first used the word "radio".

The result of Lee DeForest's work was the invention of amplitude-modulated or AM radio that allowed for a multitude of radio stations. The earlier spark-gap transmitters did not allow for this.

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