January 1939 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
This is a must-read article for all persons interested
in the history of wireless communications. Seriously. Stop what you are doing and read it. I guarantee
the vast majority have never heard of this challenge to the veracity of
Mr. Guglielmo Marconi's
bestowed title of "father of wireless telegraphy." Most of us are at least passingly familiar with challenges
to Samuel Morse's, Thomas Edison's, and a few other notables' claims to being the first at a particular
technical breakthrough, but herein, as penned by of Lieutenant-Commander Edward H. Loftin, is a first-hand
account of multiple successful challenges by the U.S. Patent Office against Mr. Marconi and his
company, Marconi Wireless Telegraph, Ltd., regarding filings for patent protection. As with the other
aforementioned individuals, history writers long-ago grew tired of reminding the public of often dubious
assertions of creative individuals - other than that it seems every December 17 the media is sure to
bring up Whitehead's and
Chanute's claims against
the Wright Brothers' regarding
having performed the first manned, sustained, heavier-than-air, powered flight.
Marconi - Father of Radio?
By Edward H. Loftin
As expert witness for the United States in many important court cases involving pre-World War and
World War use of patented inventions Commander Loftin had access to perhaps the most complete existing
references concerning the pre-Marconi and Marconi days of radio. The following article (exclusive to
Radio-Craft) embracing hitherto unpublished facts contained in this reference material hence becomes
an exceptionally important contribution to radio literature.
Lieut.-Commander Edward H. Loftin, U.S.N. Resigned, M.A.
About 60 years before I took up residence on earth, in the backwoods of Alabama, Michael Faraday,
an Englishman, became muchly inquisitive about there being possibility of relation between light and
electricity, and many other effects nature had priorly made known to humanity more or less step-by-step.
Faraday-Maxwell-Loomis. While so engaged, Faraday became acquainted with
James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish antecedent of myself, both being members of the faculty of Cambridge
University, and disclosed to him his visions including relation between light and electricity, all of
which received warm and sympathetic response on the part of Maxwell; and so much so, that following
Faraday's passing away Maxwell qualified as an inheritor of Faraday's visions. To perpetuate the one
bearing on relation of light to electricity Maxwell mathematically expressed his and Faraday's visions
as the "electromagnetic theory of light" which, analyzed, put light and electricity in the same family.
Maxwell, being certain about the logic of his mathematical treatment of the relation of light and electricity,
did not bother to prove it by experimentation before he passed away.
Faraday did prove that a body, or electrical conductor, energized electrically sends forth in surrounding
space lines of force, visioned to extend to infinity, and that use could be made of these lines of force
in space, he having put this knowledge into invention of the now muchly-used electric generator which
offers no promise of becoming obsolete.
With the idea of electricity not staying put in bodies and/or conductors, but wandering around as
willing-to-work lines of force, being promulgated, Dr. Mahlon Loomis, an American residing in Washington,
D. C., was granted United States patent [US129971 A]
on July 30, 1872, disclosing as one form of practical use of these electrical effects the sending of
messages between locations having provisions for creating electrical disturbances, and each of them
being able to detect the disturbances set up by the other. This was followed by Smith, a good American
name, proposing sending signals from a wire paralleling the tracks of a railroad through space to cars
Phelps-Dolbear-Edison-Hertz. Americans Phelps, Dolbear and Edison obtained
United States patents in 1885, 1886 and 1891 respectively for ideas along the line of Loomis, and the
British interests that undertook to financially back Marconi, Italian, spent many years and much money
in effort to belittle these proposals of Americans because they did not specify use of very-high-frequency
alternating electrical current with which to create signal-representing disturbances proposed by Loomis,
this even though Maxwell's "electromagnetic theory of light" holds good for all frequencies.
Heinrich Hertz, a stubborn German not willing to believe without proof, set to work in the 1880's
to experimentally prove or disprove Maxwell's mathematical treatment of Faraday's "electromagnetic theory
of light"; and by 1886, with his now muchly famous oscillator, proved that Faraday's visioned lines
of force do move outward from their sources with the velocity of light, and could be detected in space,
these experiments having been conducted with very-high-frequency alternating current.
Pupin-Lodge-Crookes-Helmholtz. Even though this experimental confirmation
by Hertz of Faraday's vision about the relation of light and electricity set the scientific element
of the world on fire when made known, including such personalities as Professor Michael Pupin, my post-graduate
instructor at Columbia University, Sir Oliver Lodge of England, and Sir William Crookes of England as
being the answer to electrical communications to great distances through space, the Marconi interests
have fought this bitterly with prolonged attempts to belittle this accomplishment on the part of Hertz
because of it having been in a laboratory within limited distance; but the truth is that had Hertz not
soon passed away his initiative and genius would have led him to prove to the world that Faraday was
correct in visioning that the lines of force of electricity extend to infinity, Hertz having inherited
from Maxwell and Faraday, at the instigation of Hermann von Helmholtz, Professor of Physics of Berlin
University at the time, the inspiration to confirm their visions in full experimentally. Hertz unfortunately
died in 1894.
Professor Pupin, being a student at the University of Berlin under von Helmholtz, was among the first
competent scientists to learn the results of Hertz's experiments, von Helmholtz having read Hertz's
preliminary report to him in a meeting of the Physical Society at the end of 1887, which meeting Professor
Pupin had the honor of attending. This led to Pupin, soon after taking up professorship at Columbia
University, developing "electrical tuning" daily used in most of the homes of the world today.
Sir William Crookes, in writing in the Fortnightly Review of 1892, prophesied that the work of Hertz
with ether waves would provide transmission of Morse code signals by having the sending and receiving
apparatus tuned to a special wavelength already provided by Professor Pupin.
Hughes-Branly-Popoff. At this point the only feature needed to make the
apparatus practical and commercially acceptable was a means of detection of signal-bearing electrical
energy in a way to permit of interpreting the signals with human senses, and this was contributed in
1892 by Edouard Branly, a Frenchman using an idea obtained from David Edward Hughes, an Englishman,
that resulted in the now obsolete, famous "coherer". This device did not reach practical form until
Popoff, a Russian scientist, conceived the idea of adding to Branly's coherer a vibrating device to
cause decohering from signal to signal, namely, a tapper that would operate immediately coherer action
was obtained by reason of an incoming signal. The successful use of this, device was disclosed by Popoff
in the Journal Physico Chemical Society, St. Petersburg, in 1896.
Marconi. Now I clear the stage for Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian. In 1895
he erected a typical Hertz oscillator on his father's estate at Bologna, Italy, and with a Branly-Popoff
coherer detector successfully transmitted electrical communications signals within the limits of said
estate just as Hertz was limited in his laboratory, even though Faraday had made infinity a limit. With
this result accomplished, Marconi audaciously filed an application for patent in England in 1896 in
his own name disclosing the foregoing brain products of his predecessors and nothing more.
With this package of kidnaped brain products under his arm Marconi, having just reached the age of
maturity, tripped off to England, and there displayed in the open tricks accomplishable with his Hertz
oscillator and Branly-Popoff detector. This included sending signals 2 miles across Salisbury Plain,
signals from Needles, Isle of Wight, to a tugboat 18 miles away, and 2 British war vessels separated
Commercialization. With information not spread throughout the world as
fast as in these days, Marconi obtained the financial backing of uninformed wealthy Englishmen, and
with his English patent as an asset along with future rights under his inventions, the Wireless &
Signal Company was formed in July, 1897, which name was changed to Marconi Wireless Telegraph, Ltd.,
in 1900, with Marconi a director in charge of all development work.
Being thus provided with funds for building more powerful apparatus Marconi, step-by-step, obtained
greater and greater distances, flashing the first radio signals across the English Channel in 1899,
and the first trans-Atlantic signaling (Glace Bay to England) in December, 1902. The accompanying publicity
caused Leggett, an English writer, to state:
"The average English reader is practically unaware of the existence of any important commercial system
of wireless telegraphy other than that of the Marconi Co., and is quite astounded when told of the existence
of another system which, outside England and a few of its colonies, is perhaps for land stations the
most extensively adopted by other countries."
The reading of this statement on the part of the administrative personnel of the Marconi Company
was probably accompanied by cold chills down the backs of them, it probably having been in the way of
news to them to learn that Marconi was not the only human being that knew of electrical communication
without connecting wire. From then on, much effort was made to stage the name of Marconi in the plays
that followed. This information probably prompted decision to extend into the United States by incorporating
the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, and to file corresponding applications for patent
in Marconi's name in the United States Patent Office.
As a promotional scheme the Marconi backers attempted to create for Marconi the appellation of "father
of wireless telegraphy", and with the pressure brought to bear publicly were successful until 1935 when
this appellation was formally revoked, the story of which now follows.
Loftin. Having obtained an extensive education and experience in electricity,
and particularly in electrical communications, commencing at the United States Naval Academy between
1904-1908, and post-graduate at Columbia University between 1913-1915 under the famous Professor Michael
I. Pupin (who became "Mike" to me as one of a few), and in charge of electrical communications and developments
from time to time, and most extensively in France during participation of the United States in the World
War, I "as appointed Chairman of the famous Interdepartmental Radio Board (2 Army, 2 Navy and 1 Justice
members) to hear any and all claims against the United States for all of its uses of patented inventions
in any and all radio equipment before and during the World War.
7777. The Marconi Company, having been quite successful with buying the
appellation of "father of wireless telegraphy" for Marconi while having foreign and domestic courts
sustain his No. 7777
first British patent and its corresponding United States patent, and its so-called "4 tuned circuit"
patent, tried to use Marconi's "father of wireless telegraphy" name and his 2 patents as an Archimedes
crowbar for prying open the doors of the vaults of the United States Treasury by suing the United States
in the Court of Claims on July 26, 1916, for a named $6,000,000.00. This suit was interrupted in 1919
by the Marconi Company presenting its claim to me on the Inter-departmental Radio Board in the hope
of prying open the vault doors of the Treasury earlier than could be done by way of the Court of Claims.
On account of muchly increased uses of radio by all Departments of the Government during the World War,
much more than $6,000,000.00 was visioned.
With me never having seen a patent before, and Marconi Company so knowing, its representatives tried
to make their crowbar appear big and strong by naming 350 patents as basis for its claim, this with
other claimants naming in the order of 2,000 more. Before I finished with this company I learned that
Marconi had not obtained during the preceding years as much as one patent over his original 2 in the
20 years of opportunity accorded him, and became suspicious of his creative ability because of this
showing on his part. Nor were there any patents of the 350 that showed Marconi, as director in charge
of development and research, had caused those under him to invent anything of use for radio communication,
the company's representative having agreed with me to drop and forget 346 patents in the bunch. With
my finally feeling them out as to a settlement for $1,253,389.02, it was readily acknowledged to be
acceptable, the Marconi Company being badly in need of money at the time.
Congress, on favorably listening to me about an appropriation of $2,236,172.39 to settle all patent
claims for radio use, listened to Congressman Blanton's objection on the grounds that the money should
be spent for caring for our wounded soldiers instead of enriching the pockets of rich patent owners,
and settlement died a quick death following 2 1/2 years of hard and earnest labor.
Not long after the Attorney General wrote to the Secretary of the Navy saying that the Government,
having been sued by the Marconi Company and others, and more suits were expected, was going to lose
"many million dollars" if that fellow Loftin was allowed to go to sea where he belonged because he was
told by his patent fellows that Loftin was the only one that could save the situation, and though he
knew he was butting into the Navy Department's affairs, he couldn't help doing so, and the said Loftin's
orders to sea were cancelled.
The Marconi Company then employed a number of so-called experts, as well as Marconi himself, to work
with its crowbar by way of the Court of Claims, and this crowd pumped 1,154 pages of testimony and 367
exhibits on the crowbar as lubrication for its job, and I wiped it all away with 346 pages of my testimony.
Court Decision. On November 8, 1935, government counsel in the case wrote
me that the Court of Claims had decided against Marconi in exactly the way I advised it to do, and my
testimony had wiped out the entire claim in effect, and the Department of Justice would furnish me with
a copy of an 80-page printed decision it used in following my testimony, and I would find it "especially
gratifying" because my testimony did the job. On page 52 of this decision the Court of Claims said unanimously:
"Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian scientist, is sometimes called the father of wireless telegraphy but
he was not the first to discover that electrical communications could be made without the use of connecting
At last the truth is confirmed. Marconi possessed commercial initiative instead of creative genius,
and dissipation of the smoke screen has brought this to light.
This put an end to the Marconi interests attempting to pry open the doors of the Treasury vaults,
and they had to depend upon the pocket of the Radio Corporation of America, which has stepped into Marconi's
shoes in the United States, to pay the wasted costs of the crowbar action, it having been found that
the crowbar had reached its elastic limit, and cracked under the pressure exerted on Treasury vault
Some people recently became interested in erecting in Washington a memorial to Marconi, as inventor
of wireless telegraphy, and in the name of The Marconi Memorial Foundation, Inc., asked Congress for
permission to do so with the result that permission was granted in Public Resolution No. 86, 75th Congress,
approved by the President April 13, 1938. I ask who is capable of composing an epitaph for such a memorial
that will not conflict with the holding of the august body comprising the Court of Claims of the United
States decided in Marconi vs. The United States, November 4, 1935?
(Copy) Edwards, Bower & Pool
Counsellors at Law
63 Wall Street
November 8, 1935.
Mr. Edward H. Loftin,
1406 G Street, N. W.,
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. Loftin:
Marconi v. U. S.
I received this morning a copy of the opinion of the Court of Claims in the above case. Mr. Mothershead
will send you a copy. When you receive it you will note that it wipes out the entire claim except for
the small use of the Lodge loading coil between March 8, 1913, and August 16, 1915, and the relatively
insignificant use of some set - employing a variable condenser in addition to the usual variable inductance
in the antenna.
I think the decision will be especially gratifying to you because on all vital questions concerning
the operation of the apparatus and the scientific questions involved, your testimony has been adopted.
I stated to you sometime ago that in preparing the brief in the case I was especially impressed with
the clarity and thoroughness of your testimony, and I think that the successful outcome is in large
measure due to your testimony.
With best regards, I am
Yours very truly,
(s) C. V. Edwards.
Note: The writer, in the capacity of Special Assistant to the Attorney General, was Government Counsel
in this case, the defense of which was worked up by the addressee. This case was one with which the
Attorney General in his letter of August 2, 1922, was most concerned. Marconi's testimony, including
Marconi in person and 5 technical witnesses, aggregated 1,154 printed pages and 367 exhibits, answered
by 345 pages of corroborative testimony and 185 exhibits. Decision covered 80 printed pages. The claim
is, in effect, completely wiped out, as the cost to Marconi of establishing amount of Government use
would exceed what could finally be recovered. The last page of record in the case is the Government's
brief numbered 4,289. This suit ran 19 years before completion.
Official U. S. Naval Record of Edward H. Loftin, Lieutenant-Commander United States Navy, Resigned.
Office of the Attorney General
August 2, 1922.
Honorable Edwin Denby,
Secretary of the Navy,
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
This Department is engaged in the preparation for the defense of a number of suits brought by the
Marconi Company and others against the United States on various patents relating to radio communications.
These, with claims being investigated which may result in suits, involve the charge of responsibility
by the United States to the extent of many millions of dollars.
It will be necessary for the proper presentation of the Government's defense in these cases to have
the assistance of the experts of your Department and particularly the patent branch of this Department
has been depending upon the assistance of Lieutenant-Commander E. H. Loftin, U.S.N., in the patent section
of the Radio Division of the Bureau of Engineering, Navy Department. Lieutenant-Commander is represented
to me as the one person best fitted in your Department to give efficient aid in the defense of the United
States in these important suits by reason of his extensive acquaintance with Government practice in
the radio art and his experience as chairman of the Interdepartmental Radio Board. My assistants who
have charge of these matters report to me that they are greatly concerned to learn that Commander Loftin
will be ordered to sea and be unavailable when needed.
I trust that you will not consider that I am interfering with the management of your Department if
I say frankly that I consider the absence of Commander Loftin during the next year may result in very
considerable loss to the Government in these suits and I would deem it a special favor if you would
take steps as to insure his presence here so that he may be on call of this Department in connection
(s) H. M. Daughterty,
The "many millions of dollars" and "very considerable loss" was estimated by those acquainted with
the situation to be of the order of 40 million dollars ($40,000,000.00) with Marconi as principal claimant.
The one named has finished all of these suits, 12 in number, with the loss not exceeding 1/2-million
[Public Resolution - No. 86 - 75th Congress]
[Chapter 147 - 3D Session]
[H. J. Res. 499]
Authorizing the erection of a memorial to the late Guglielmo Marconi.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That the Secretary of the Interior be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to grant permission
to The Marconi Memorial Foundation, Inc., for the erection on public grounds of the United States in
the District of Columbia, other than those of the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the White House,
of a memorial of simple and artistic form to the late Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of an apparatus for
wireless telegraphy, by the American people: Provided, That the site chosen and the design of the memorial
shall have the approval of the National Commission of Fine Arts and that the United States shall be
put to no expense in or by the erection of the said memorial: Provided further, That unless funds, which
in the estimation of the Secretary of the Interior are sufficient to insure the completion of the memorial,
are certified available, and the erection of this memorial begun within 5 years from and after the passage
of this legislation, the authorization hereby granted is revoked.
Approved, April 13, 1938.
EDITORIAL NOTE-The photo on pg. 393 illustrates Commander Loftin (at present director and patent
attorney of International Television Radio Corp.) in uniform at the time he gave evidence before the
committee of the Interstate Commerce Commission that resulted in his report in the form of "Radio Industry"
dated 1923. He introduced the famous Loftin-White direct-coupled amplifier.
Copyright to this article is limited to the author's name.
Posted January 28, 2016