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
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
claims against the Wright Brothers' regarding having performed the first manned,
sustained, heavier-than-air, powered flight.
Marconi - Father of Radio?
Lieut.-Commander Edward H. Loftin, U.S.N. Resigned, M.A.
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hitherto unpublished facts contained in this reference material hence becomes an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.
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.
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
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 moving therealong.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 12
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
"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 wire."
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
(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 therewith.
(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 dollars.
[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 November 30, 2022
(updated from original post on 1/28/2016)