Few scientists showed as much genius while forming intense rivalries with peers as Nikola Tesla. Many scientists and historians would now acknowledge that Nikola Tesla invented the conventional means of transmitting radio signals throughout the air, but the question of who really invented the radio was disputed for many years before it was finally settled in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943.
Radios are made up of two basic components: a transmitter and a receiver. All radios use continuous sine waves to transmit information. These waves have various frequencies that separate various signals. The frequencies allow different devices to receive different information. They also allow radio stations to transmit different programs on different channels.
The radio transmitter is the initial technology used in a broadcast. It collects information -- perhaps a frame of video, a radio announcer's program or a cell phone caller's voice -- and encodes it in a continuous sine wave. The transmitter then sends the radio waves out to whatever receivers are tuned in to receive them. The receiver captures the radio waves with an antenna and decodes them for use in whatever application is collecting the data.
The most basic part of radio technology -- the ability to generate and control these continuous sine waves -- can certainly be attributed to Tesla. In 1895, Tesla discovered that by tuning two Tesla coils to the same resonant frequency, he could generate and transmit radio waves. A year later in England, an Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi filed a patent for a wireless telegraphy method. While Marconi had made some interesting progress toward wireless telegraphy, his early models were capable of only limited transmission strength and distance.
Tesla filed for radio patents in 1897 in the United States. Marconi attempted to file for patents in 1900 but received a denial because of Tesla's existing patents. But Marconi's radio company began to experience financial success and support from important members of the American industrial community, like Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie. In 1904, the U.S. patent office granted Marconi a patent for the invention of radio. Tesla was infuriated over the insult, and many people still call Marconi the father of radio. Marconi even went on to win a Nobel prize for his work in 1909, though the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Tesla's favor when they finally heard the case in 1943.
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