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Mon, May. 4th, 2009, 12:38 am
On the invention of the radio.

Like most Russians, I think, I was taught that the radio was invented by Popov. This isn't something that someone specifically said to me, but rather what I heard and saw all the time. In physics books that I used to read as a kid (which, obviously, were in Russian) and in all sorts of russian sources the invention of the radio was credited solely to Popov, the Radio Day in Russia, sometimes announced by the news readers is celebrated in honour of Popov, my parents are firmly confident that the inventor of the radio is Popov and nothing ever seemed wrong about it.

I do not know when did I first hear the name "Marconi," but one thing is certain and that is that it has been significantly later than "Popov." And not in a scientific book at all, but rather, I think, something by Umberto Eco, I think "Foucalt's Pendulum." I must have been thirteen or something by that time. I didn't investigate the thing back then and after that I have, of course, heard the name Marconi many more times after that, but that did never shake the firm inner conviction that this is all bullshit, that those who credit Marconi as the inventor of the radio do not know what they're talking about.

That is until some sort of an argument prompted me to investigate. Investigation turned out that:

- Marconi was not the first to actually invent the radio, but rather only the first to massively commercially distribute radio units.
- Popov carried out his demonstration a few months before Marconi's experiments
- It seems, however, that Marconi was not aware of Popov's demonstration when he conducted those and so invented the radio independently
- The two met later in 1902
- Nicola Tesla had a demonstration of radio waves production in 1893, two years before Popov and Marconi. On this basis Marconi was denied a patent in the United States (imenno, you were correct!)
- However, it is not actually clear what does it mean to "invent" the radio in the sense we know it today and whether what Tesla did could actually be called inventing the radio.
- There had been theoretical research into radio waves before Tesla by Hertz and other physicists
- Marconi was a fascist

Based on this and this article, I would probably say that the inventor of the radio is first and foremost Tesla, then Popov & Marconi, with Marconi after Popov.

Another interesting thing is the propaganda surrounding this issue. Russians and russian sources are most likely to hail Popov as the inventor and ignore all the rest. I imagine the opposite is true in Italy with Marconi.

The really interesting thing is, if you answer the question "who invented the radio" unhesitantly with "Popov," you are probably Russian. The inverse relationship, as this survey shows (of people answering something else-- e.g. Marconi-- not being Russian by origin) is not true (although I should probably try this survey with people who grew up in Russia), but I haven't yet seen anyone mentioning Popov who wasn't Russian.

And deep inside I might still be thinking that Popov is the "real" inventor.

Deep and firm inner convictions that persist from childhood are bitches.

Sun, May. 3rd, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
korvin_ilia

Tesla invented many things. But, unfortunately, we have no real proof for
most of his inventions. In some last years, it became very fashionable to refer Tesla's name, when talking about every invention made in 19'scentury :)

Sun, May. 3rd, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
talash

Well in this case, like I said, Marconi was denied a patent in the USA because of Tesla, so it's not just about fashion.