James Clerk Maxwell’s findings about electromagnetism in the 1870s and Hertz’s discovery of radio waves in the 1880s made Nikola Tesla think that the possibilities of electricity were endless.
Tesla’s next research was on high frequency electricity, but he had a problem.
Even his advanced AC generators could only generate a current of about 20,000 cycles per second.
The normal house runs on a 60-cycle-per second current.
Tesla invented a remarkable device called the Tesla coil, a transformer that changes the frequency of alternating current.
He now had access to extremely high frequency electricity, as high as hundreds of thousands of cycles per second.
Tesla’s first discoveries with high-frequency electricity were neon lights, fluorescent lights, and X-ray photosm, five years before Roentgen. Then he realized he could transmit and receive radio waves if they were tuned to the same frequency.
In early 1895, Tesla was ready to demonstrate that he could transmit a radio signal 50 miles between New York City and West Point. Just before the demonstration, his lab burned down, destroying his work.
Not long afterward, Marconi, using a Tesla coil, was transmitting across the English Channel and, a few years later, across the Atlantic Ocean.
Tesla waged a legal battle against Marconi for many years over the patent for radio. He had the original patent, but Marconi had powerful businessmen behind him and won the patent in 1904. The Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision in 1943, but Tesla had died a few months before.
Tesla had been disappointed by the failure of his radio demonstration, but he had a bigger idea he wanted to work on.
His plan was to build a world system of wireless communications called the Wireless Broadcasting System. The system would send phone messages across the oceans and it would broadcast news, music, weather, and even pictures anywhere in the world.
Tesla received $150,000 from financier J. P. Morgan to build a transmission tower and power plant for his system. but the investment was not nearly enough.
The project was scrapped and Tesla’s reputation never recovered.