An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery: Slovak Inventors 1/4: Jozef Murgas and Wireless Telepathy

Posted on February 17, 2014

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Murgas

I had absolutely no idea. Going in to the Slovakian portion of this, I was at a bit of a loss to begin with. Out of all the nations involved, Slovakia was the one I knew the least about. I knew that Czechoslovakia split up in 1993, I knew Bratislava castle annoyed me and I was fully aware of the poor state of their domestic football league. That was it. Oh, and that they were shitty to their Jews in World War Two, but that isn’t exactly something to stand a chapter on. Imagine my shock then, when after burrowing the depths of the internet an unavoidable fact became clear; Slovaks have invented a lot of stuff. Bionic arm? Wireless telegraphy? Helicopter? An automated chess player? The first modern parachute? GP-freakin-S? Who knew? Not me, that’s who.

We’ve got to start somewhere, so step forward Jozef Murgas. Born in Tajov, in the Lower Tatras region in February 1864, Murgas entered the priesthood at a young age and it was this calling that would eventually lead to him immigrating to the United States at the age of 32. Not before going to art school in Munich and electrical college in Vienna of course. Eastern European immigration to the States was speeding up, and the burgeoning Slovak community in Pennsylvania needed a pastor for their church. Enter Murgas.

His work wasn’t restricted to the pulpit however. He set himself up a workshop in the basement of the church rectory, allowing him to perform experiments all night long before preaching in the daytime. It was in this basement that Murgas would develop a musical tone system that would enable faster recognition of Morse code signals. Morse was still the main communicative channel at the time. Murgas patented his system in 1904 and found many investors fairly quickly The influx of cash meant that in 1905 Jozef Murgas was able to perform the first range communication test between two towns 15km apart via radio tower. This might not sound so hot, but his 50 words per minute system was far greater than the one used by Marconi (15 words per minute) at the time. Spread that on your toast. The US Navy immediately hired Murgas.

It all went wrong shortly after. First, a major storm wiped out his radio towers. Then, three of his major investors died. They say bad luck comes in threes, but these two were bad enough to function as a triplet I would say. It was a time of incredible technological advancement as well, and others soon muscled in on his inventions. By 1912 he had stopped all experimenting, preferring to concentrate on fishing and painting. He gave away his entire patent rights to Marconi however, as he didn’t want his work to go lost.

‘I do not want this patent to be lost to the human race. I have no interest in the business side of my scientific researc

For the good of mankind indeed. He also did mucho work towards the cause for independent Czech and Slovak nations, free of the Hapsburg yoke, raising around $1 million for the cause. He was the major glue holding together the new and naïve Slovak community in Pennsylvania. He had a US Navy ship named after him in World War Two and has an asteroid bearing his name sitting in big ol’ space. Monuments in Slovakia and the States stand in testament to his work in the development of wireless telepathy and radio. He was a vital cog in the machine that worked to bring the world faster communication, and his toil should not go forgotten.

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