May 30, Loomis Day. Did a West Virginia dentist invent radio before Marconi was born?

The lack of $50,000 may have kept a West Virginian dentist, Mahlon Loomis, from developing a radio system twenty years before Marconi.

Congress refused to give Mahlon Loomis financial aid.

Many were amused by the thought of granting a charter to a “crazy inventor” with a still crazier scheme.

Such was Loomis bad luck that his “angel investor” was burned out by the Great Chicago Fire.

The year he finally got a charter from Congress,  89 railroads defaulted on bonds.

There were more than 5000 commercial failures.

No-one was buying.

Telegraphy without Wires

Mahlon Loomis discovered that when a kite wire was sent aloft in one region, a flow of electricity to ground could be detected in another kite wire some distance away.

And the galvanometer proved it.

He quickly saw that telegraphy without wires was a possibility.

This was, of course, a conductive system.

Without realizing it, Loomis had designed a “resonant circuit,” one of the building blocks of modern electronics.

Whether Loomis really radiated or merely inducted may be beside the point.

He did try signaling without wires, and he had a vision of a worldwide system of communications.

If he had been successful he could have been the first religious broadcaster.

He believed these broadcasts would “convert the heathen“.

Eccentric dentist from Terra Alta

Embittered by lack of funding and recognition, Loomis moved to West Virginia.

Settling in the village of Terra Alta, he continued his experimentation.

According to locals, Loomis set up a link between the railroad station and the village pharmacy.and the signal that the train was arriving may have been the first practical use of wireless!

The signal that the train was arriving may have been the first practical use of wireless!

At one point Loomis reportedly installed his apparatus on a high hill in Terra Alta and went sulking to another hilltop.

He insisted that he would speak to no one unless they called him on his wireless.

A few years ago, a couple of engineers at the Comsat station in Etam, W. Va. — who had replicated the Loomis experiments — hacked their way to the site of the hilltop retreat and discovered what could have been the remains of an antenna.

An elderly resident of the area recounted for them a story his father had told about this eccentric dentist from Terra Alta.

He did do it

This sign and a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records may be the most public recognition Loomis received

Before Dr. Loomis passed away in October 1886, he declared:

 “I know that I am by some, even many, regarded as a crank – by some perhaps as a fool – for allowing myself, to the sacrifice of material advantages, to abandon a lucrative profession and pursue this ignis fatuus, but I know that I am right, and if the present generation live long enough their opinions will be changed – and their wonder will be that they did not perceive it before. I shall never see it perfected – but it will be, and others will have the honor of the discovery.”

John Whitehair of Terra Alta is struggling to have Congress recognize Loomis as the inventor of the radio.

Of the Terra Alta stations, Whitehair says:

“Of course this setup was very elementary…..From what we found out, he would notify his assistant and then transmit the message. The signal was probably very faint but it was there. He did do it.”

Even when he died, Mahlon Loomis couldn’t get people to do what he wanted them to.

When he died, he made one simple wish – that a rose bush be planted on his grave. That request was ignored.

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