Jozef Murgaš was a Slovak inventor, painter and priest who contributed greatly towards the development of wireless communications. From a young age he was bright and clever, and showed interest in painting and science. After completing his graduation, he was unable to study further because of financial difficulties and decided to become a priest. But when his painting talent was spotted by a Slovak painter, he was admitted to an arts school and went on to become an accomplished painter. He used to paint sacral pieces, Slovak landscapes and Slovak personalities. Later, he traveled to the United States and set up a workshop which helped him to perform experiments on wireless technology. After tireless research and intense work, he had a breakthrough and came up with a new method of wireless transmission. He developed a musical tone system that enabled faster recognition of Morse code signals and also achieved radio transmission over a considerable distance. In 1917, when America entered the First World War, all the private radio-telegraphic stations were banned. Thereafter, he worked towards creation of a common state of Czechs and Slovaks in Czechoslovakia. After his health deteriorated, he gave away his entire life’s research and patent rights to Marconi, as he did not want his work to be lost after him. He was a generous man whose contributions towards creating a better society are deemed priceless
Childhood & Early Life
Jozef Murgaš was born on February 17, 1864, in Tajov, Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire (present day Slovakia), to Ján Murgaš, and his wife, Zuzana.
From an early age, he displayed talent in painting and science. He was enrolled at a grammar school in Tajov and later went on to complete his high school in Banská Bystrica.
Jozef’s parents were unable to lend him financial support for further studies, as a result, he decided to become a priest. From 1880 to 1882, he studied theology in Prešporok, then continued in Esztergom from 1882 to 1884, and finally graduated in Banska Bystrica in 1888.
After getting ordained in 1888, he worked as a curate for some time and was soon approached by Dominik Skutecký, a Slovak painter who noticed his artistic talent.
On Skutecký's initiative, he was admitted to Provincial School of Visual Arts, a painting school in Budapest, where he studied between 1889 and1890. Thereafter, he went to study painting in Munich, from 1890 to 1893.
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In 1896, after facing allegations of Pan-Slavism, Jozef Murgaš moved to America and settled among fellow countrymen in the small mining village of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he remained until his death.
With no scope for a painting career, he focused on natural sciences again, particularly electrotechnology. He established a laboratory in Wilkes-Barre, where he primarily investigated radiotelegraphy.
In May 1904, he received the rights for two key patents by the Patent Office in Washington; the ‘Wireless-Telegraph Apparatus’ and ‘Method of Communicating Intelligence by Wireless Telegraphy’.
In 1904, he invented the ‘Musical Tone System’ of wireless telegraphy, enabling faster transmission of Morse code.
In November 1905, he made radio transmission between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, located 20 miles away, generating transmission of 50 words-per-minute (WPM) while Marconi's system could only generate 15 WPM.
He went to add several more patents to his name between 1907 and 1916. Some of them were: ‘Wave Meter’, ‘Electric Transformers’, ‘Apparatus for making electromagnetic waves’ (1908), ‘Wireless telegraphy’, ‘Magnetic waves detector’, and ‘Spinning reel for fishing rod’.
When the United States entered World War I, private radiotelegraphy stations were banned, which brought about an end to his pioneer work in this field.
After the creation of Czechoslovakia, he returned to Slovakia in 1920 where he started teaching electrotechnology at a high school. But, after differences with the Ministry of Education in Prague he returned to Wilkes-Barre four months later.
Later, when Marconi visited Jozef Murgaš on the advice of Thomas Edison, Jozef’s health was failing him. In addition to it, he lacked funding and did not want all his research to be lost after his death. Therefore, he gave Marconi his patents and his life’s work which played a significant role in the future invention of radio.
In 1905, he achieved radio transmission between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pennsylvania, situated 20 miles away.
While residing in Wilkes-Barre, he took care of Slovak immigrants, and helped in the construction of a new church, library, cemetery, several schools, gymnasium and playgrounds. He also co-founded the Saints Cyril and Methodius community and the Slovak Catholic Federation.
He was actively involved in the Slovak expatriates’ movement and supported the creation of the state of Czechoslovakia. He was also a signatory of the Pittsburgh Agreement between Czechs and Slovaks.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jozef Murgaš died of a heart attack on May 11, 1929, in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, USA. He was buried at the Sacred Heart Cemetery, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA.
Named after him, the ‘Jozef Murgaš Award’ is awarded annually by the ‘Slovak Electrotechnical Society and Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications of the Slovak Republic’ to support the development of telecommunications in Slovakia.