Padre Landell, Father of Radio


Roberto Landell de Moura in 1898

How a Brazilian priest – accused by the Church of devilish practices, and considered insane by president Rodrigues Alves – patented the first wireless telephone and radio wave transmitter

by Ray Adkins, from American Heart, Brazilian Soul blog

Roberto Landell de Moura, a priest born in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, in 1861, is among the biggest inventors in the field of communications. He was a key inventor of radio, being the first to accomplish the transmission of the human voice by a wireless machine, that is, by irradiating an electromagnetic wave, modulated by an audio signal.

It was common for traditional Brazilian families at the time to have at least one son in the military and one in the priesthood. So, Landell, one of 14 children of a family with Scottish roots, made his early studies in Rio and São Paulo and was later sent to Rome to prepare to become a priest. There he studied Chemistry and Physics at the Colegio Pio Americano and at  Universidade Gregoriana. On his return to Rio de Janeiro, he met emperor D.Pedro II, a good friend of Alexander Graham Bell, whose work he helped finance.

Patent registered in 1901

Landell exchanged many ideas with the emperor, who was fascinated by communications. He was later transferred to Porto Alegre, then to the state of Sao Paulo, where he worked at several churches in the cities of Santos, Campinas and  São Paulo.

At the time, the only available means of communications were the telegraph invented by Samuel Morse (1837), the telephone by Graham Bell (1876). The next great challenge was to transmit an audio signal without the aid of wires. Several scientists were trying to accomplish this at that time, but Father Landell was the first one to succeed. He built his first wireless device and conducted a public experiment on 1894, witnessed by journalists and the General Consul of Great Britain, C.P. Lupton, in São Paulo. The points of transmission and reception were a hill in the northern suburb of Sao Paulo called Santana and Paulista avenue, close to downtown, 8 kilometres apart.

Father Landell had no official support and faced fierce opposition from the Church, that considered that the priest´s work contradicted  the Christian teachings, insinuating the existence of life in other worlds. They just could not understand how someone could communicate at such a distance without wires. His laboratory was destroyed more than once by religious radical groups who believed he was “playing” with the devil and going against the teachings of the Church.

Tired of the lack of support, he asks his friend, the British Council, for help, but at the time the British bureaucracy was as sluggish as the Brazilian one, and the papers requesting for a patent sat on someone’s desk for many years.

Failing to get support for the mass production of his invention in Brazil, Father Landell left for the United States in 1901. The New York Herald described him as ” a gentleman of about forty years old” that reached the pinnacle of his genius. He was well received by American scientists and was successful in obtaining patents for all of his three inventions – the wireless telephone, the wireless telegraph and the wave transmitter.
The Brazilian Father of the Radio had a hard time to prove his inventions to the US Patents Office in Washington. It demanded practical demonstrations of all his theories and drawings, which took time. Finally Landell obtained all his patents by the end of 1904 and returned to Rio de Janeiro.

Upon his return, he decided to seek help from the Brazilian president at the time, Rodrigues Alves, but he was convinced by his secretary that Father Landell was crazy and his inventions were excessively revolutionary. Then, the inventor destroyed all his “devices” and picked up all his books and notes and moved back to his hometown of Porto Alegre were he found consolation in his works at the Monastery.

Monsignor Roberto Landell de Moura, the forgotten pioneer of wireless transmission, died anonymously, at 67 years of age, on 1928, in a modest hospital room in Porto Alegre, surrounded only by his relatives and a half a dozen faithful and devoted friends.


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