Tivadar Puskás
b. 17 September, 1844, Pest, Hungary
d. 16 March, 1893, Budapest, Hungary


Tivadar Puskás was Hungarian inventor, telephone pioneer and Thomas Edison's colleague. He devised the idea of using telephone exchanges  between subscribers, invented the switchboard and built Europe's first telephone exchange.  He was inventor of the "Telephonograph" (forerunner to radio) and Telephone News.

Tivadar Puskás was born on 17 September 1844 in Pest, as the first child of Ferenc Puskás of Ditró (of noble origin), who was a shipping entrepreneur, and Mária Agricola. Later two brothers and a sister were born in the family. Tivadar received his higher education in Theresianum in Vienna, then at the Technical University. However, he was not able to complete his studies due to his father's premature death. The 21-year-old young man was talented in many ways. Although he was mainly interested in technical subjects, he was good at fencing, riding and playing the piano. The last one helped him find his first job with the Festetics family from 1865 to 1866. Here he started his English language studies, which he pursued with merciless diligence. By cropping his hair close on half of his head, he forced himself to sit down to the textbooks and dictionaries.

In the summer of 1866 he was already living in London, supporting himself by teaching German. Next year he became an employee of the railway company Waring Brithers et Eckersly. They were working on the building of the Oradea - Cluj - Brasov railway in Transylvania. Puskás probably worked as an interpreter and advisor on local matters for the English engineers. The company went bankrupt in 1872, and Puskás had to find a new job.

In 1873 there was a world fair in Vienna. Puskás knew that millions of people were expected for the event. Therefore, he set up a travel agency, the first one in Central Europe - based on a company in London. During the fair, he sold return railway tickets at a reduced price, enclosing hotel and restaurant vouchers and exhibition tickets. The business turned out to be a success, and Puskás traveled to America in 1874 on his savings. He bought fields along the River Colorado, and opened up a gold mine. When one of his colleagues found a new gold quarry which seemed to be rich, Puskás charged a chemist in Chicago with examining the piece of ore from the site. When he traveled to Philadelphia on business, he left the ore there. It was in this city that chance drove Puskás, the businessman, into technical sciences for the rest of his life. He heard of a new invention which worked without fuel. He became suspicious and bought the house next to that of the inventor. During one night, he drove a tunnel under the fence and he could get into the carefully guarded workshop. The fraud was revealed. The machine was actually moved by compressed air. The inventor promised to give Puskás three million dollars if he kept quiet, but it was in vain. Puskás published an article in which he exposed everything. It all took three years. Meanwhile the ore left in Chicago turned out to be very rich in gold. However, during these years the more practical gold miners occupied both his old and new quarry.

In 1876 Puskás returned to Europe for a short time, and began to build the telegraph network in London and Brussels. His plan was to create such a telegraph apparatus that on its switchboard the lines of the factories and offices in the city could be connected to it and to each other, as well. However, businessmen considered the idea too expensive. Then the news came that A.G. Bell had presented his new invention, the telephone, at the world fair in Philadelphia. To have a look at it, Puskás traveled there at once, and realized that instead of the telegraph apparatus he should build a telephone exchange. Since he didn't have enough money and possibilities to experiment, he visited T.A. Edison and his 'invention factory' in Menlo Park, near New York. He convinced Edison that the telephone was not a telegraph apparatus brought to perfection, but a novel device which needed to be made available to the public. From the autumn of 1876 to the summer of 1877 Puskás worked with Edison on the idea of the telephone exchange at the workshops in Menlo Park. He finally made it, but did not have it patented formally.

In the summer of 1877, Puskás became Edison's European agent. He worked on the introduction of the phonograph in London, and organized exhibitions and presentations. Tivadar Puskás had unlimited rights to market the phonograph as authorized in a contract co-signed by a notary public Robert H. Patten Tigha in New York on April 16, 1878. On the continent, as Edison's representative, he has dealt with every patent. In addition, Puskás worked on the electric lighting of London (1882) and the telephone network in Madrid (1883).


Ferenc Puskás,
Tivadar's brother
and his assistant 
Tivadar Puskás moved to Paris in 1878, where he directed the building of the first telephone network and exchange. It was at that time that he trained his brother, Ferenc, a hussar lieutenant, who stayed in Paris for half a year and became familiar with the technical, business and organizational work on the building of the telephone exchange. With Edison's consent, Ferenc Puskás got the exclusive rights to build telephone exchanges on the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the summer of 1879 the two brothers returned home together to find partners with capital for the building of the Budapest telephone network. They did not succeed, therefore, the building began at Tivadar's own expense. They finished it in 1881. Meanwhile, in October 1879 Tivadar Puskás became a member of the board of directors in the Edison Company. He opened his own agency selling patents in Paris, experimented with an airship that can be steered with an electric engine, and he drove an electric car designed by a Czech engineer.

 
The picture of Edison (left), signed for Tivadar Puskás's sister-in-law. The dedication reads as follows: 'Tivadar Puskás was the first in the world to invent telephone exchange.' Edison's letter to Puskás (right).

 

Tivadar Puskás with his family
In 1880 in London he married the countess Sophie Vetter von Lillien, the divorced wife of count József Török, who he had met in Cluj. One of the witnesses at their wedding was the Prince of Wales, who later became the English King Edward VII, an enthusiast about new technical inventions.

In 1881 at the electrotechnical section of the World Fair in Paris Puskás was responsible for the presentation of the Edison Company. Puskás presented Edison’s sensation, “Jumbo,” a giant 27-ton dynamo. Jumbo supplied electricity to 1,000-1,200 light bulbs. The phonograph and electric lighting were also presented there and had sensational success.

The exhibition also introduced the General Telephone Company of Paris. For this purpose Puskás organized the first "live broadcast". He broadcast a performance from the Paris Opera to a room at the exhibition where 16 listeners were able to hear the performance on earphones. The scheme at left shows the arrangement of receivers and transmitters at the Paris Opera broadcast. Later he broadcast Erkel's opera "László Hunyadi" from the National Theatre at a ball held in the Vigadó at Budapest on 4 February, 1882. These "telephone broadcasts" were enjoyed only by a limited number of listeners.

Puskás founded a joint stock company in order to build the electric lighting system in Paris, and the lighting of the Great Opera was finished in that year. After the death of his brother, Ferenc (22 March 1884), Tivadar Puskás liquidated his companies, his office, and moved to Budapest with his wife and two daughters.

In the spring of 188 Tivadar Puskás took over the Budapest Telephone Network. After a few years' time he had the first public telephones installed and the network and the sets modernized. This business almost used up all his wealth, the remains of which he invested into a gold mine in Abrudbánya in 1885. Neither this was successful, which made him sell a third of the telephone company. In 1886 he began to look for oil around Zsibó. He built an oil plant for the search on the banks of the river Szamos. The settlement was furnished with social facilities, and he moved there together with his family. Despite expensive deep drilling, they did not find enough oil. They could only process esokerit which was in abundance, but their product, black candle, did not even make up for the interest of the invested capital.

His family moved to Graz on the money his wife inherited, whereas Tivadar Puskás, poor and lonely, returned to Budapest. Meanwhile, the Budapest Telephone Company, Puskás Tivadar and Co. almost went bankrupt. It was the Minister of Industry and Trade who realized the possibilities of the telephone, took the telephone network into public ownership, and rented it to Puskás. Further modernization, therefore, was from then on supported by state money. In addition, Puskás came up with a new method of underwater explosion. It was not considered to be appropriate at that time, but is still used today.

After Puskás founded the telephone exchange of the city of Budapest, he invented the forerunner of the radio, the telephone broadcaster. At the time of the operas broadcast in Paris, Puskás was already considering the possible ways of distributing such programmes among a significantly higher number of telephone sets. The first version of the solution appeared 11 years later, by 1892. Puskás registered the patent of "the speaking newspaper" (Telefonhírmondó) with the title 'A new method of organizing and fitting a telephone newspaper' in 1892 in the Patent Office of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then in the next months in 18 additional countries.


Puskás broadcasting
The 'Telefonhírmondó' service started on 15 February 1893 in Budapest. Puskás first spoke in the telephone broadcast greeting his 60 subscribers, saying “We greet the inhabitants of Budapest. We greet them in an unusual way from which telephone broadcasting all over the world will start its victorious journey.” The talking newspaper, as some called the telephone broadcaster, was broadcast from the editorial office set up on Magyar utca 6. Puskas was a genius of online content: His service featured up-to-the-minute stock reports and sports results, live music, a newsroom delivering late-breaking news, and programming for children.
Studia used by Puskás

 

The editorial office of the 'Telefonhírmondó'
The editorial office was near Astoria, at 6 Magyar Street. It worked with four editors and a hundred-member staff. 'Like in a beehive, correspondents are swarming in and out and the staff are working up the arriving telegraphs, news and foreign newspapers. There is a separate room for the communication between the editorial office and the outside world through the telephone. There are nine phones available to the corresppondents and shorthand writers. There is a connection between the office and the House of Representatives, and a separate line broadcasts the reports from the stock-market. The news arriving from these sources are worked up and written down before the announcers get them, who read the issues in turn, in a room especially furnished for this purpose, in front of telephone sets used only for this purpose,' the 'Ország-Világ' wrote in the first year.

Meanwhile, the range of services was constantly extended. The 'alarm signal' was inttroduced, which was to draw the owner's attention and made him go to the phone before a sensational item of news was announced. Portable telephones were put into circulation, which could be fitted in different rooms of the house. 'Telefonhírmondó' language courses began in 1897 with native speakers. The courses had to be paid for when the books needed for them were bought. They also told the correct time.


'Telefonhírmondó' broadcasting a concert, 1896

'Telefonhírmondó' broadcasting news

 

Map of the 'Telefonhírmondó' network in the area
bordered by the Teréz Boulevard, Andrássy
and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Streets.
In the first year the 'telefonhírmondó' had no wires and sets of its own, so only those with a telephone used for conversation could listen to the programmes, if they asked for connection to the Hírmondó. Telephone subscribers paid an extra fee and were entitled to request switching to the talking news any time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Subscription was not considered to be expensive, since it was only one third of that of the normal telephone. It was 18 forints for a year (the price of 10 kg sugar or 20 kg coffee), while the equipment was free. The number of subscribers for the Telephone News Service was 60 at startup, 4,915 in 1895. 

Later, a separate line was established for subscribers to the telephone broadcast that allowed around 10,000 subscribers in 1930 - that is, in the era of the radio. Thus the service became independent from the telephone system, and the first stage of the wire broadcast was established. A similar venture had already installed theatrophones in fashionable Paris hotels and cafes. Subscriber lines also were strung across London; Queen Victoria had one in her sitting room. Today's cable radio is built on the structural basis of the Telephone News Service.


Bust of Tivadar Puskás
made by Dr. Csiky Laszlo
A month later the telephone broadcast released the sad news that Tivadar Puskás died. He was preparing for a business trip when he died of heart attack in his flat at the Hotel Hungária, Budapest, on 16 March, 1893, at the age of 49.
Tivadar Puskás' grave

This text has been compiled from the biographies of Puskás available in the Internet:
( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 ).



(updated & corrected on May 27, 2007)