17 December 1900: The Guzman Prize is announced

On this day in 1900, Clara Guzman stumped up 100,000 francs prize money for the first person to communicate with and receive a response from another planet.

Is there life on Mars? By the dawn of the 20th century, that question had already been settled – at least for Madame Clara Goguet Guzman: of course there was. The real question was whether there was life elsewhere in the universe. And to answer that question, the Académie des Sciences in Paris announced the Guzman Prize on 17 December 1900.

Madame Guzman stumped up the 100,000 francs for the prize in memory of her son, Pierre, who rather fancied himself as an amateur astrologer. To win, all you had to do was prove you'd had a chat with aliens. "[The winner will be] the person of whatever nation who will find the means within the next ten years of communicating with a star (planet or otherwise) and of receiving a response."

Alas, Madame Guzman was to be disappointed. Communicating with distant worlds proved a lot harder than thought. However, that didn't stop Nikola Tesla from having a crack. The scientist and engineer, remembered today for the Tesla Coil (among many, many other things), said in the 1930s that he felt "perfectly sure" he would be awarded the prize: "I am expecting to put before the Institute of France an accurate description of the data and devices and claim the Pierre Guzman Prize of 100,000 francs for means of communication with other worlds".

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Sadly, his entry seems to have got lost in the post, as the Académie denied they'd ever received it.

He might have had more luck a few decades earlier, however. Tesla reportedly claimed to have received messages from Mars using the latest advances in radio. But of course, communicating with Martians was outside of the competition brief, as it was deemed too easy (a view stranger to us than it was at the time).

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

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