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".

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). 

Recommended

16 January 1991: Operation Desert Storm begins
This day in history

16 January 1991: Operation Desert Storm begins

Coalition forces led by the US launched an operation to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi forces on this day in 1991, sending the oil price soaring.
16 Jan 2021
15 January 1892: the rules of basketball are published
This day in history

15 January 1892: the rules of basketball are published

Canadian PE instructor Dr James Naismith, working at a YMCA training school, published the 13 rules of basketball on this day in 1892.
15 Jan 2021
15 January 1759: British Museum opens
This day in history

15 January 1759: British Museum opens

On this day in 1759, the British Museum opened in Bloomsbury after Sir Hans Sloane left his of collection of books, manuscripts and specimens to the n…
15 Jan 2021
14 January 2002: Britain’s foot-and-mouth disease epidemic ends
This day in history

14 January 2002: Britain’s foot-and-mouth disease epidemic ends

The government finally declared Britain’s foot-and-mouth disease crisis over on this day in 2002, almost a year after the first case had been identifi…
14 Jan 2021

Most Popular

Bitcoin: fool’s gold or the new gold?
Bitcoin

Bitcoin: fool’s gold or the new gold?

With bitcoin hitting new highs last week, and close to becoming a mainstream investment, is it really gold for the 21st century?
15 Jan 2021
The MoneyWeek Podcast: bitcoin special
Bitcoin

The MoneyWeek Podcast: bitcoin special

Merryn talks to bitcoin experts Dominic Frisby and Charlie Morris to get the lowdown on the cryptocurrency to find out why it's such a huge global phe…
15 Jan 2021
Leasehold reforms promise the end of a nightmare for many homeowners
Property

Leasehold reforms promise the end of a nightmare for many homeowners

Horror stories about unscrupulous landlords profiting from a legal relic of the feudal era are about to get a happy ending, says Simon Wilson.
16 Jan 2021