Lee Deforest and Development of Radio

Lee De Forest and His Contribution to the World of Radio

Lee de Forest was one of the most important people in the 19 Century for about 20 years. His fame ranged from two-way wireless telegraphy as a commercial business to the technical perfection as well as use of the radiotelephone for entertainment broadcasting. Among the events that defined Lee de Forest as a radiotelephone pioneer-cum-broadcaster included: his publicized broadcasts of opera in New York City between 1907 and 1912; his equipping of the Navy Fleet in 1907, and his broadcast demonstrations over stations in New York and San Francisco in 1916-17 and 1919. He is even supposed to have won the race for the radiotelephone hands down as per his early performance.

Lee de Forest has been known for along period to be among the major scientific contributors of the electronic age that we are now living in after it started for about 100 years ago. Radio technology, the Audion vacuum tube became the first major invention to be made by de Forest in 1906. When compared to the simpler diode vacuum tubes, the audion vacuum tube proves to be a major advance in terms of vacuum tube technology. It opened up more advances that were meant to better the radio transmission.

Lee de Forest, more than any other wireless and radio inventor, was surrounded by controversy. For decades de Forest fought so hard trying to convince the technical community that he deserved to be refereed to as "Father of Radio" where he ended up in court battles spending millions of shillings in an attempts to validate and re-validate his patents. Lee de Forest became the person to want to use the wireless for more than two-way commercial message traffic. In this early career he was always involved in activities of broadcasting such as sending entertainment programs to a defined audience. According to the published reports from the entire historical analysis, the name of de Forest has always prevailed and severally linked with the sending of music as well as news by use of radiotelephone. Even though he failed to establish a permanent station and to broadcast on a regular basis hence could not have regular audience until 1919, he still contributed significantly to the art and science of radio. This can be realized from the evidences which strongly suggest that de Forest could rightfully claim to be what his entire life has struggle to be, the "Father of Radio."

Though Lee de Forest was born in the Midwest, he actually grew up in the south. After he was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1873, before long his father agreed to take a position as the President of a small black college Talledega) in Alabama. As much as de Forest continued to grow up in that rural campus, his education remained formal, upper class as well as thorough. From local grammar school he joined Mt. Hermon School for Boys in Massachusetts, and then went on to the Yale University's Sheffield Scientific School. He completed his higher education with a degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He had a dissertation in 1898 with the title "The Reflection of Hertzian Waves at the End of Parallel Wires." Lee de Forest worked for various Chicago companies as an engineering graduate, including Western Electric.

Le de Forest is recognized for his role in the transition radiotelephone to broadcasting. He contributed and improved the basic invention of the entire radio and television, the vacuum tube. Earlier, Englishman, Ambrose Fleming modified Thomas Edison's electric lamp, where they added a second element, a plate, and referred it the Fleming Valve. Fleming's Valve was later modified in 1906 by Lee de Forest by adding a grid (for amplifying small signals) and named the device the Audion, (Aitken, Hugh G.J., 1985). Whereas it is believed now that Lee de Forest failed to fully realize whatever he had invented, and whereas he continued to battle Edwin Armstrong in court for a long time regarding the regenerative or feedback principle of the Audion, the most interesting work in early radiotelephone experimentation and its broadcast-like applications remained to be for Lee de Forest in his entire career. At the start his work seemed to have followed the one for Marconi, as he tried to develop better communication between ships and shore stations. Moreover, just like Charles Herrold and Fesseden, he initially attempted spark and afterwards a Poulsen arc as he tried to give voice to his wireless.

De Forest vs. Marconi

De Forest fell into a competition with Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, at the International Yacht Races in New York, working individually for rival news services, and applying their personal inventions. While Lee de Forest was using his transmitter and receiver, though was not yet patented, Marconi used his patented wireless telegraphy. The transmission of the highlights of the race took place live on separate boats. However, since the two had not known how to solve the problem of jammed signals during these early years of radio, their signal jammed each other making them not able to transmit any news of the race. This made de Forest to be left in rage and threw his transmitter overboard.

The fact is that the reality of the early years of radiotelephone development failed to include the broadcasting of music as well as information into homes by use of wireless. Facing a lot of controversies, Lee de Forest started his work early and always found public uses for his version of a Poulsen-like arc radiotelephone transmitter. He came to devote all his energy to the problem of wireless telephony in 1906. De Forest first significantly invented the use of the microphone in the earth connection, allowing people to use it practically the entire wireless telephone transmitters for the first time, (Campbell, 2000). Following his love for music and a promoter as well as his radiotelephone, he was able to venture into two areas: the use of opera music to demonstrate his wireless telephone for newspaper reporters, which reflected his penchant for bringing culture to the masses; while the other one was practically a demonstration for the Navy.

Navy were the early recipient of the Lee de Forest arc radiotelephone system. He used to manufacture wireless telephone sets (with a left picture) for the U.S. Navy in 1909, and every set was tested using phonograph records, (James A. Hijiya, 1992). De Forest became even surprised when many wireless amateurs as well as professional operators intercepted and enjoyed these test transmissions. As many went to him to look for these programs, the idea of mass communication occurred to him realizing that attractive music and interesting talks could be placed on the air, thereby creating a profitable demand for wireless equipment on the part of individual who had the desire to listen for it.

Between 1907 and 1908 he was able to equip the Navy Fleet's lead ship Ohio among others using his arc transmitter and a wind-up phonograph for the fleet's trip across the globe. While de Forest was on the West Coast, he aboard the Ohio, played music from the phonograph and was able to communicate with Mare Island in June 1908. Such events were well documented by Radio operator Herbert J. Meneratti of the U.S.S. Ohio in correspondence with the historian Clark in 1948, as he acknowledge that they gave music regularly to the Mare Island Station, and even their records indicate that from June 1 to July 5 in 1908 they never missed a day to give out music to the fleet in the Bay at that time. In January 12, 1908, Meneratti claimed that his ship, the U.S.S.S Ohio happened to be sending out band tunes to the rest of the ships, and even responding to requests and this is the date he considers to be the beginning of broadcasting.

Lee de Forest claim of "broadcasting" was also connected to his love of opera. For a long time he had admired such form of music, and he also realized it appealed much to the upper classes who were able to afford the time and money allowing them to attend live performance. He again believed that in the future the less affluent would be exposed to opera by use of wireless telephone, when he said that soon it was to be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House using a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost all the dwelling within Greater New York and vicinity as well as large cities, lectures, church music among others. Therefore, between 1907 and 1912 the press was able to attend the many of the de Forests' opera experiments after receiving invitation through his arc transmitter. These one time promotional events, featuring the voices of the well-known divas Mazarin and Farrar were reported in the all the major papers.

In the 1920s and 1930s, when already broadcasting was an established fact, of course, every inventor, including…