Lee De Forest And His Contribution To The World Of Radio Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 7 Subject: Communication - Journalism Type: Term Paper Paper: #22247327 Related Topics: Anthem, Silent Film, Wireless, Max Weber
Excerpt from Term Paper :

However, in their early years, their main objective was to make a fortune either through getting an acceptable system that will be used by the Navy in equipping their ships or a dependable wireless replacement for the wired telephone. Yet, evidence has it that in those early days, Lee de Forest (the first one) already had ideas on the ways of using his radiotelephone for more than two-way purposes. Just as the Navy experiment was taking place, Lee de Forest writes in an article on his radiotelephone "still another feature of the invention…the supplying of music and other forms of entertainment to passengers travelling on the passenger vessels. A service of this kind, aided by a large receiver, so that all of the passengers gathered in a large salon could hear the music or operatic air…" (De Forest, Lee, 1950).

In 1900-1920, known as radiotelephone years, were largely recognized more for the competing voice transmission technologies as compared for broadcasting. Whereas there was quick rejection towards spark terming it as too noisy and the alternator too costly, many permutations of the Poulsen arc was the one that clearly dominated radiotelephone inventions as well as early broadcasting for an audience. Still currently there are several people who apparently believe that early radiotelephone science became dominated by de Forest's vacuum tube. However, according to evidences this is the case because as late as 1915 de Forest himself was manufacturing, marketing and using an arc radiotelephone. This was not strange: Charles Herrold, de Forest as well as the rest of other radiotelephone investors had between 1910 and 1916 spent lots of dollars in perfecting the arc as a carrier of voice and music.

In 1913, Lee de Forest was sued for Fraud by the United States Attorney General, on behalf of his shareholders, on basis that his claim of regeneration was an "absurd" promise, however, he later acquitted his charges. Following this incidence he was left almost bankrupt with legal bills, and he was forced to sell his triode vacuum-tube patent to AT&T and the Bell System for a price of $50,000 in July 1913. AT&T therefore got the right to use and build the Audion except for wireless telegraphy. In 1914, August, Lee de Forest again sold the rights for wireless telegraphy for $90,000. Thereafter he was forced later in March 1917 to relinquish all his rights to AT&T that he still retained for $250,000. This shows the struggle that de Forest had to pass through in his fight to be the "Father of Radio."

This money spent by these radiotelephone investors was of course spent on lawyers as they tried to find a way of getting ground for the basic Poulsen patents. However, the irony is that those who brought Poulsen system to America, such as Cyril Elwell, together with the company that he founded that was based on the Poulsen patents, Federal Telegraph, had for long already abandoned using arc for voice as impractical and focused on high power, long distance arc telegraphy. Maybe following the high current demands of a microphone in an arc circuit, the only invention that were ever satisfactory developed and employed was the low power, limited range arc radiotelephones.

Lee de Forest had finally perfected his Audion by the beginning of 1916 for its most important task such as that of an oscillator for the radiotelephone. Before, while in Palo Alto he went ahead and made his tube to perform as an amplifier and it was purchased by the telephone company as an amplifier of transcontinental wired phone calls. While he was at his home in New York City, by late 1916 he had started a series of experimental broadcasts from the Columbia Phonograph Laboratories, and eventually abandoning his already existing version of the arc transmitter and for the first time using his Audion as a transmitter (photo right) of radio, (Mike Adams, 2011). This radio telephone equipment was made up of two large Oscillion tubes that worked as generators of the high frequency current. One of the early broadcast received mixed reviews. This was when the Columbia phonograph records played at 102 West Thirty-Eighth Street from the laboratory of the company happened to be heard clearly within the receiving room of the Astor (Hotel), with the exception of some interruptions by the powerful naval wireless apparatus within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, when there was an occasional storm warning with the music. After a month, Lee de Forest revealed to the New York Sun reporter that by him using a wave length of 800 meters, there will be another record setting by giving the first public concert by wireless in


Similarly to attempts made by Pittsburgh's KDKA four years later in 1920, he used the most public events in his broadcast. In the Hughes-Wilson presidential election of November 1916, an installation of a private wire was done by New York American after which bulletins were sent out every hour. In this occasion listeners' reports turned out to be more positive. The outcome was great improvements and reliable because seven thousand wireless telephone operators located in a radius of 200 miles of New York City were able to receive election returns from the New York American. They were not only able to hear the elections results but also some music. Music was sent through the clouds between the bulletins. The public was able to hear many anthems, songs and hymns loved by American, such as 'Dixie,' 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' Columbia, Gem of the Ocean,' 'Yankee Doodle,' 'Maryland,' among others. Since this took place in New York, a large audience listened to it, and it even received much press attention, since it is considered as one of the most famous and important pre-World War I events in radio broadcasting.

After some years Lee de Forest wrote to Charles Herrold regarding the way he had seen the art and science of broadcasting in 1916. The discussion was on both his and Herrold's early experiments in the context of the vacuum tube. In his discussion he explained that until the 3-electrode tube had been sufficiently developed in order to serve as a reliable oscillator for purposes of radio telephone, as well as the audion amplifier can be used within the receiver in connection with the detector, then their early efforts at radio broadcasting were unsatisfactory and unnecessary. He pointed out that in 1916, after they had leant how to build 'Oscillion' tubes of 50 to 100 watts power, he started a regular nights broadcasting service from his station at High Bridge, NY. He was able to regularly maintain this service until when the federal government came up with a suspension of every non-military radio communication just prior to the nation entered the European War, (De Forest, Lee, 1929). Therefore, if the Great War could have not been there that caused the closing down of every non-essential, non-defense uses of radio, he might have succeeded with the new service four years ahead of KDKA.

Once the war ended, Lee de Forest became anxious that he was to return to the air, after he almost got his success in 1916. After the ban was lifted in December 1919 by the government he was able to resume his operations. However, he faced another challenge when the U.S. Federal Inspector in New York clamped on him in February, 1920, on the grounds that he had voided his license by moving his station downtown without first seeking permission. This forced him to move the High Bridge transmitter to San Francisco and he installed it in the wings of the California Theatre, placing her antenna up to the roof of the bank tower next door. De Forest maintained the station operating daily, broadcasting the orchestra music of the Weber Orchestra the theater. The station was moved again over to Berkeley, where it operated for about a year.

Ranging from his arc telephone experiments for the Navy, his transmission of opera music, to his radio stations at High Bridge in 1916 and San Francisco in 1920, all these clearly indicate that de Forest, more than all the people that entered the race for radiotelephone, after seeing a potential for voice transmission more than just a wireless replacement for two-way communication, (Millard, Max, 1993).

Other Legacy

In 1922, Lee de Forest received the IRE Medal of Honor as a recognition for the invention which he came up with of the three-electrode amplifier and following his other contributions to the world of radio. In 1923, he got the award of Franklin Institute's Elliott Cresson Medal. He received the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1923, following his technical and social consequences of the grid-controlled vacuum tube which was introduced…

Sources Used in Documents:


Aitken, Hugh G.J., The Continuous Wave: Technology and American Radio, 1900-1932, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1985, see de Forest chapter

Campbell, Richard, Christopher R. Martin, and Bettina Fabos. "Sounds and Images." Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 113, additional text.

De Forest, Lee, Father of Radio, Chicago, Wilcox and Follett, 1950

De Forest, Lee, "Milestones in Radio History," Radio World, 1929

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