January 1947 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
What better subject is there
to post on the birthday of Dr. Lee de Forest than an article entitled,
"Three Anecdotes of the Audion's Early Days," which appeared in the January 1947
issue of Radio-Craft magazine whose theme was the 40th anniversary of the
Audio's invention? That was a rhetorical question, of course, sort-of, because any
of the multiple Audion article from that issue would be a great subject (see
TOC). Find out
from the man who coined the term how the vacuum tube's grid was named. Did you
know that thanks to lawsuits and unscrupulous actions by competitors, that
de Forest went through multiple cycles of plenty and near poverty? In a related
note, as chronicled in "Lee de Forest and the Navy,"
faced powerful skeptics when attempting to facilitate adoption of wireless
communications aboard U.S. Navy ships - not unlike the Wright Brothers'
struggles with convincing the U.S. Army of their aeroplane's usefulness in armed
Three Anecdotes of the Audion's Early Days
De Forest Audion 1907 - 1947
How the Grid Was Named
During the early experiments with the first crude handmade radio tubes it was
the custom of Dr. de Forest to give directions to his assistants somewhat in the
"Here ... hook this to that - and "that to this. Bring this wire over to that
post and move 'this over there."
In the rapidly shifting tests it was at times, difficult to differentiate between
what was "this, that or the other thing," so one day, in a state of exasperation,
an assistant impulsively asked:
"Doc, why don't you name some of these parts so we'll know what you're talking
about and what we are doing?"
"All right," snapped de Forest in reply. "You know what the filament is and which
is the 'wing' (now known as 'plate') so we'll call this other jigger - the grid,
- because that's what it looks like - a roaster grid." Then, quickly adding, as
if it were equally important:
"... and remember this ... in fact make a sign and paste it on the wall: Remember,
Green To Grid and Red to Wing."
To this day that order has never been countermanded and we find that in every
country in the World where electronic circuits are planned or used the "lead to
grid" is always specified in the color code as - Green!
De Forest's Nickel
One day as Frank Butler was entering the open door of Dr. de Forest's laboratory
in the Parker Building he hesitated at the entrance and saw no one inside. Just
as he was about to step forward across the threshold a slight sound came from behind
the door and he heard the voice of de Forest unconsciously muttering to himself
"Humph! I don't know whether to get a sandwich with this nickel or to buy a pad
of writing paper ..."
In an instant the two were facing each other and the sudden, unexpected meeting
took de Forest so by surprise that he dropped the precious coin so it rolled underneath
the nearby empty shipping boxes which constituted the workbench. This placed the
inventor in the predicament of not knowing which to do first - retrieve the coin
or greet Butler who was then returning from an out-of-town visit.
This is but a sidelight upon the impoverished conditions under which Dr. de Forest
was often compelled to exist in those early days.
Navy and the Audion
A short time after the first few audions were made, Dr. de Forest took his original
mahogany receiver cabinet with the "peep window" in front, together with a seven-plate
Witherbee storage battery to the Navy Department in Washington hoping to interest
them in his new discovery. The story of how "they entirely missed the boat" is a
classic example of many similar incidents ascribed to dumb officialdom.
The several officers rendered an unfavorable decision based upon six counts:
1. The device can in no way be of service to the department either on land or
2. The device is found impractical.
3. It is undesirable on shipboard because the motion of the ship at sea would
permit the battery fluid to escape from the vent holes of the battery, splashing
the acid on and ruining the deck of the wireless room.
4. The price of $30.00 is excessively high in comparison with a good crystal
5. The device is short lived and bulbs would have to be replenished too often.
6. It is regarded as unreliable and unwanted because it is too new. It is untried.
It is not standard equipment.
Posted August 26, 2020