March 1936 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.
This is an all-star cast of radio
pioneers if there ever was one. It's not comprehensive by any means, but most of
the first-string players are here in this 1936 Radio-Craft magazine article.
One thing I like about reading these old pieces is that they, for the most part,
are reporting on contemporary events; they are not merely a historian's interpretation
of what the original witnesses recorded. That is not to say early writers did not
editorialize, err, or outright lie about content, but I give these guys the benefit
of the doubt based on the sources. You have certainly heard of people like Hertz,
deForest, and Marconi, but what about coherer (early detector)
inventor Edouard Branly and ground-breaking commercial radio broadcast engineer
Frank Conrad? Magazine editor, publisher, and inventor Hugo Gernsback properly give
a short run-down on the "Famous Radio Beginners" of his day.
Famous Radio Beginners
An Editorial by Hugo Gernsback
The beginner in radio always is interested in what other radio beginners did
before his time, and he particularly wants to know what made radio the great art
which it is today. In all arts there have been famous beginnings that eventually
assumed great proportions. While these beginnings at the time may have seemed unimportant,
when looked at from a distance of 20 to 50 years they now assume tremendous importance.
present art of radio, as most of us know, dates back to the brilliant and practical
researches of that most famous of all radio beginners, Heinrich Hertz, a famous
German research scientist, who did most of his work in electromagnetic radiations
about the year 1887 at Karlsruhe, Germany. We have him to thank for the brilliant
research work which laid the foundations of modern radio, for his was an effort
to experimentally prove the existence of the very waves predicted in 1864 by James
Clerk Maxwell of Scotland in a series of masterful theoretical researches. It was
Hertz, incidentally, who was the first to transmit power by "wireless," (radio)
which he did by observing small sparks from a single metal wire loop not connected
to his transmitter by any intervening wires. It was also Hertz who demonstrated
that the new wavelengths could be refracted similarly to light, an experiment that
lay dormant for several decades - or until Marconi later on made use of Hertz's
Another famous radio beginner was the Frenchman,
Doctor Edouard Branly, who invented the coherer - merely a glass tube containing
two metal plugs and, between them, metal filings. Branly observed that when the
tube was placed in a strong electric field produced by a spark coil (while sparks
jumped between the two electrodes of the coil) these filings became highly conductive.
Guglielmo Marconi, another famous radio beginner,
had by this time read about Hertz's discovery and Branly's coherer. He put two and
two together, added a few ideas of his own, and pretty soon, on his father's estate
in Italy, he was able to send and receive "wireless" (radio) impulses over considerable
distances by means of improved types of Hertz's spark coil and a spark gap transmitter
and Branly's coherer receiver. In due time, Marconi made other notable beginnings.
He invented the aerial, and the use of a ground connection, both of which are used
in modern radio. Still later he invented the magnetic detector, discarding Branly's
coherer. He is responsible also for the tuning coil which was used for many years,
and which in one form or another still is used in radio.
Our own Reginald Fessenden, another famous early radio beginner, is responsible
for many radio devices that have stood the test of time. It was he who gave us the
electrolytic detector which he patented in 1903. This detector was far more sensitive
than any that Marconi and other radio beginners had used up to that time. Because
of its great sensitivity it was used for many years. Fessenden also invented the
high-frequency alternator, which was used (and still is used today) for certain
types of long-wave commercial transmission.
Another famous American beginner was Greenleaf
W. Pickard. It was he who experimented with all sorts of substances for use as detectors,
and it was he who gave us the silicon detector, the galena detector, the famous
perikon detector, and many others.
Long before this there was still another
famous beginner in radio, none other than Thomas A. Edison. It was he who really
was responsible for the present-day vacuum tube. 'Way back in the 80s, Edison discovered
what is now known as the Edison effect. He found that if you sealed within a glass
bulb two independent filaments which do not touch anywhere, you could make an electrical
cur-rent jump the space between the two glowing filaments, by electronic emission.
However, Edison did not do much with this important invention-he had many more important
ones to play with-until the English scientist Ambrose Fleming came along and used
the idea (with some modifications) as a wireless (radio) detector.
used a heated filament and a cold plate. This became known as the two-element Fleming
valve, because it acted exactly as a valve, wholly in an electrical sense.
Our own Dr. Lee deForest who had heard about
this valve began to experiment with it, and he soon found that in many respects
it was a very unsatisfactory device. He, in turn, made a new "valve" by adding a
third element - the so-called grid-between the filament and the plate. From this
early beginning the modern radio vacuum tube evolved. Because of its extreme sensitivity
the deForest vacuum tube as a detector reigned supreme over the radio world for
several decades; in fact, due to this, and its ability to function as an R.F. and
A.F. amplifier and oscillator, the entire radio industry has been reared upon the
Soon deForest made another notable and perhaps the most notable radio beginning,
when he discovered regeneration. This immediately made the vacuum. tube circuit
so tremendously sensitive (responsive) that it was possible, and is possible today,
with a single tube to bridge distances of 3,000 miles, and more, in radio reception!
Early in 1909
deForest using the vacuum tube as transmitter began sending out radio telephone
impulses through space. One of the first emissions was a [Enrico] Caruso phonograph
record, which was thus broadcast for the first time. Astonished radio amateurs from
New York City almost fainted when they first heard clear music in their ear phones,
where heretofore there had only been dots and dashes. But broadcasting did' not
begin in earnest until Westinghouse station KDKA at Pittsburgh through the endeavors
of one of its engineers, Dr. Frank Conrad, another famous radio beginner, started
broadcasting in the Pittsburgh area. In a few months, hundreds of broadcast stations
sprang up over the entire country, and the radio age had really begun.
But what was badly needed were better and
more sensitive radio circuits, so a number of other "radio beginners" started to
improve these circuits or hookups; particularly outstanding among these men were
Dr. Hazeltine in this country and Marius Latour of France, both of whom be-came
responsible for tuned radio frequency circuits.
But still more important radio circuits were yet to come. Pretty soon the superheterodyne
was invented; this hookup, one of the most famous in radio, is used today to the
exclusion of almost all others. This circuit was invented in France by Levy; but
Latour, already mentioned, also did valiant work on this circuit.
Another famous beginner is our own Professor Edwin H. Armstrong, to whom we are
indebted for many brilliant circuits; including improved superheterodynes, as well
as one circuit which, being extremely efficient on short wave-lengths, is coming
into great prominence, namely - super-regeneration.
Posted December 16, 2022
(updated from original
post on 7/21/2015)