Lee De Forest

Infobox person
name = Lee De Forest

caption =
birth_date = birth date|1873|8|26|mf=y
birth_place = Council Bluffs, Iowa
death_date = death date and age|1961|6|30|1873|8|26|mf=y
death_place = Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
occupation = Inventor
salary =
parents = Henry Swift DeForest
Anna Robbins
spouse =Lucille Sheardown (m. 1906)
Nora Stanton Blatch Barney (m. 1907-1911)
Mary Mayo (m. 1912-?)
Marie Mosquini (m. 1930-1961)
relatives = Calvert DeForest, grandnephew
footnotes =
known_for= triode

Lee De Forest, (August 26, 1873June 30, 1961) was an American inventor with over 300 patents to his credit. De Forest invented the Audion, a vacuum tube that takes relatively weak electrical signals and amplifies them. De Forest is one of the fathers of the "electronic age", as the Audion helped to usher in the widespread use of electronics.

He was involved in several patent lawsuits and he spent a fortune from his inventions on the legal bills. He had four marriages and several failed companies, he was defrauded by business partners, and he was once indicted for mail fraud, but was later acquitted.

He was a charter member of the Institute of Radio Engineers, one of the two predecessors of the IEEE (the other was the American Institute of Electrical Engineers).

Birth and education

Lee De Forest was born in 1873 in Council Bluffs, Iowa to Henry Swift DeForest and Anna Robbins. []

His father was a Congregational minister who hoped that his son would become a minister also. He accepted the position of President of Talladega College, a traditionally African American school, in Talladega, Alabama where Lee spent most of his youth. Most citizens of the white community resented his father's efforts to educate black students. Lee De Forest had several friends among the African American children of the town.

De Forest went to Mount Hermon School, and then he enrolled at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University in 1893. As an inquisitive inventor, he tapped into the electrical system at Yale one evening and completely blacked out the campus, leading to his suspension. However, he was eventually allowed to complete his studies. He paid some of his tuition with income from mechanical and gaming inventions, and he received his Bachelor's degree in 1896. He remained at Yale for graduate studies, and earned his Ph.D. in 1899 with a doctoral dissertation on radio waves.


De Forest's interest in wireless telegraphy led to his invention of the Audion tube in 1906, and he developed an improved wireless telegraph receiver. At that time, he was a member of the faculty at the Armour Institute of Technology, now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. He filed a patent for a two-electrode device for detecting electromagnetic waves, a variant of the Fleming valve invented two years earlier. His Audion tube, a three-electrode device (plate, cathode, control grid), was a vacuum tube which allowed for amplification for radio reception.

In 1904, a De Forest transmitter and receiver were set up aboard the steamboat "Haimun" operated on behalf of The Times, the first of its kind. ["The De Forest Wireless Telegraphy Tower: Bulletin No. 1", Summer 1904.]

De Forest did not however understand how his invention worked, and others had to explain it to him. The American inventor Edwin H. Armstrong was the first to explain the correct operation of this device, and also to improve it to the point where it could actually provide useful amplification. De Forest claimed that the operation was based on ions created within the gas in the tube, and warned others from removing this by creating a vacuum. His own prototypes never achieved amplification.fact|date=March 2008

On July 18, 1907, De Forest broadcast the first ship-to-shore message from the steam yacht "Thelma". The communication provided quick, accurate race results of the Annual Inter-Lakes Yachting Association (I-LYA) Regatta. The message was received by his assistant, Frank E. Butler of Monroeville, Ohio in the Pavilion at Fox's Dock located on South Bass Island on Lake Erie.

DeForest disliked the term "wireless", and chose a new moniker, "radio". [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/



Lee de Forest had four wives:
*Lucille Sheardown in February 1906. They divorced the same year they were married.
*Nora Stanton Blatch Barney (1883–1911) in February 1907. They had a daughter, Harriet, but by 1911 they divorced.
*Mary Mayo (1892–1921) in December 1912. In 1920 they were living with their daughter Deena (Eleanor) De Forest (1919-?).
*Marie Mosquini (1899–1983) in October 1930. Mosquini was a silent film actress, and she and DeForest remained married until his death in 1961.

Middle years

De Forest invented the Audion in 1906, an improved version of John Fleming's recently invented diode vacuum tube detector. In January 1907, he filed a patent for a three-electrode version of the Audion, which was granted US Patent 879,532 in February 1908. It was also called the De Forest valve, and since 1919 has been known as the triode.

De Forest's innovation was the insertion of a third electrode, the grid, in between the cathode (filament) and the anode (plate) of the previously invented diode. The resulting triode or three-electrode vacuum tube could be used as an amplifier for electrical signals, and, equally important, as a fast (for its time) electronic switching element, later applicable in digital electronics (such as computers). The triode was vital in the development of long-distance (e.g. transcontinental) telephone communications, radio, and radars. The triode was an important innovation in electronics in the first half of the 20th century, between Nikola Tesla's and Guglielmo Marconi's progress in radio in the 1890s, and the 1948 invention of the transistor.

De Forest is credited with the birth of public radio broadcasting when on January 12, 1910, he conducted experimental broadcast of part of the live performance of Tosca and, the next day, a performance with the participation of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso from the stage of Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. cite web|url= http://learfielddata.blogspot.com/2006_01_08_archive.html|title= Today in History, Jan 13|accessdate= 2008-06-24] [ [http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/frame.htm The MetOpera Database (archives)] ] .

De Forest came to San Francisco in 1910, and worked for the Federal Telegraph Company, which began developing the first global radio communications system in 1912. [http://ipc-lis.mit.edu/globalization/Silicon%20Valley.pdf]

The United States Attorney General sued De Forest for fraud (in 1913) on behalf of his shareholders, stating that his claim of regeneration was an "absurd" promise (he was later acquitted). Nearly bankrupt with legal bills, De Forest sold his triode vacuum-tube patent to AT&T and the Bell System in 1913 for the bargain price of $50,000.

De Forest filed another patent in 1916 that became the cause of a contentious lawsuit with the prolific inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong, whose patent for the regenerative circuit had been issued in 1914. The lawsuit lasted twelve years, winding its way through the appeals process and ending up before the Supreme Court in 1926. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of De Forest, although the view of many historians is that the judgment was incorrect.Fact|date=November 2007

Radio pioneer

In 1916, De Forest, from experimental radio station 2XG in New York City, broadcast the first radio advertisements (for his own products) and the first Presidential election report by radio in November 1916 for Charles Evans Hughes and Woodrow Wilson. A few months later, DeForest moved his tube transmitter to High Bridge, New York. Like Charles Herrold in San Jose, California -- who had been broadcasting since 1909 with call letters "FN", "SJN", and then "6XF" -- De Forest had a license from the Department of Commerce for an experimental radio station, but, like Herrold, had to cease all broadcasting when the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917.

Just like Pittsburgh’s KDKA four years later in November 1920, DeForest used the Hughes/Wilson presidential election returns for his broadcast. The "New York American" installed a private wire and bulletins were sent out every hour. About 2000 listeners heard "The Star-Spangled Banner" and other anthems, songs, and hymns. DeForest went on to sponsor radio broadcasts of music, featuring opera star Enrico Caruso and many other events, but he received little financial backing.

Phonofilm sound-on-film process

In 1919, De Forest filed the first patent on his sound-on-film process, which improved on the work of Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt and the German partnership Tri-Ergon, and called it the De Forest Phonofilm process. Phonofilm recorded sound directly onto film as parallel lines of variable shades of gray, and later became known as a "variable density" system as opposed to "variable area" systems such as RCA Photophone. These lines photographically recorded electrical waveforms from a microphone, which were translated back into sound waves when the movie was projected. This system, which synchronized sound directly onto film, was used to record stage performances (such as in vaudeville), speeches, and musical acts. In November 1922, De Forest established his De Forest Phonofilm Company at 314 East 48th Street in New York City, but none of the Hollywood movie studios expressed any interest in his invention.

De Forest premiered 18 short films made in Phonofilm on 15 April 1923 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. He was forced to show his films in independent theaters such as the Rivoli, since Hollywood movie studios controlled all major theater chains. De Forest chose to film primarily vaudeville acts, not features, limiting the appeal of his process. Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer used the Phonofilm process for their Song Car-Tune series of cartoons -- featuring the "Follow the Bouncing Ball" gimmick -- starting in May 1924. De Forest also worked with Freeman Harrison Owens and Theodore Case, using Owens's and Case's work to perfect the Phonofilm system. However, DeForest had a falling out with both men. Case took his patents to studio head William Fox, owner of Fox Film Corporation, who then perfected the Fox Movietone process. Shortly before the Phonofilm Company filed for bankruptcy in September 1926, Hollywood introduced a new method for sound film, the sound-on-disc process developed by Warner Brothers as Vitaphone, with the John Barrymore film "Don Juan", released 6 August 1926.

In 1927 and 1928, Hollywood began to use sound-on-film systems, including Fox Movietone and RCA Photophone. Meanwhile, a theater chain owner, M. B. Schlesinger, acquired the UK rights to Phonofilm and released short films of British music hall performers from September 1926 to May 1929. Almost 200 short films were made in the Phonofilm process, and many are preserved in the collections of the Library of Congress and the British Film Institute. [Today, many sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica list De Forest as one of the inventors of sound film.]

Later years and death

De Forest sold one of his radio manufacturing firms to RCA in 1931. In 1934, the courts sided with De Forest against Edwin Armstrong (although the technical community did not agree with the courts). De Forest won the court battle, but he lost the battle for public opinion. His peers would not take him seriously as an inventor or trust him as a colleague. Fact|date=August 2007

In 1940 he sent a famous open letter to the National Association of Broadcasters in which he demanded to know, "What have you done with my child, the radio broadcast? You have debased this child, dressed him in rags of ragtime, tatters of jive and boogie-woogie."

For De Forest's initially rejected, but later adopted, movie soundtrack method, he was given an Academy Award (Oscar) in 1959/1960 for "his pioneering inventions which brought sound to the motion picture", and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

De Forest was the guest celebrity on the May 22, 1957 episode of the television show "This Is Your Life", where he was introduced as the "Father Of Radio and the Grandfather of Television".

He died in Hollywood in 1961 and was interred in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Lee De Forest, 87, Radio Pioneer, Dies; Lee De Forest, Inventor, Is Dead at 87 |url= |quote=Hollywood, California, July 1, 1961. Dr. Lee De Forest, the inventor known as the father of radio, died last night at his home. He was 87 years old. |publisher=New York Times |date=July 2, 1961, Sunday |accessdate=2007-07-21 ]


De Forest received the IRE Medal of Honor in 1922, as "recognition for his invention of the three-electrode amplifier and his other contributions to radio". In 1946, he received the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers 'For the profound technical and social consequences of the grid-controlled vacuum tube which he had introduced'. An important annual medal awarded to engineers by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers is named the Lee De Forest Medal.


De Forest was a conservative Republican and fervent anti-communist and anti-fascist. In 1932 he had voted for Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of the Great Depression, but later came to resent him and his statist policies called him American's "first Fascist president." In 1949, he "sent letters to all members of Congress urging them to vote against socialized medicine, federally subsidized housing, and an excess profits tax." In 1952, he wrote newly elected Vice President Richard Nixon, urging him to "prosecute with renewed vigor your valiant fight to put out Communism from every branch of our government." In December 1953, he cancelled his subscription to "The Nation", accusing it of being "lousy with Treason, crawling with Communism." [James A. Hijya, "Lee De Forest and the Fatherhood of Radio" (1992), Lehigh University Press, pages 119-120]


De Forest was given to expansive predictions, many of which were not borne out, but he also made many correct predictions, including microwave communication and cooking.
*"I foresee great refinements in the field of short-pulse microwave signaling, whereby several simultaneous programs may occupy the same channel, in sequence, with incredibly swift electronic communication. Short waves will be generally used in the kitchen for roasting and baking, almost instantaneously" – 1952 cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Dawn of the Electronic Age |url=http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/03/20/dawn-of-the-electronic-age |quote= |publisher=Popular Mechanics |date=January 1952 |accessdate=2007-07-21 ]

*"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility." – 1926 [Wikiquote: (television)]
*"To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth—all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances." – 1926 [Wikiquote: (space travel)]
*"I do not foresee 'spaceships' to the moon or Mars. Mortals must live and die on Earth or within its atmosphere!" – 1952
*"The transistor will more and more supplement, but never supplant, the Audion. Its frequency limitations, a few hundred kilocycles [kilohertz] , and its strict power limitations will never permit its general replacement of the Audion amplifier." – 1952"I came, I saw, I invented--it's that simple--no need to sit and think--it's all in your imagination"


Lee De Forest's great nephew, actor Calvert DeForest, became well known in another broadcasting venue some 75 years following his uncle's Audion invention. Calvert DeForest portrayed the comic "Larry 'Bud' Melman" character on David Letterman's late night television programs for two decades.

References and notes

External links


"Patent images in TIFF format"
* "Wireless Signaling Device" (directional antenna), filed December 1902, issued January 1904
* "Oscillation Responsive Device" (vacuum tube detector diode), filed January 1906, issued June 1906
* "Wireless Telegraph System" (separate transmitting and receiving antennas), filed December 1905, issued July 1906
* "Wireless Telegraph System", filed January 1906 issued July 1906
* "Oscillation Responsive Device" (vacuum tube detector - no grid), filed May 1906, issued November 1906
* "Wireless Telegraphy" (tunable vacuum tube detector - no grid), filed August 1906, issued January 1907
* "Wireless Telegraph Transmitting System" (antenna coupler), filed May 1904, issued January 1908
* "Space Telegraphy" (increased sensitivity detector - clearly shows grid), filed January 1907, issued February 18, 1908
* "Wireless Telegraphy"
* "Wireless Telegraph Tuning Device"
* "Wireless Telegraph Transmitter", filed February 1906, issued July 1909
* "Space Telegraphy"
* "Space Telephony"
* "Oscillation Responsive Device" (parallel plates in Bunsen flame) filed February 1905, issued December 1910
* "Wireless Telegraphy" (directional antenna/direction finder), filed June 1906, issued June 1914
* "Wireless Telegraphy"

Other sites

* [http://www.ieee.org/web/aboutus/history_center/biography/deforest.html Lee De Forest] at IEEE
* [http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/40.html Lee De Forest] at National Inventors Hall of Fame
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZR9KdkMlhM De Forest Phonofilm Sound Movie with Eddie Cantor (1923)]
* [http://www.geocities.com/lyon95065/Radio.html Stephen Greene's "Who said Lee de Forest was the "Father of Radio"?"]
* Some of DeForest's papers at History San Jose [http://www.historysanjose.org/exhibits_collections/collections/collections.html]
* Eugenii Katz's [http://chem.ch.huji.ac.il/~eugeniik/history/deforest.htm Lee De Forest]
* Cole, A. B., " [http://earlyradiohistory.us/audi1916.htm Practical Pointers on the Audion] : Sales Manager - De Forest Radio Tel. & Tel. Co.", QST, March, 1916, pages 41-44:
* Hong, Sungook, " [http://www.ieee.org/organizations/history_center/Che2004/Hong.pdf A History of the Regeneration Circuit: From Invention to Patent Litigation] " University, Seoul, Korea (PDF)
* PBS, " [http://www.pbs.org/transistor/quicktimes/movieclips/monkeysVIDEO/monkeysVIDEO_MSTR.mov "Monkeys"] "; a film on the Audion operation (QuickTime movie)
* [http://www.deforestradio.com deforestradio.com] Dr. Lee De Forest internet radio project & forum
* Complete [http://www.leedeforest.org/ Lee De Forest]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lee de Forest — (* 26. August 1873 in Iowa; † 30. Juni 1961 in Hollywood, Kalifornien) war ein US amerikanischer Erfinder. Es wurden über 300 Patente auf seinen Namen ausgestellt. De Forest erfand das Audion (heute als Triode bez …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lee De Forest — (* 26. August 1873 in Council Bluffs, Iowa; † 30. Juni 1961 in Hollywood, Kalifornien) war ein US amerikanischer Erfinder. Es wurden über 300 Patente auf seinen Namen ausgestellt. De Forest erfand die gasgefüllte …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lee de Forest — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Forest (patronyme). Lee De Forest Lee De Forest (né le 26 août  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lee De Forest — Alexander Lee De Forest, (Iowa, 26 de agosto de 1873 Hollywood, 30 de junio de 1961), fue un inventor estadounidense con unas 300 patentes registradas. Nació en 1873 en Council Bluffs, Iowa, pero creció en Talladega, Alabama, donde habían enviado …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lee National Forest — was established in Virginia by the U.S. Forest Service on April 10, 1925 with 7,177 acres from part of the Lee Military Reservation. On June 23, 1928 the executive order for its creation was rescinded and the forest was abolished. [citation|title …   Wikipedia

  • Lee De Forest — Lee De Forest, (Iowa, 26 de agosto de 1873 Hollywood, 30 de junio de 1961), fue un inventor estadounidense con unas 300 patentes registradas. Entre ellas está el triodo, en 1907. Licenciado en 1899 en la Universidad de Yale …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Lee De Forest — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Forest (patronyme). Lee De Forest Lee De Forest (né le 26 août 1873, mort le 30  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lee De Forest — noun United States electrical engineer who in 1907 patented the first triode vacuum tube, which made it possible to detect and amplify radio waves (1873 1961) • Syn: ↑De Forest, ↑Father of Radio • Instance Hypernyms: ↑electrical engineer,… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lee De Forest — triode vacuum tube …   Inventors, Inventions

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