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Iowa History Daily: August 26 - "Father of Radio" Born in Burlington

Iowa History Daily: On August 26, 1873, Lee de Forest, the inventor of the audion vacuum tube and “Father of Radio” was born in Council Bluffs. Over a tumultuous career, Lee de Forest obtained over 300 patents while developing the technology which made radio broadcasting and long distance telephone lines possible.

After spending his early childhood in Pottawattamie County, Lee de Forest’s Presbyterian father moved the family to Alabama. Taking over the Talladega College, a learning institution for the city’s African-American community, the elder de Forest encouraged his children to break social norms around segregation. Although the effort to educate all people alienated the family from the town’s white community, Lee de Forest spent his childhood learning about the equality of all people first hand.

Although his father hoped he would join the ministry, Lee de Forest enrolled at the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University in 1893. Six years later he completed a PhD in Physics. Lee de Forest soon started working on radio telegraphic communication (wireless telegraphy). After making unsuccessful inquiries about employment with Nikola Tesla and Italian radio innovator Guglielmo Marconi, de Forest struck out on his own. He returned to the Midwest to work at the Western Electric Company's telephone lab in Chicago, Illinois. While there he developed his first receiver.

A series of successes and failures eventually led to his invention of the first practical electronic amplifier, the three-element "Audion" triode vacuum tube in 1906. His invention kick-started the Electronic Age while enabling the development of the electronic oscillator. Lee de Forest’s work made radio broadcasting and long distance telephone lines possible while also leading directly to the development of talking motion pictures, among countless other applications. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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