Lee De Forest
Lee De Forest was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 inventor with over 180 patents to his credit. De Forest invented the Audion
Audion tube
The Audion is an electronic amplifying vacuum tube invented by Lee De Forest in 1906. It was the forerunner of the triode, in which the current from the filament to the plate was controlled by a third element, the grid...

, a vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

 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
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...

. He is also credited with one of the principal inventions that brought sound to motion pictures.

He was involved in several patent lawsuits and he spent a substantial part of his income from his inventions on the legal bills. He had four marriages and 25 companies, he was defrauded by business partners (as well as defrauding business partners himself), and he was once indicted for mail fraud, but was later acquitted.

He typically signed his name "Lee de Forest."

He was a charter member of the Institute of Radio Engineers
Institute of Radio Engineers
The Institute of Radio Engineers was a professional organization which existed from 1912 until January 1, 1963, when it merged with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers .-Founding:Following several attempts to form a...

, one of the two predecessors of the IEEE (the other was the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
American Institute of Electrical Engineers
The American Institute of Electrical Engineers was a United States based organization of electrical engineers that existed between 1884 and 1963, when it merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers .- History :The 1884 founders of the...


DeVry University
DeVry University
DeVry University and DeVry Institute of Technology are divisions of DeVry Inc , a proprietary, for-profit higher education organization that is also the parent organization for Keller Graduate School of Management, Ross University, American University of the Caribbean, Apollo College, Western...

 was originally named DeForest Training School, after Lee De Forest, by its founder Dr. Herman A. DeVry, who was a friend and colleague of De Forest's.

Birth and education

Lee De Forest was born in 1873 in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Council Bluffs, known until 1852 as Kanesville, Iowathe historic starting point of the Mormon Trail and eventual northernmost anchor town of the other emigrant trailsis a city in and the county seat of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, United States and is on the east bank of the Missouri River across...

 to Henry Swift De Forest and Anna Robbins.

His father was a Congregational Church
Congregational church
Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs....

 minister who hoped that his son would also become a minister. Henry Swift DeForest accepted the position of President of Talladega College
Talladega College
- External Links :* -- Official web site*...

, a traditionally African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 school, in Talladega, Alabama
Talladega, Alabama
Talladega is a city in Talladega County, Alabama, United States. At the 2000 census the population was 15,143. The city is the county seat of Talladega County. Talladega is approximately 50 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama....

, where Lee spent most of his youth. Many citizens of the white community resented his father's efforts to educate Negro students, but Lee De Forest had several friends among the Negro
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 children of the town.

De Forest attended Mount Hermon School, and in 1893 enrolled at the Sheffield Scientific School
Sheffield Scientific School
Sheffield Scientific School was founded in 1847 as a school of Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut for instruction in science and engineering. Originally named the Yale Scientific School, it was renamed in 1861 in honor of Joseph E. Sheffield, the railroad executive. The school was...

 of Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 in Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

. As an inquisitive young inventor, he tapped into the electrical system at Yale one evening and completely blacked out the entire campus, causing his suspension. However, he was eventually allowed to complete his studies, receiving his bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

 in 1896. He paid part of his tuition with the income from his mechanical and gaming inventions. De Forest earned his Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 degree in 1899 with a dissertation on radio waves. For the next two years, he was on faculty at Armour Institute of Technology and Lewis Institute (merging in 1940 to become Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Institute of Technology, commonly called Illinois Tech or IIT, is a private Ph.D.-granting university located in Chicago, Illinois, with programs in engineering, science, psychology, architecture, business, communications, industrial technology, information technology, design, and law...

) and conducted his first long-distance broadcasts from the university.


De Forest was interested in wireless telegraphy and invented the Audion
Audion tube
The Audion is an electronic amplifying vacuum tube invented by Lee De Forest in 1906. It was the forerunner of the triode, in which the current from the filament to the plate was controlled by a third element, the grid...

 in 1906. He then developed an improved wireless telegraph receiver.

In January 1906, De Forest filed a patent for diode
In electronics, a diode is a type of two-terminal electronic component with a nonlinear current–voltage characteristic. A semiconductor diode, the most common type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material connected to two electrical terminals...

 vacuum tube detector
Detector (radio)
A detector is a device that recovers information of interest contained in a modulated wave. The term dates from the early days of radio when all transmissions were in Morse code, and it was only necessary to detect the presence of a radio wave using a device such as a coherer without necessarily...

, a two-electrode device for detecting electromagnetic waves, a variant of the Fleming valve
Fleming valve
The Fleming valve, also called the Fleming oscillation valve, was a vacuum tube diode invented by John Ambrose Fleming and used in the earliest days of radio communication...

 invented two years earlier. One year later, he filed a patent for a three-electrode device that was a much more sensitive detector of electromagetic waves. It was granted US Patent 879,532 in February 1908. The device was also called the De Forest valve, and since 1919 has been known as the triode
A triode is an electronic amplification device having three active electrodes. The term most commonly applies to a vacuum tube with three elements: the filament or cathode, the grid, and the plate or anode. The triode vacuum tube was the first electronic amplification device...

. De Forest's innovation was the insertion of a third electrode
An electrode is an electrical conductor used to make contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit...

, the grid
Control grid
The control grid is an electrode used in thermionic valves used to modulate the flow of electrons in the cathode to anode or plate circuit.- Operation :...

, between the cathode
A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 (filament) and the anode
An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

Plate electrode
A plate is a type of electrode that formed part of a vacuum tube. The plate is impressed with a positive charge so that it may capture and flow electrons within a circuit....

) of the previously invented diode. The resulting triode or three-electrode vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

 could be used as an amplifier
Generally, an amplifier or simply amp, is a device for increasing the power of a signal.In popular use, the term usually describes an electronic amplifier, in which the input "signal" is usually a voltage or a current. In audio applications, amplifiers drive the loudspeakers used in PA systems to...

 of electrical signals, notably for radio reception. The Audion was the fastest electronic switching element of the time, and was later used in early digital
A digital system is a data technology that uses discrete values. By contrast, non-digital systems use a continuous range of values to represent information...

 electronics (such as computer
A computer is a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations. The particular sequence of operations can be changed readily, allowing the computer to solve more than one kind of problem...

s). The triode was vital in the development of transcontinental telephone
The telephone , colloquially referred to as a phone, is a telecommunications device that transmits and receives sounds, usually the human voice. Telephones are a point-to-point communication system whose most basic function is to allow two people separated by large distances to talk to each other...

 communications, radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

, and radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 after Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer...

's and Guglielmo Marconi
Guglielmo Marconi
Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor, known as the father of long distance radio transmission and for his development of Marconi's law and a radio telegraph system. Marconi is often credited as the inventor of radio, and indeed he shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand...

's progress in radio in the 1890s, until the 1948 invention of the transistor
A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power. It is composed of a semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current...


De Forest had, in fact, stumbled onto this invention via tinkering and did not completely understand how it worked. De Forest had initially claimed that the operation was based on ions created within the gas in the tube when, in fact, it was shown by others to operate with a vacuum in the tube. The American inventor Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" in which, building on Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory, he outlined his...

 of General Electric Corp. was the first to correctly explain the theory of operation of the device, and also to significantly improve it.
In 1904, a De Forest transmitter and receiver were set up aboard the steamboat
A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels...

SS Haimun was a Chinese steamer ship commanded by war correspondent Lionel James in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War for The Times. It is the first-known instance of a "press boat" dedicated to war correspondence during naval battles....

operated on behalf of The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

, the first of its kind. On July 18, 1907, De Forest broadcast
Broadcast or Broadcasting may refer to:* Broadcasting, the transmission of audio and video signals* Broadcast, an individual television program or radio program* Broadcast , an English electronic music band...

 the first ship-to-shore message from the steam yacht
Steam yacht
A steam yacht is a class of luxury or commercial yacht with primary or secondary steam propulsion in addition to the sails usually carried by yachts.-Origin of the name:...

 Thelma. The communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

 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
South Bass Island
South Bass Island is a small island in western Lake Erie, and a part of Ottawa County, Ohio, United States. It is the southernmost of the three Bass Islands and located 12 miles from the south shore of Lake Erie. It is the third largest island in the Lake Erie Islands. The island is a popular...

 on Lake Erie
Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the...

. DeForest disliked the term "wireless
Wireless telecommunications is the transfer of information between two or more points that are not physically connected. Distances can be short, such as a few meters for television remote control, or as far as thousands or even millions of kilometers for deep-space radio communications...

", and chose a new moniker, "radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

". De Forest is credited with the birth of public radio broadcasting
Birth of public radio broadcasting
Birth of public radio broadcasting is credited to Lee de Forest. A 1907 Lee De Forest company advertisement said, -Date:On January 13, 1910, the first public radio broadcast was an experimental transmission of a live Metropolitan Opera House performance of several famous opera...

 when on January 12, 1910, he conducted experimental broadcast of part of the live performance of Tosca
Tosca is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900...

and, the next day, a performance with the participation of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso from the stage of Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company, located in New York City. Originally founded in 1880, the company gave its first performance on October 22, 1883. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager...

 House in New York City.
De Forest came to San Francisco in 1910, and worked for the Federal Telegraph Company
Federal Telegraph Company
The Federal Telegraph Company was a United States communications company that played a pivotal role in the 20th century in the development of radio communications. Founded in Palo Alto, California in 1909, it would eventually merge in August 1927 with the Mackay Companies...

, which began developing the first global radio communications system in 1912. California Historical Landmark
California Historical Landmark
California Historical Landmarks are buildings, structures, sites, or places in the state of California that have been determined to have statewide historical significance by meeting at least one of the criteria listed below:...

 No. 836 is a bronze plaque at the eastern corner of Channing St. and Emerson Ave. in Palo Alto, California
Palo Alto, California
Palo Alto is a California charter city located in the northwest corner of Santa Clara County, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, United States. The city shares its borders with East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford, Portola Valley, and Menlo Park. It is...

 which memorializes the Electronics Research Laboratory at that location and De Forest for the invention of the three-element radio vacuum tube.

Middle years

The United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 Attorney General
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

 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
Regenerative circuit
The regenerative circuit or "autodyne" allows an electronic signal to be amplified many times by the same vacuum tube or other active component such as a field effect transistor. It consists of an amplifying vacuum tube or transistor with its output connected to its input through a feedback...

 had been issued in 1914. The lawsuit lasted twelve years, winding its way through the appeals process and ending up before the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 in 1926. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of De Forest, although the view of many historians is that the judgment was incorrect.

Radio pioneer

In 1916, De Forest, from experimental radio station 2XG in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, broadcast the first radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 advertisements (for his own products) and the first President
A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

ial election
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy operates since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the...

 report by radio in November 1916 for Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. was an American statesman, lawyer and Republican politician from New York. He served as the 36th Governor of New York , Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States , United States Secretary of State , a judge on the Court of International Justice , and...

 and Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

. A few months later, DeForest moved his tube transmitter to Highbridge, Bronx
Highbridge, Bronx
Highbridge is a residential neighborhood geographically located in the Southwestern section of The Bronx, New York City. The neighborhood is part of Bronx Community Board 4. Its boundaries, starting from the north and moving clockwise are: the Cross-Bronx Expressway to the north, Jerome Avenue to...

. Like Charles Herrold
Charles Herrold
Charles David 'Doc' Herrold, was an American radio broadcasting pioneer who in 1909 created the world's second radio station....

 in San Jose, California
San Jose, California
San Jose is the third-largest city in California, the tenth-largest in the U.S., and the county seat of Santa Clara County which is located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay...

 -- who had been broadcasting since 1909 with call letters "FN", "SJN", and then "6XF" -- De Forest had a license from the Department of Commerce
United States Department of Commerce
The United States Department of Commerce is the Cabinet department of the United States government concerned with promoting economic growth. It was originally created as the United States Department of Commerce and Labor on February 14, 1903...

 for an experimental radio station, but, like Herrold, had to cease all broadcasting when the U.S. entered World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in April 1917. From April 1920 to November 1921, DeForest broadcast from station 6XC at the California Theater at Market and Fourth Streets in San Francisco. In late 1921, 6XC moved its transmitter to Ocean View Drive in the Rockridge
Rockridge, Oakland, California
Rockridge is a residential neighborhood and commercial district in Oakland, California. Rockridge is generally defined as the area east of Telegraph Avenue, south of the Berkeley city limits, west of the Oakland hills and north of the intersection of Pleasant Valley Avenue/51st Street and...

 section of Oakland, California
Oakland, California
Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724...

 and became KZY.

Just like Pittsburgh’s KDKA
KDKA is a radio station licensed to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Created by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation on November 2, 1920, it is one of the world's first modern radio stations , a distinction that has also been challenged by other stations, although it has claimed to be the first in...

 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
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 broadcasts of music, featuring opera star Enrico Caruso and many other events, but he received little financial backing.

In April 1923, the De Forest Radio Telephone & Telegraph Company, which manufactured De Forest's Audions for commercial use, was sold to a coalition of automobile makers, who expanded the company's factory to cope with rising demand for radios. The sale also bought the services of De Forest, who was focusing his attention on newer innovations.

Phonofilm sound-on-film process

In 1919, De Forest filed the first patent on his sound-on-film
Sound-on-film refers to a class of sound film processes where the sound accompanying picture is physically recorded onto photographic film, usually, but not always, the same strip of film carrying the picture. Sound-on-film processes can either record an analog sound track or digital sound track,...

 process, which improved on the work of Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt
Eric Tigerstedt
Eric Magnus Campbell Tigerstedt was one of the most significant inventors in Finland at the beginning of the 20th century, and has been called the "Thomas Edison of Finland"...

 and the German partnership Tri-Ergon
The Tri-Ergon sound-on-film system was patented from 1919 on by German inventors Josef Engl , Hans Vogt , and Joseph Massolle . The name Tri-Ergon was derived from Greek and means "the work of three." In 1926, William Fox of Fox Film Corporation purchased the U. S...

, and called it the De Forest Phonofilm
In 1919, Lee De Forest, inventor of the audion tube, filed his first patent on a sound-on-film process, DeForest Phonofilm, which recorded sound directly onto film as parallel lines. These parallel lines photographically recorded electrical waveforms from a microphone, which were translated back...

 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
RCA Photophone
RCA Photophone was the trade name given to one of four major competing technologies that emerged in the American film industry in the late 1920s for synchronizing electrically recorded audio to a motion picture image. RCA Photophone was a sound-on-film, "variable-area" film exposure system, in...

. These lines photograph
A photograph is an image created by light falling on a light-sensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic imager such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of...

ically recorded electrical waveforms from a microphone
A microphone is an acoustic-to-electric transducer or sensor that converts sound into an electrical signal. In 1877, Emile Berliner invented the first microphone used as a telephone voice transmitter...

, which were translated back into sound
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.-Propagation of...

 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 short vaudeville
Vaudeville was a theatrical genre of variety entertainment in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. Each performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill...

 acts, not features, limiting the appeal of his process to Hollywood studios. Max Fleischer
Max Fleischer
Max Fleischer was an American animator. He was a pioneer in the development of the animated cartoon and served as the head of Fleischer Studios...

 and Dave Fleischer
Dave Fleischer
David "Dave" Fleischer was an American animator film director and film producer, best known as a co-owner of Fleischer Studios with his two older brothers Max Fleischer and Lou Fleischer...

 used the Phonofilm process for their Song Car-Tune
Sound Car-Tunes
Ko-Ko Song Car-Tunes, Song Car-Tunes, or Sound Car-Tunes, is a series of short three minute animation films produced by Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer between May 1924 and September 1927, pioneering the use of the "Follow the Bouncing Ball" device used to lead audiences in theater sing-alongs...

 series of cartoons—featuring the "Follow the Bouncing Ball" gimmick—starting in May 1924. De Forest also worked with Freeman Harrison Owens
Freeman Harrison Owens
Freeman Harrison Owens , born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the only child of Charles H. Owens and Christabel Harrison. He attended Pine Bluff High School in Pine Bluff, but quit in his senior year to work at a local movie theatre as a projectionist.Owens constructed his own 35mm movie camera at the age...

 and Theodore Case
Theodore Case
Theodore Willard Case known for the invention of the Movietone sound-on-film sound film system, was born into a prominent family in Auburn, New York.-Family history:...

, using Owens's and Case's work to perfect the Phonofilm system. However, DeForest had a falling out with both men. Due to DeForest's continuing misuse of Theodore Case's inventions and failure to publicly acknowledge Case's contributions, the Case Research Lab proceeded to build its own camera. That camera was used by Case and his colleague Earl Sponable to record President Coolidge on 11 August 1924, which was one of the films shown by DeForest and claimed by him to be the product of "his" inventions. Seeing that DeForest was more concerned with his own fame and recognition than he was with actually creating a workable system of sound film, and because of DeForest's continuing attempts to downplay the contributions of the Case Research Lab in the creation of Phonofilm, Case severed his ties with DeForest in the fall of 1925. Case then negotiated an agreement for his patents with studio head William Fox
William Fox (producer)
William Fox born Fried Vilmos was a pioneering Hungarian American motion picture executive who founded the Fox Film Corporation in 1915 and the Fox West Coast Theatres chain in the 1920s...

, owner of Fox Film Corporation, who marketed the system as the Fox Movietone
Movietone sound system
The Movietone sound system is a sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures that guarantees synchronization between sound and picture. It achieves this by recording the sound as a variable-density optical track on the same strip of film that records the pictures...

 process. Shortly before the Phonofilm Company filed for bankruptcy in September 1926, Hollywood introduced a new method for sound film
Sound film
A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film. The first known public exhibition of projected sound films took place in Paris in 1900, but decades would pass before sound motion pictures were made commercially...

, the sound-on-disc
The term Sound-on-disc refers to a class of sound film processes using a phonograph or other disc to record or playback sound in sync with a motion picture...

 process developed by Warner Brothers as Vitaphone
Vitaphone was a sound film process used on feature films and nearly 1,000 short subjects produced by Warner Bros. and its sister studio First National from 1926 to 1930. Vitaphone was the last, but most successful, of the sound-on-disc processes...

, with the John Barrymore
John Barrymore
John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

 film Don Juan
Don Juan (1926 film)
Don Juan is a Warner Brothers film, directed by Alan Crosland. It was the first feature-length film with synchronized Vitaphone sound effects and musical soundtrack, though it has no spoken dialogue...

, 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
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 rights to Phonofilm and released short films of British music hall
Music hall
Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:# A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts...

 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
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 and the British Film Institute
British Film Institute
The British Film Institute is a charitable organisation established by Royal Charter to:-Cinemas:The BFI runs the BFI Southbank and IMAX theatre, both located on the south bank of the River Thames in London...


Later years and death

De Forest sold one of his radio manufacturing firms to RCA
RCA Corporation, founded as the Radio Corporation of America, was an American electronics company in existence from 1919 to 1986. The RCA trademark is currently owned by the French conglomerate Technicolor SA through RCA Trademark Management S.A., a company owned by Technicolor...

 in 1931. In 1934, the courts sided with De Forest against Edwin Armstrong
Edwin Armstrong
Edwin Howard Armstrong was an American electrical engineer and inventor. Armstrong was the inventor of modern frequency modulation radio....

 (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.

In 1940 he sent a famous open letter
Open letter
An open letter is a letter that is intended to be read by a wide audience, or a letter intended for an individual, but that is nonetheless widely distributed intentionally....

 to the National Association of Broadcasters
National Association of Broadcasters
The National Association of Broadcasters is a trade association, workers union, and lobby group representing the interests of for-profit, over-the-air radio and television broadcasters in the United States...

 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."

Also, in 1940 De Forest along with early TV engineer Ulises Armand Sanabria
Ulises Armand Sanabria
Ulises Armand Sanabria was born in southern Chicago of Puerto Rican and French-American parents.-Career:...

 explored the concept of a primitive Unmanned combat air vehicle
Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle
An unmanned combat air vehicle or combat drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is designed to deliver weapons without an onboard pilot. Currently operational UCAVs are under real-time human control, but future version may enable autonomous operation, for example with pre-programmed route and...

 using a TV camera and a jam resistant radio control and presented it in a Popular Mechanics issue.

For De Forest's initially rejected, but later adopted, movie soundtrack method, he was given an Academy Award
Academy Honorary Award
The Academy Honorary Award, instituted in 1948 for the 21st Academy Awards , is given by the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to celebrate motion picture achievements that are not covered by existing Academy Awards, although prior winners of...

 (Oscar) in 1959/1960 for "his pioneering inventions which brought sound to the motion picture", and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame consists of more than 2,400 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California...


De Forest was the guest celebrity on the May 22, 1957 episode of the television show This Is Your Life
This Is Your Life
This Is Your Life is an American television documentary series broadcast on NBC, originally hosted by its producer, Ralph Edwards from 1952 to 1961. In the show, the host surprises a guest, and proceeds to take them through their life in front of an audience including friends and family.Edwards...

, where he was introduced as "the father of radio and the grandfather of television". Highlights of this, as well as a film clip of his 1940 NAB letter, can be found in the 1991 Ken Burns
Ken Burns
Kenneth Lauren "Ken" Burns is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs...

 PBS documentary, whose title was based on one of his quotes: Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio is a non-fiction book by Tom Lewis, a history of radio in the United States, published by HarperCollins in 1991. The book was adapted into both a 1992 documentary film by Ken Burns and a 1992 radio drama written and directed by David Ossman...

. The documentary portrays De Forest as a man of dubious integrity with a relentless desire to become wealthy and famous as an inventor, seemingly at any cost.

De Forest authored an autobiography Father of Radio in 1950. He suffered a severe heart attack in 1958, and remained mostly bedridden. He died in Hollywood on June 30, 1961, aged 87, and was interred in San Fernando Mission Cemetery
San Fernando Mission Cemetery
The San Fernando Mission Cemetery is a Catholic cemetery located at 11160 Stranwood Avenue in the Mission Hills community of the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California, near the San Fernando Mission....

 in Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

. De Forest died relatively poor, with just $1,250 in his bank account at the time of his death.

De Forest's archives were donated through his widow to the Perham Electronic Foundation, and housed in a museum at Foothill College
Foothill College
Foothill College is a community college located in Los Altos Hills, California and is part of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. It was founded on January 15, 1957 by Founding Superintendent and President Dr. Calvin C. Flint.-History:...

 in Los Altos
Los Altos
Los Altos is the name of several places, including:* the former state of Los Altos, Central America, now divided between Guatemala and Mexico.* the city of Los Altos, California, in the United States....

. In 1991 the college broke its contract and closed the museum. The foundation later won a lawsuit, and was awarded $775,000. The archives are stored in San Jose, waiting for space, perhaps in the San Jose Historical Park
Kelley Park
Kelley Park in San Jose, California, USA is 156 acres , including diverse facilities such as Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, the Japanese Friendship Garden, History Park at Kelley Park, Portuguese Historical Museum, and Viet Museum within the history park...



De Forest received the IRE
Institute of Radio Engineers
The Institute of Radio Engineers was a professional organization which existed from 1912 until January 1, 1963, when it merged with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers .-Founding:Following several attempts to form a...

 Medal of Honor
IEEE Medal of Honor
The IEEE Medal of Honor is the highest recognition of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers . It has been awarded since 1917, when its first recipient was Major Edwin H. Armstrong. It is given for an exceptional contribution or an extraordinary career in the IEEE fields of...

 in 1922, as "recognition for his invention of the three-electrode amplifier and his other contributions to radio". He was awarded the Franklin Institute
Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest centers of science education and development in the United States, dating to 1824. The Institute also houses the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.-History:On February 5, 1824, Samuel Vaughn Merrick and...

's Elliott Cresson Medal
Elliott Cresson Medal
The Elliott Cresson Medal, also known as the Elliott Cresson Gold Medal, was the highest award given by the Franklin Institute. The award was established by Elliott Cresson, life member of the Franklin Institute, with $1,000 granted in 1848...

 in 1923. In 1946, he received the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
American Institute of Electrical Engineers
The American Institute of Electrical Engineers was a United States based organization of electrical engineers that existed between 1884 and 1963, when it merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers .- History :The 1884 founders of the...

 '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
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, but later came to resent him, calling Roosevelt America's "first Fascist president". In 1949, he "sent letters to all members of Congress urging them to vote against socialized medicine
Socialized medicine
Socialized medicine is a term used to describe a system for providing medical and hospital care for all at a nominal cost by means of government regulation of health services and subsidies derived from taxation. It is used primarily and usually pejoratively in United States political debates...

, federally subsidized housing, and an excess profits tax." In 1952, he wrote newly elected Vice President Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

, 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
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

, accusing it of being "lousy with Treason, crawling with Communism."


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

  • "So I repeat that while theoretically and technically television may be feasible, yet commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility; a development of which we need not waste little time in dreaming." – 1926

  • "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
    Jules Verne
    Jules Gabriel Verne was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , A Journey to the Center of the Earth , and Around the World in Eighty Days...

    . I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances." – 1957

  • "I do not foresee 'spaceships' to the moon or Mars. Mortals must live and die on Earth or within its atmosphere!" – 1952

  • "As a growing competitor to the tube amplifier comes now the Bell Laboratories’ transistor, a three-electrode germanium crystal of amazing amplification power, of wheat-grain size and low cost. Yet its frequency limitations, a few hundred kilocycles, 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"

Notable Items

  • Direct descendant of Jessé de Forest
    Jessé de Forest
    Jessé de Forest was the leader of a group of Walloon Huguenots who fled Europe due to religious persecutions. Jessé de Forest emigrated to the New World, where he planned to found New-Belgium...

     who was the leader of a group of Walloon
    Walloons are a French-speaking people who live in Belgium, principally in Wallonia. Walloons are a distinctive community within Belgium, important historical and anthropological criteria bind Walloons to the French people. More generally, the term also refers to the inhabitants of the Walloon...

     Huguenots who fled Europe due to religious persecutions.
  • Actor Calvert DeForest
    Calvert DeForest
    Calvert Grant DeForest , also known by his character Larry "Bud" Melman, was an American actor and comedian, best known for his appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman.-Early life:Little has been published about his early life...

     portrayed the comic "Larry 'Bud' Melman" character on David Letterman
    David Letterman
    David Michael Letterman is an American television host and comedian. He hosts the late night television talk show, Late Show with David Letterman, broadcast on CBS. Letterman has been a fixture on late night television since the 1982 debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC...

    's Late Night With David Letterman
    Late Night with David Letterman
    Late Night with David Letterman is a nightly hour-long comedy talk show on NBC that was created and hosted by David Letterman. It premiered in 1982 as the first incarnation of the Late Night franchise and went off the air in 1993, after Letterman left NBC and moved to Late Show on CBS. Late Night...

    television programs for two decades. Calvert DeForest was a cousin to actor DeForest Kelley
    DeForest Kelley
    Jackson DeForest Kelley was an American actor known for his iconic roles in Westerns and as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy of the USS Enterprise in the television and film series Star Trek.-Early life:...

     and movie star Bebe Daniels
    Bebe Daniels
    Bebe Daniels was an American actress, singer, dancer, writer and producer. She began her career in Hollywood during the silent movie era as a child actress, became a star in musicals like 42nd Street, and later gained further fame on radio and television in Britain...

    . Daniels was Lee DeForest's second cousin, so Calvert's relation to Lee was a bit distant.

Personal life

Lee de Forest had four wives:
  • Lucille Sheardown in February 1906. They divorced the same year they were married.
  • Nora Stanton Blatch Barney
    Nora Stanton Blatch Barney
    Nora Stanton Blatch Barney was an American civil engineer, architect, and suffragist.-Early life:...

     (1883–1971) in February 1907. They had a daughter, Harriet, but were divorced by 1911.
  • Mary Mayo (1892–1957) in December 1912. According to census records, in 1920 they were living with their infant daughter, Deena (born ca. 1919); divorced October 5, 1930 (per Los Angeles Times). Died in a fire in Los Angeles, December 30, 1957 (per Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1957)
  • Marie Mosquini
    Marie Mosquini
    Marie Mosquini was an American film actress. She appeared in 202 films between 1917 and 1929. After leaving high school she became the resident ingenue at the Hal Roach studio, appearing opposite Roach's comedy stars Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, and Stan Laurel.In October, 1930, Marie retired from...

     (1899–1983) on October 10, 1930; Mosquini was a silent film
    Silent film
    A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

     actress, and she and DeForest remained married until his death in 1961.


Patent images in TIFF format "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
Bunsen burner
A Bunsen burner, named after Robert Bunsen, is a common piece of laboratory equipment that produces a single open gas flame, which is used for heating, sterilization, and combustion.- Operation:...

 flame) filed February 1905, issued December 1910 "Wireless Telegraphy" (directional antenna/direction finder), filed June 1906, issued June 1914 "Wireless Telegraphy" "Wireless Signaling Device" (directional antenna), filed December 1902, issued January 1904

External links

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