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Lee De Forest
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Inventor
    (August 26, 1873-June 30, 1961)
    Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa
    Held 180 patents
    Most notable invention was the Audion vacuum tube, the first practical amplifier
    Self-proclaimed ‘father of radio’
    Developed the Phonofilm sound-on-film process (1922) and used it for several experimental shorts
    He was expelled from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School after his electrical experiments blew out the fuses and caused a blackout one too many times.
    He never did understand how the Audion worked.
    He promoted himself while downplaying the contributions of his collaborators.
    The vacuum tubes his Radio Telephone Company produced were of poor quality to those made by manufacturers like General Electric and Western Electric.
    He waged a patent battle against fellow radio pioneer Edwin Armstrong that became more of a personal feud.
    Although he won the battle in court (1934), engineers generally continued to consider Armstrong the actual inventor of FM radio’s regenerative circuit and de Forest someone who had manipulated the patent system to get credit for an invention he had barely made any contribution to.
    He said, ‘While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.’
    He was married four times, divorced three times.
    His Audion tube made radio broadcasting practical.
    AT&T used a modified Audion tube to power the first transcontinental phone call, from San Francisco to New York City (1915).
    His experimental station broadcast the first results of a presidential election (1916).
    A Phonofilm short he made of Calvin Coolidge was the first sound footage of a US president on film (1924).
    He received an honorary Oscar recognizing his pioneering efforts in adding sound to motion pictures (1959).

Credit: C. Fishel


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