RADIOALUMNI.CA

CANADIAN EPICS IN RADIOCOMMUNICATION

ALUMNI WHO LIVED THE ADVENTURE OF RADIO

WIRELESS TELEGRAPHISTS  -  SPARKS  -  RADIO PIONEERS

RADIO OPERATORS  -  RADIO TECHNICIANS

RADIO TECHNOLOGISTS  -  RADIO ENGINEERS

RADIO INSPECTORS  -  SPECTRUM MANAGERS

ÉPOPÉES CANADIENNES EN RADIOCOMMUNICATION

LES ANCIENS QUI ONT VÉCU L'AVENTURE DE LA RADIO

TÉLÉGRAPHISTES SANS FIL  -  PIONNIERS DE LA RADIO

OPÉRATEURS RADIO  -  TECHNICIENS RADIO

TECHNOLOGUES RADIO  -  INGÉNIEURS RADIO

INSPECTEURS RADIO  -  GESTIONNAIRES DU SPECTRE

 

 

Dreamers

and

Doers

by Gordon Pole

Prince Edward Early Warning System
 The Marconi Saga
 Bell at Beinn Breagh
 Gisborne: A Pioneer of the Telegraphic Link
Reginald Fessenden: Broadcasting's Unsung Hero
 Gordon Pole: A Passionate Character
 Joseph Henry: The Dreamer

 

REGINALD FESSENDEN

Broadcasting's Unsung Champion

 

Reginald Fessenden (1866-1932)

On Christmas Eve, December 1906, a telegraph operator aboard one of the United Fruit Company's ships awaited the message that was to follow a `CQ' `CQ' `CQ' radio signal. Suddenly, he heard the sound of a "VOICE" over his headset, followed by a violin and singing. He listened barely believing what he was hear­ing, a voice! music! It was like having a telephone, but there were no wires out at sea.

 

It certainly was remarkable! This was 1906, Marconi was still only able to send mes­sages in one direction using Morse's telegraph code and yet here was unmistakably a voice by wireless "telegraph". People were still recovering from the shock that "dots & dashes" could be transmitted by wireless telegraph between trained operators.

 

The voice heard was that of Reginald Fessenden, a remarkable Canadian inventor who at the time of his death was credited with over 500 patents. His song was a first breakthrough in what we now consider as broadcasting. Little did he know that such an early blend of technology and culture would someday develop into the Department of Communications' twofold mandate.    

     

The inventor's ancestors had come to North America in 1628 settling in Cambridge, Mass. Unlike Thomas Edison's forebears, his did not wait until after the revolution before moving to Canada where Reginald was born on October 6, 1866. His father was an Anglican clergyman, and although living modestly, he was able to offer Reginald a good education first at a Military Academy, followed by Trinity College in Port Hope and Bishop's College in Québec.

 

In this regard, Fessenden was different from the classic empirical inventors of his era who learned by the seat of their pants. Although he never obtained his degree at Bishop's, leaving at age 18, he did learn mechanical and electrical theory that others lacked.

 

He became interested in the study of electrical communications but lacking money, he sheered into teaching, becoming prin­cipal at a high school in Bermuda. This did not last and he moved to New York City in order to secure a job with Edison Electric, first working with the "cable gangs" laying wire under the streets.

 

He was later invited to work with the legendary Edison in developing improvements to the lighting plant dynamos. One day Edison asked him if he knew anything of chem­istry. When Fessenden said "no", Edison replied: "good, I want you to be a chemist!" Fessenden eventually became Chief Chemist for the Edison Company.

 

Unfortunately, the economy of the period hovered between feast and famine and the Edison Company found itself in financial straights. Fessenden was one amongst many who were out of a job because of the slow­down.

 

Now 24, he went to work for Westinghouse. This too was short­lived, but George Westinghouse's in­fluence was strong enough to enable Fessenden to become Chairman of the Department of Electric al Engineering at the University of Pittsburg. During his seven-year tenure, he was able to delve into the mysteries of the wireless com­munications phenomona.

 

From here on, his life would be de­voted to wireless communication experiments, backed privately by United States millionaires. His unpredictability created turbulence in his life. In the competitive market of developing technologies, his supporters pulled out to favour others. In the course of his latter years, Fessenden won a lawsuit against the Marconi Company for patent infringement.

 

By 1906, Fessenden had transmitted, by a freak of nature, the first two-way broadcast of code accross the Atlantic. He later received a mail message from a man in Scotland who had received fragmentary portions of his Christmas Eve broadcast. This, at a time when Marconi thought that radio signals were carried through the air as a whiplash effect; Fessenden, on the other hand, understood that they expanded like the ripples around a stone dropped in water.

 

Fessenden was also attributed the design of the hetrodyne circuit, he anticipated radar and sonar, actually de­veloping the system. Interestingly enough for our maritime readers, he developed the use of radio detection for locating ships at sea.

 

He never became rich from his inventions although to­ward the end of his life he enjoyed financial security. He remained a Canadian at heart, spending some summers in Ontario. And as the Canadian story goes, there remains many unrecognized champi­ons in our history.

 

 

Reginald Fessenden

Canadian inventor was radio's first voice

 

As the Department gets ready to commem­orate the life of Reginald Fessenden, Communications Express thought it might be time to launch an investigation into the life of a Canadian inventor that few Canadians seem to have heard of.

 

Gordon Pole is GTA's District Manager for Nova Scotia and a part-time historian with a fondness for the stories of early inventors. This is Gordon's account of the life of ' Reginald Fessenden.

 

It was Christmas Eve, December 1906. Aboard one of the United Fruit Company's ships a telegraph operator awaited the message that was to follow the 'CQ' 'CQ' 'CQ' signal that had just been heard. Suddenly he heard the sound of a "voice" over his headset, followed by a violin and singing. He listened, barely believing what he was hearing, a voice! music! It was like having a telephone, but there were no wires far out at sea.

 

How did it happen that this man along with a few dedicated assistants was able to do what Marconi had not yet dreamed?

 

It certainly was remarkable. This was 1906. Marconi was still only able to send messages in one direction using Morse's telegraph code and yet this was unmistak­ably a voice by wireless "telegraph". The voice those operators heard was not that of Marconi, nor any of his people. The singer was Reginald Fessenden, a remarkable Canadian inventor who at the time of his death in 1932 had accumulated over 500 patents to his credit.

 

This was the first time the sound of voice had been carried by wireless over any distance. People were still recovering from the shock that dots and dashes could be transmitted by wireless telegraph and even telegraph communication was still a scien­tific miracle in the minds of most. This was indeed "wonder upon wonder!"

Who was this man who changed the course of wireless communication from a series of dots and dashes between trained operators to the medium of broadcasting?

 

How did it happen that this man along with a few dedicated assistants was able to do what Marconi had not yet dreamed?

 

Reginald was born October 6, 1866 near Sherbrooke, Quebec. The Fessendens eventually spent some time living in Fergus, Ontario. His father was an Anglican minis­ter and although living in the poverty that a cleric of that era was expected to deal with, he was able to give Reg a good education first at a military academy, followed by stints at Trinity College in Port Hope, Ontario and Bishop's College in Lennox­ville, Quebec.

 

In this regard he was different from the classic "empirical" inventors of his era who learned by the seat of their pants. Although he never did get his degree at Bishop's, leaving at age 18, he did have the ground­ing in mechanical and electrical theory that others lacked.

 

He became interested in the study of electrical communication but a lack of money forced him into teaching and he became a principal at a high school in Bermuda. The teaching post was not to last and he soon found himself in New York City trying to secure a job with Edison. Early efforts failed but he finally got a job at Edison Electric first working with cable gangs laying wire under the streets. Then he was invited to work with the great man himself developing improvements to the lighting plant dynamos. One day Edison asked Fessenden if he knew anything of chemistry. When Reg said no, Edison replied, "Good, I want you to be a chemist!"

 

Eventually Fessenden became Chief Chemist for the Edison company. Unfortunately the economies of the period hovered between feast and famine and the Edison company found itself in financial trouble. Fessenden was only one among many who were out of a job because of the slowdown.

 

Now 24, he went to work for Westinghouse. This too was short-lived but George Westinghouse's influence was strong enough to enable Fessenden to secure a position as Chairman of the De­partment of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pittsburg. He was rejected when he applied for a similar post at McGill. Fesscnden was to remain there for the next seven years.

 

During this tenure he put his time to good use and was able to delve into the deep mysteries of wireless communications.

 

By 1906 he transmitted the first two­way broadcast of code across the Atlantic, and by a freak on nature received a mess­age from a man in Scotland that had received fragmentary portions of his Christmas Eve broadcast.

 

He spent his life experimenting in wireless communications eventually win­ning a suit brought against the Marconi company for patent infringement.

 

He was the designer of the heterodyne circuit, he anticipated radar and sonar act­ually developing a system.. He developed the use of radio detection for locating ships at sea. The odds against him were great indeed. At the time Marconi thought that radio signals were carried through the air as a whiplash effect, Fessenden understood that they expanded like the ripples around a stone dropped in the water.

 

When Fessenden needed a machine that would generate 10,000 cycles per second he discovered that no such device existed. So he contracted for one (even though he did not have the money) using the turbine (which was also new) to drive the fre­quency generator. It was thought by many that such a machine would only suceed in exploding.

 

Fessenden never became rich from his inventions although toward the end of his life he enjoyed financial security. In his life he received patent rights to over 500 inventions - not bad for a Canadian that no one ever heard of.

 

 

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