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Lee de Forest recording, 1958

Identifier: 038.01.26

Fifteen minute audio recording of Lee de Forest speaking on his 85th birthday (August. 26, 1958) to thank over 60,000 Ham radio operators who sent him QSL cards in honor of his birthday. It was recorded by Harry Leonard, audiologist for Fox Studios, and played over Ham radio ARRL Headquarters in Harper, Conn. De Forest comments about how impressed he was at receiving the thousands of birthday greetings as a sign of "the high regard which radio amateurs hold toward myself." He recounts a bit of his discovery of the three electrode tube in 1906. Also included, a humorous anecdote about erroneously declaring William Hughes as the winner of the 1916 presidential election hours before the final counts were in. De Forest comments that shortly thereafter, his radio operator's license was revoked. See below for transcript of the recording.


  • 1958


Language of Materials

Records are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Available for Research

Collection Size

3 Items (One cassette tape and two CDs) : One CD contains four copies in .wav format, 16 bit and 24 bit, and four copies in .rm format.

Biographical Note

Lee de Forest (1873-1961), American inventor holding over 300 patents related to radio and wireless telegraphy, including the Audion triode tube, which made possible voice communication over radio. De Forest conducted his earliest successful radio demonstrations from atop Main Building at Armour Institute of Technology (now on the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago) in 1901. Known as the "Father of Radio," de Forest taught at both Armour Institute and at Lewis Institute. Lewis and Armour merged in 1940 to create Illinois Institute of Technology.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Formerly 2001.004

Related Material

2004.044 Lee de Forest Collection, 1998.059 Lee de Forest Collection


A QSL card is a postcard size card that displays the ham call sign, along with address and other important information about the ham, such as the equipment in use, antenna system, and a section for the radio contact report. QSL (which means "confirmation') cards are sometimes exchanged between hams when they talk with each other for the first time by radio.


Transcript of Dr. Lee de Forest address to ham radio operators on the occasion of his 85th birthday: Introductory comments by announcer: "...and we're going to put on a tape recording made from the voice of Dr. Lee de Forest. Now this tape was made by Harry Leonard of Los Angeles. Harry Leonard is in charge of audio for the Fox Studios. His radio call W6MBD, man bite dog, here goes de Forest." de Forest: "This is Dr. Lee de Forest speaking. QSL to all the many thousands of radio hams who have been so kind as to make my 85th birthday the most notable one in my life, by sending me, from every quarter of the United States, your ham cards, from Maine to San Diego. I estimate the number at over (16,000?) 60,000. It is of course impossible for me to reply thanks to each of you, but I am making, taking this method of having my message broadcast from ARRL headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut on various wavelengths, so I hope that every one of you who sent a card will receive this form of reply and accept it as a personal greeting from myself to each one of you individually. Just as a sample of the many cards I have received, let me quote this one from K9ELT from (Phil Dirks (?)) from Madison, Wisconsin. He says, quote, "Many congratulations on your 85th birthday. Hope you may have many more happy years. Best of luck." Unquote. And another, W2LZX (?) from John Crowley, quote, "Congratulations on a long life," period. "I hope it goes on forever," unquote. And a third, from WANNQ (?), who says, quote, "Wouldn't have heard you through the QRM if you didn't have a good signal," unquote. This makes me smile because I haven't sent out a ham call in the past 30 (40?) years. He continues, quote, "Congratulations on your 85th birthday. N. R. Leech, Nicomos, Florida, 70 years old." I received at least one card marked 71 years old. Such cards as these make me realize how long a time you hams have been at your fine work. It is a source of endless gratification to me to realize this, and the present display in my house of all of your cards, countless in number, which I have spent at least 24 hours in reading each one, convinces me in deep and heartfelt manner of the high regard which the radio amateur holds toward myself. This realization is really a spiritual one, and has moved me to the very bottom of my heart. I cannot begin to express to each and every one of you how much your ham cards and birthday congratulations and good wishes have meant to myself. Actually, this entire experience has restored many years of my life, and never have I experienced such a birthday as this last one, of my 85th year. Now I want to tell you very briefly the story of the origin of the three-electrode tube, which you have all praised so highly as being fundamentally instrumental in your favorite hobby. The story begins in 1903, when I had a hunch, that heated gas, from a gas flame, would be extraordinarily sensitive to the detection, in the detection, of radio signals. At that time there was, of course, no radiotelephone. Everything was dots and dashes. I blush to tell you that my highest Morse speed never exceeded 15 words per minute. Consequently I realized from the start that if I was to play an important part in communicating with the ever-increasing number of hams, I must first develop a radiotelephone transmitter. This development occupied my time from 1903 to 1906, during which time I graduated from the open gas flame to a heated gas confined in a glass bottle. But from the start I had always used a pair of headphones in connection with the gas detector to hear whatever signals it could pick up. In 1906, I became familiar with the so-called "Fleming Valve" which was really a discovery of Thomas A. Edison. But from my first experiments, with the gas flame, I used a battery in series with a telephone receiver, and a plate and another battery to heat the carbon filament. Made the fundamental distinction between the Audion and the Fleming Valve. Strange to say that historians of the development of the three-electrode tube neglect the important fact that these two batteries played in this operation. If you put a grid electrode between the anode and filament you will have nothing more than, nothing more than the Fleming Valve with one electrode too many. It is only by use of the two batteries that the Audion became operative. I am sure all of you hams can really, readily realize the importance of this statement, although it has been overlooked by so many so-called historians. Anyway, in 1906 I had a three-electrode tube in operation with the A-battery and the B-battery. I am not proud of the fact that it took me until 1912 to build an amplifier tube and at the same time I developed the amplifier in Palo Alto laboratory of the Federal Telegraph Company. I discovered there the feedback circuit in locating the output coil in the right relationship to the input coil, so that it had in 1912 the right relationship so that it happened in 1912 that the Audion became not only the most sensitive detector, but the amplifier and the oscillator. From that date radio communication could grow using nothing but the three-electrode tube and its appropriate batteries. In 1916 I began to use this combination for transmitting phonograph music and voice from a temporary station of the Columbia Broadcast System in New York City. And, since I had the amplifier and oscillator working properly, I abandoned the Palo Alto and went back to my new laboratory in New York City. By that time the number of ham operators, most of whom were using the three-electrode tube, or Audion, had increased enormously, and continued to grow until the government shut down all amateur transmitting stations because of the approaching World War One. Peace in 1919, the embargo was lifted, and the army of hams was enormously increased. I remember that the following November I perpetrated perhaps the greatest (?) in radio history. The only election returns indicated the election of William Hughes as the next president, instead of Woodrow Wilson. It was only after the election returns from California began to come in that it was made evident that Wilson would be elected as our next president. By that time I had dismissed the radio audience with the cheerful news that Hughes would be our next president. Shortly after that the government revoked my transmitting license (possibly) on account of the false news, which I had broadcast. It was really not until 1921 when the thousands of radio listeners began to increase, and we had then the beginning of modern radio broadcasting. I thought that this brief review would be interesting to the younger of you hams who had not started early enough to live through the development of the art as I have just outlined it to you. But I want to point out here that many of you have played a very important part in the development of radio broadcasting. Especially in the various forms of antennas that you (?) developed for various wavelengths (over?) the original ones which I developed myself. For this development work the modern ham deserves the utmost credit, and you all know exactly who are responsible for the greatest improvements over the last ten or twenty years. In concluding now I can only express my heartfelt gratitude to you for your loyal good wishes to myself and as the father of radio as expressed in the many thousands of ham cards, every one of which I have read, and all of which I deeply appreciate. I can only say God bless you all, and may your signal never (grow less (?))."


Catherine Bruck, University Archivist 3/2/2001

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