January 1935 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
If you think controversial and
otherwise inane decisions made by high-level courts is something new to this era
of political high dudgeon, think again. This article in the January 1935 in
Radio-Craft magazine reports a Supreme Court decision over who was the
inventor of regeneration in radio circuits - Dr. Lee de Forest or Major
Edwin H. Armstrong. Evidently in spite of much support by the opinions of notable
experts in the field who claim Armstrong deserves credit, the Court found in favor
of de Forest. The battle had been fought at many levels for the previous 18
years. Columbia University's Professor
Michael I. Pupin
wrote, "On several occasions after that I have had conversations with de Forest
which convinced me that he did not know of or understand the production of radio
frequencies by vacuum tubes." Major Armstrong eventually
committed suicide over his distraught state over this and other
"Final" Action in Radio Feed-Back Case
There have been so many "final" decisions in the long-drawn-out case between the
de Forest and the Armstrong interests regarding who actually invented regeneration
that there is no wonder that cries of "wolf, wolf" have been heard from all sides
in the radio industry.
This is how one of our staff artists visualizes the arguments
in and out of court concerning the "regeneration patents."
It will be remembered (Radio-Craft, August 1934, page 70) that the United
States Supreme Court, presided over by Judge Cardoza decided that Lee de Forest
was the inventor, and held that de Forest had heard a "clear heterodyne" before
Edwin H. Armstrong, then a student at Columbia University, had struck upon the same
phenomenon. Major Armstrong recently petitioned for a rehearing of the case with
the object of reversing the Supreme Court ruling, and the latest decision of the
court is a denial of that application.
In addition to the legal actions which have taken place, a heated argument has
been progressing in the New York Times, between Professor Pupin and Dr.
de Forest concerning the opinions of the former who has rallied to the support
of his colleague, Armstrong. This argument has become heated to the point where
many bitter words are being said by both parties involved.
In the latest epistle by Prof. Pupin, over half a column in the Times,
is devoted to a "tabulation" of the names of famous scientists and radio engineers
who take sides with Armstrong. So famous an authority as Dr. Irving Langmuir is
quoted as having made the following statement:
"Ever since 1913 when I first learned of your (Armstrong's) pioneering work in
this field, I have known the great value of your contributions. On several occasions
after that I have had conversations with de Forest which convinced me that
he did not know of or understand the production of radio frequencies by vacuum tubes.
I have therefore been amazed at the fact that the highest court has previously upheld
the de Forest patent."
Professor Pupin sums up his letter with the following remarks: "The court holds
Dr. de Forest to be the inventor; the scientific world is a unit holding Armstrong
to be the inventor." - and -" ... I have never heard of any scientific opinion of
recognized weight supporting the de Forest claims."
"Dr. Langmuir, a recent Nobel Prize man, was one of the claimants of the same
invention which was under litigation between Armstrong and de Forest for eighteen
"Third, the famous radio engineer, Mr. Round of England, one of Marconi's right-hand
men, also sent hearty approval of the decision of the Court of Appeals of the Second
Circuit, (which gave the decision to Armstrong - Ed.) Both these letters appeared
in full in the Columbia Alumni News of September 29, 1933.
"Fourth, the very significant fact that Cyril Elwell, who was the chief engineer
of the Federal Telegraph Company, the company employing de Forest at the time
he claims to have made the invention, supported Armstrong, as did Professor Leonard
Fuller, now head of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of California."
It seems that while Dr. de Forest has the upper hand as far as legal proceedings
are concerned, he must now vindicate himself in the eyes of Professor Pupin and
his supporters. And so the Feed-back case seems no nearer to an end, in one sense,
than it has been for the past ten or twelve years.
Posted November 15, 2023
(updated from original
post on 4/3/2017)