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 - 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 level
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
suicide over his distraught state over this and other issues.
"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 years.
"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
"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 April 3, 2017