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volume 2
july 1999

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932)

 





  Some biographical notes
by Dave Riley
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  On Christmas 1906 Reginald Aubrey Fessenden realised the first public voice broadcast ever at his Radio-Telephone Installation at Brant Rock. Because of this his name is often mentioned in relation to the invention of the radio. But, as Dave Riley notes, there's more to this man who also built the first power generating station at Niagara Falls and developed the fathometer.
 
Next Blackmans Point (Brant Rock) circa 1905

Brant Rock: Fessenden arrives, sets up National Electric Signaling Co. and proceeds to make Communications History with many improvements to the State of the Art as known then. Picture is a 420 foot Radio tower as used by Fessenden. The ravages of time and the ruthless hand of ignorance, have laid waste to many monuments of antiquity but the remains of the original tower base stands today at Brant Rock as a memorial to such work, some of which surpassed Marconi, RCA, and other giants of the fledgling industry ...

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932):

  • Canadian born;
  • attended Bishop's College, Quebec;
  • Became chief chemist for Thomas Edison and developed interest in the new media 'radio';
  • Professor of electrical engineering at Purdue and Univ. of Pittsburgh;
  • Worked for U.S. Weather Bureau and set up telegraph stations;
  • Sent first voice via radio for a distance of 50 feet (1900);
  • Formed National Electric Signalling Co., moved to Brant Rock;
  • Set up 420 foot tower and similar station in Scotland for the first two way trans-Atlantic telegraph;
  • Many radio inventions;
  • Much success at Brant Rock;
  • First general public voice broadcasts (1905 -1906);
  • Helps build the local economy;
  • Moves to New London and has a most successful career in Underwater Sound.

Next What he said of himself:
  My parents despaired of me. They saw my future as a church minister or a teacher, but when I closed my eyes and dreamed, I saw an invention that could send voices around the world without using wires or cables. "There's no future in that," my mother told me, and she was both right and wrong.
  In my lifetime, I developed over a hundred patentable inventions including the electric gyroscope, the heterodyne, and a depth finder. I built the first power generating station at Niagara Falls and I invented radio, sending the first wireless voice message in the world on Dec. 23, 1900.
  But despite all my hard work, I lived most of my life near poverty. I fought years of court battles before seeing even a penny from my greatest inventions. And worst of all, I was ridiculed by journalists, businessmen, and even other scientists, for believing that voice could ever be transmitted without using wires. But by the time of my death, not only was I wealthy from my patents, all of those people who had laughed at my ideas were twisting the dials on their newly bought radios to hear the latest weather and news.
Next Brant Rock Highlights:
  • Tower completed December 1905;
  • 2-way transmissions between Scotland;
  • First Public Voice Broadcast on Christmas 1906 and New Year 1907;
  • Demonstrations between Brant Rock and Plymouth — heard as far away as Guantanamo Bay Cuba — voice heard in Scotland;
  • Locals remember day tower dismantled 1917;
  • Brant Rock inventions include the electrolytic detector, heterodyning, alternator development, efficient tuned antenna circuits and continous waves.
  After Brant Rock he moved to New London, Ct., creating many applications concerning underwater sound technology (communications and ranging) for the Navy.
Next The Fessenden electroacoustic oscillator, and performance estimate. The first practical man-made sonar oscillator, conceived and designed by the Canadian Reginald A. Fessenden, was a 540-Hz air-backed electrodynamically driven clamped-edge circular plate. Work on the oscillator started in 1912 while Fessenden was working for the Submarine Signal Company, Boston, MA. In January 1914, in Boston Harbor, underwater communication was first shown by using a Morse code carrier to modulate the oscillator, thus demonstrating a means of ship-submarine acoustic communication. In March 1914, the oscillator was later tested aboard the U. S. Coast Guard cutter Miami on the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland Canada, where echo ranging from a 3200-m distant iceberg and depth sounding were demonstrated. In 1915, the oscillator was even tested at 100 kHz. The Fessenden oscillator models (ca. 500, 1000, and 3000 Hz) were so successful that they were even used until, and during, World War II for sonar and mine detection purposes. Despite these landmark achievements, at present no oscillators are known to exist, and no modern acoustic measurements have ever been made to establish the acoustical performance.
  Though, like Michael Dell and Bill Gates, he never finished College, Fessenden won the Scientific American's Gold Medal in 1929 for the fathometer, which could determine the depth of water under a ship's hull. Fessenden eventually held 500 patents. Some other milestones include the invention of turbo-electric drive for battleships, insulating electrical tape and many other underwater sound devices.
   
Previous
  References
 
  • Fessenden, Helen M. (1940), Fessenden, builder of tomorrows. Coward McCann, 1940; New York: Arno Press (a New York Times Company), 1974.
  • Raby, Ormond (1970), Radio's first voice. The story of Reginald Fessenden. Toronto: MacMillan of Canada, 1970.
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