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It’s the birthday today of American engineer and inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong (18 Dec 1890 – 1 Feb 1954). In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the guy who laid the foundation for much of modern day radio and broadcasting electronics.

Among other things, Armstrong invented the continuous wave transmitter, the regenerative circuit and the superheterodyne receiver. He also invented frequency modulation (FM) radio transmission. Basically, radio electronics as we know it would not have existed if it wasn’t for his fundamental contributions to the field. Some commentators have gone so far as to call him “the most prolific and influential inventor in radio history”.

Modern electronics owe much to the genius of Edwin Armstrong.(© All Rights Reserved)

Modern electronics owe much to the genius of Edwin Armstrong.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Armstrong fought a long and frustrating battle with his former employer RCA over the invention of FM radio. RCA also claimed the invention, and won the patent battle for the technology. RCA’s ownership of the key FM patents meant that Armstrong could not claim any benefits from the widespread adoption of FM radio in the USA. This sad development left him emotionally broken and financially ruined and contributed to his suicide in 1954. What makes the story even more depressing is that Armstrong posthumously won most of his patent lawsuits against RCA, making him a very rich, dead man. His wife, Marion McInnis, used the money from the patents to establish the Armstrong Memorial Research Foundation, with which she was involved until her death in 1979.

It remains one of life’s cruel misfortunes that, as a result of corporate legal wrangles, a brilliant individual like Edwin Armstrong was never able during his lifetime to get the recognition he so richly deserved.

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