DeFOREST, LEE, 1873-1961


Inventor; radio pioneer. Born– August 26, 1873, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Parents– Henry Swift and Anna Margaret (Robbins) DeForest. Moved to Talladega, Alabama, at the age of six, when his father became president of Talladega College.  Married– Lucille Sheardown, 1906; Nora Staton Blatch, 1908;.  Mary Mayo, 1912; Marie Mosquinti, 1930. Children– Three. Education– Yale University, Ph.B., 1893; Ph.D., 1899. Began inventing mechanical devices while still a boy; patented some 300 inventions during his lifetime.  In 1907 patented his most important invention, the “Audion tube,” the elementary form of the vacuum radio tube, which was capable of more sensitive reception of wireless signals than any of the other receptors then in use.  Over the next few years DeForest developed and perfected Audion technology to amplify as well as transmit and receive radio signals–an essential development for both radio and television communication.  After failing in several attempts to form his own manufacturing company, DeForest sold his patents to communications firms for commercial development.  The Audion tube became the key component for all sophisticated radio, telephone, radar, television, and computer systems;  it remained in use until the invention of the transistor in 1947.  DeForest was also important for his early promotion and popularization of radio technology; he began public demonstrations of wireless telegraphy as early as 1902.  In 1910 he broadcast a live performance by Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera, the first production of its type.  In the 1920’s DeForest developed a system for recording and reproducing sound motion pictures, but the operating quality was poor and the system was not commercially successful.  Widely honored as the “father of radio” and the “grandfather of television,” DeForest was strongly though unsuccessfully supported for the Nobel Prize for Physics.  He received an Honorary Oscar from the Motion Picture Academy in 1960. He was awarded a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair; the Medal of Honor of the Institute of Radio Engineers; and the Edison Medal for 1946.  Died June 30, 1961.


American National Biography Online; Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, vol. 5;  Who Was Who in America, Vol. 4;  Current Biography, 1941, and files at Alabama Public Library Service.

Papers: Papers of Lee deForest are held at Yale University; at the Library of Congress; and at the Perham Collection of Early Electronics, San Jose, California.


The Audion. Philadelphia; J. B. Lippincott, 1920.

Father of Radio; the Autobiography of Lee DeForest. Chicago; Wilcox and Follett, 1950.

How to Set Up an Amateur Radio Receiving Station. New York; De Forest Radio and Telegraph, 1920.

Reflection of Hertzian Waves from the Ends of Parallel Wires.  Yale Thesis, 1899. [Possibly the first thesis on the subject that was later to become known as radio.]

Television, Today and Tomorrow. New York; Dial, 1942.

Wireless in the Home. New York; De Forest Radio and Telegraph, 1922.