Radio 101: History


Two-way radios have been around for more than a century but over time the technological advancements have made them into what we know and love.

1885 – Heinrich Hertz, a German Physicist, proved that energy could be transmitted through electromagnetic waves. He conducted experiments in sending and receiving these waves during the late 1880s.

Fun Fact: Hertz initially wrote off his work as having no practical use but today it is recognized as the fundamental building block of radio and frequency measurements are named after him (Hertz).

1891 – Wireless telegraphy began to appear on ships at sea. This reduced the isolation of the ships, improving both reliability and safety.

1892 to 1893 – Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American inventor, wirelessly transmitted electromagnetic energy. In 1893 he made the first public demonstration of radio in St. Louis, Missouri.

Fun Fact: He invented the Tesla Coil, an induction coil widely used in radio.

1895 to 1897 – Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, invented wireless telegraphy, a means for sending Morse code through the air. He established the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in 1897.

1899 – The R.F. Matthews was the first ship to request emergency assistance using Marconi’s wireless apparatus. This was an important moment for wireless communication and safety.

1901 – Marconi made history by sending a transatlantic message from Ireland to Canada.

1902 – Amateur (also known as “ham”) radio was introduced to the U.S. via a Scientific American article on “How to Construct an Efficient Wireless Telegraphy Apparatus at a Small Cost.”

1906 – Canadian Reginald Fessenden overcame initial failure to become the first to transmit speech and music. Fessenden used Ernest Alexanderson’s alternator to make the first long-range transmission of voice from Brant Rock, MA.

1906 – The “father of American radio” and a direct competitor of Marconi, Lee DeForest, introduced the “Audion Vacuum Tube.” This device is a triode vacuum tube that allowed for amplification of radio signals.

Fun Fact: DeForest was the lead scientist of American Wireless Telephone and Telegraph and would go on to hold over 300 patents. Although his greatest technological contribution is considered to be his “Audion” vacuum tube.

1910 – First radio transmission from an airplane was performed by Frederick Baldwin and John McCurdy. They were the first to trail an aerial behind their bi-plane to demonstrate radio’s uses for aviation.

1912 – Federal regulation of American airwaves begins. Amateurs on the airwave were required to be licensed and ships with radios had to have trained radio operators.

Fun Fact: Without Guglielmo Marconi’s radio device, 700 passengers would not have survived the Titanic sinking. Up to that point many ships were still using carrier pigeons for communication!

1917 – All U.S. nonessential radio stations are closed by the government as WW1 begins.

1918 – Edwin Armstrong, WWI Army officer and Columbia University engineering professor, patented his “Super Heterodyne Receiver” based on work he did as an officer in the Army Signal Corp.

Fun Fact: Armstrong is also known for creating the frequency modulation (FM) radio, among other notable benchmarks that provided the foundation for cell phones.

1921 – Detroit police commissioner, William Rutledge, was the first public safety official to use radio equipped vehicles.

1927 – The Federal Radio Commission is established to bring order to chaotic airwaves.

1937 – Donald Lewis Hings, a Canadian inventor, created a portable radio signaling system for his employer CM&S. He first called it a “packset” but today we know it as the “walkie-talkie.”

Fun Fact: “Walkie-talkie” was actually coined by a journalist reporting on new inventions during the war.

Today – Two-way radios continue to develop alongside all the latest technologies and they have become a key tool in communication for all types of businesses: such as retail stores, schools, hospitals, distribution centers, and long-term care facilities.

Want to learn more about two-way radios? Check out our Radio 101 Post Series! Stay tuned for new additions and check out our past posts here:
Two-Way Radio Lingo and the NATO alphabet

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