Reginald A. Fessenden General Physics, Subatomic Particles, Optics, Biophysics, Theoretical Physics

First radio broadcast and scores of other inventions

The Story

Fessenden was a child prodigy, learning Greek, Latin and French. Later, he turned to science and worked as chief chemist for Thomas Edison during the 1880s, then briefly for Westinghouse. With millionaire backers, he formed his own company and developed his most remarkable invention, the modulation of radio waves. Fessenden’s technology—the heterodyne principle—has remained fundamental to radio to this day, allowing reception and transmission on the same aerial without interference. On Christmas Eve, 1906, ships off the Atlantic coast with Fessenden-designed equipment received the first radio broadcast. Fessenden eventually held 500 patents. One was for the fathometre, which could determine the depth of water under a ship’s keel. For this and nearly 100 other inventions that helped to make the oceans safer.

Sources: Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 1982; NRC Hall of Fame; Canadian Encyclopedia 2000 ed.

The Person

October 6, 1866
East Bolton, Quebec
Date of Death
August 22, 1932
Place of Death
Hamilton, Bermuda
  • Scientific American’s Gold medal, 1929
Last Updated
October 15, 2001

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