43 Facts About Reginald Fessenden


Reginald Aubrey Fessenden was a Canadian-born inventor, who did a majority of his work in the United States and claimed US citizenship through his American-born father.


Reginald Fessenden's achievements included the first transmission of speech by radio, and the first two-way radiotelegraphic communication across the Atlantic Ocean.


Reginald Fessenden was born October 6,1866, in East Bolton, Quebec, the eldest of the Reverend Elisha Joseph Fessenden and Clementina Trenholme's four children.


Elisha Reginald Fessenden was a Church of England in Canada minister, and the family moved to a number of postings throughout the province of Ontario.


Reginald Fessenden next attended Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario, from 1877 until the summer of 1879.


Reginald Fessenden spent a year working for the Imperial Bank at Woodstock because he had not yet reached the age of 16 needed to enroll in college.


At the age of eighteen, Reginald Fessenden left Bishop's without having been awarded a degree, although he had "done substantially all the work necessary", in order to accept a position at the Whitney Institute, near to Flatts Village in Bermuda, where for the next two years he worked as the headmaster and sole teacher.


Reginald Fessenden quickly proved his worth, and received a series of promotions, with increasing responsibility for the project.


In late 1886, Reginald Fessenden began working directly for Edison at the inventor's new laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, as a junior technician.


Reginald Fessenden participated in a broad range of projects, which included work in solving problems in chemistry, metallurgy, and electricity.


Reginald Fessenden began limited radio experimentation, and soon came to the conclusion that he could develop a far more efficient system than the spark-gap transmitter and coherer-receiver combination which had been created by Oliver Lodge and Marconi.


In 1900 Reginald Fessenden left Pittsburgh to work for the United States Weather Bureau, with the objective of demonstrating the practicality of using coastal stations to transmit weather information, thereby avoiding the expense of the existing telegraph lines.


Reginald Fessenden would retain ownership of any inventions, but the agreement gave the Weather Bureau royalty-free use of any discoveries made during the term of the contract.


Reginald Fessenden quickly made major advances, especially in receiver design, as he worked to develop audio reception of signals.


However, in the midst of promising advances, Reginald Fessenden became embroiled in disputes with his sponsor.


Reginald Fessenden refused to sign over the rights, and his work for the Weather Bureau ended in August 1902.


An ongoing area of conflict, especially with the US Navy, were the high prices Reginald Fessenden tried to charge.


The Navy in particular felt Reginald Fessenden's quotes were too far above the device's manufacturing costs to be considered reasonable, and contracted with other companies to build equipment that used Reginald Fessenden designs.


The plan was to conduct the transatlantic service using Reginald Fessenden-designed rotary spark-gap transmitters.


Reginald Fessenden had a very early interest in the possibility of making audio radio transmissions, in contrast to the early spark-gap transmissions that could only transmit Morse code messages.


Reginald Fessenden began his research on audio transmissions while still on Cobb Island.


Reginald Fessenden contracted with General Electric to help design and produce a series of high-frequency alternator-transmitters.


On December 21,1906, Reginald Fessenden made an extensive demonstration of the new alternator-transmitter at Brant Rock, showing its utility for point-to-point wireless telephony, including interconnecting his stations to the wire telephone network.


Reginald Fessenden remembered producing a short program that included a phonograph record of Ombra mai fu by George Frideric Handel, followed by Reginald Fessenden playing Adolphe Adam's carol O Holy Night on the violin and singing Adore and be Still by Gounod, and closing with a biblical passage: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will".


Reginald Fessenden claimed that the two programs had been widely publicized in advance, and the Christmas Eve broadcast had been heard "as far down" as Norfolk, Virginia, while the New Year Eve's broadcast had reached listeners in the West Indies.


Anticipation of the 2006 centennial anniversary of Reginald Fessenden's reported broadcasts brought renewed interest, as well as additional questions.


One alternate possibility proposed by O'Neal was that perhaps something similar to what Reginald Fessenden remembered could have taken place during a series of tests conducted in 1909.


The technical achievements made by Reginald Fessenden were not matched by financial success.


The final break occurred in January 1911, when Reginald Fessenden was formally dismissed from NESCO.


Reginald Fessenden won the initial court trial and was awarded damages; however, NESCO prevailed on appeal.


Finally, on March 31,1928, Reginald Fessenden settled his outstanding lawsuits with RCA, receiving a significant cash settlement.


Reginald Fessenden eventually developed the high-powered Alexanderson alternator, capable of transmitting across the Atlantic, and by 1916 the Fessenden-Alexanderson alternator was more reliable for transoceanic communication than the spark transmitters which were originally used to provide this service.


Also, after 1920 radio broadcasting became widespread, and although the stations used vacuum-tube transmitters rather than alternator-transmitters, they employed the same continuous-wave AM signals that Reginald Fessenden had introduced in 1906.


At the outbreak of World War I, Reginald Fessenden volunteered his services to the Canadian government and was sent to London where he developed a device to detect enemy artillery and another to locate enemy submarines.


Reginald Fessenden patented the basic ideas leading to reflection seismology, a technique important for its use in exploring for petroleum, and received patents for diverse subjects that included tracer bullets, paging, television apparatus, and a turbo electric drive for ships.


An inveterate tinkerer, Reginald Fessenden eventually became the holder of more than 500 patents.


However, instead of reviewing his radio work, Reginald Fessenden immediately went on a series of tangents, including discussions of which races he believed were the most capable of producing inventions, and the proper approach that government institutions should be taking in order to support inventors.


The medallion was gold plated, and somehow Reginald Fessenden became convinced that earlier awards had been solid gold, so he angrily returned it.


In Helen Reginald Fessenden's opinion, "The Medal cost [Westinghouse] nothing and was a good 'sop to Cereberus'", and overall compared the medals to "small change for tips in the pockets of Big Business".


In 1929 Reginald Fessenden was awarded Scientific American's Safety at Sea Gold Medal, in recognition of his invention "of the Fathometer and other safety instruments for safety at sea".


Reginald Fessenden died there on July 22,1932, and was interred in the cemetery of St Mark's Church, Bermuda.


Reginald Fessenden's home at 45 Waban Hill Road in the village of Chestnut Hill in Newton, Massachusetts, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a US National Historic Landmark.


Reginald Fessenden bought the house in 1906 or earlier and owned it for the rest of his life.