1947. Although De Forest was bitter over the financial exploitation of his inventions by others, he was widely honored as the “father of radio” and the
“grandfather of television.” He was supported strongly but unsuccessfully for the
Nobel Prize for Physics.
Lee De Forest was born on Aug. 26, 1873 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. De Forest was the son of a Congregational minister. His father moved the family to Alabama and there assumed the presidency of the nearly bankrupt Talladega College for African
Americans. Ignored by citizens of the white community who resented his father's efforts to educate blacks, Lee and his brother and sister made friends among the black children of the town and spent a happy although sternly disciplined childhood in this community. As a child he was fascinated with machinery and was often excited when hearing of the many technological advances during the late
19th century. He began tinkering and inventing things even in high school, often trying to build things that he could sell for money. By the age of 13 he was an enthusiastic inventor of mechanical gadgets such as a miniature blast furnace and a working silver plating device.
His father had planned for him to follow him in a career in the ministry, but Lee wanted to go to school for science and, in 1893, enrolled at the Sheffield Scientific
School of Yale University, one of the few institutions in the United States then offering a topnotch scientific education. De Forest went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics in 1899, with the help of scholarships, and money his parents made by working odd jobs. By this time he had become interested in electricity, particularly the study of electromagnetic wave propagation. De Forest's study on the
"Reflection of Frequency Waves from the Ends of Parallel Wires" is said to possibly be the first doctoral thesis in the United States on the subject that was later to become known as radio.
His first job was with the Western Electric Company in Chicago, where beginning in the electric generator department, he worked his way up to the telephone section and then to the experimental laboratory. While working after hours on his own, he developed an electrolytic detector of frequency waves. The device was discreetly successful, as was an alternating-current transmitter that he designed. In 1902 he and his financial backers founded the De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company. In order to dramatize the potential of this new method of communication, he began as early as 1902 to