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Submitted by: JC Knowles; Vetted and edited by Cheri Todd Molter

Born in Canada in 1866, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden was a premiere radio pioneer and considered by many to be the “Father of Voice Radio.” During his life, he unleashed the potential of several concepts and applied them in ways that are taken for granted in the present-day. In 1886, he began working as a tester at the Edison Machine Works where he met Thomas Edison and was soon promoted to chief chemist in 1887 at the new Edison Laboratory in West Orange, NJ. In 1890, after being laid off, Fessenden secured a job at Westinghouse Electric Company. A couple of years later, he turned to an academic career as a professor of electrical engineering, first at Purdue University in Indiana, and then at the Western University of Pennsylvania (now University of Pittsburgh).

In pursuit of a successful system to transmit and receive the sound of voice using continuous waves, Fessenden experimented at Roanoke Island and the surrounding region for 18 months from 1901 to 1902. Working as contractor for the U.S. Weather Bureau, Professor Fessenden’s stage of research by that time involved constructing an efficient continuous-wave transmitter and also improving signal reception with a continuous wave-detector. Based on Roanoke Island, he erected 50-foot tall radio towers at Weir Point on Roanoke Island, Cape Hatteras, and Cape Henry to conduct his research.

According to Robert Curley, “Fessenden invented and patented a number of components useful for “radiotelephony” (as wireless transmission of speech was called in those days), including an electrolytic detector sensitive enough to pick up continuous radio waves. Fessenden further contributed to the development of radio by demonstrating the heterodyne principle of converting low-frequency sound signals to high-frequency wireless signals that would be more easily controlled and amplified before the original low-frequency signal was recovered by the receiver.” (Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Reginald Aubrey Fessenden”. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Reginald-Aubrey-Fessenden.)

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