Published in The Coast Star on May 29, 2003
The participants would recall the event each year on its anniversary, sending each other greeting cards. The event would be noted in books, videos and TV programs.
Sadly, the hero would commit suicide on the 40th anniversary of his visit to Wall in his frustration with the actions of another of the event’s participants.
It was a bitterly cold January night. Edwin Armstrong, the master of electronic circuits, arrived at the Belmar railroad station with a “Black Box.”
In the Black Box was Armstrong’s first revolutionary electronic circuit called the regenerative circuit.
Armstrong would bring the box to the Marconi Wireless Station in Wall, still under construction. The station had six 400-foot tall masts with which to test the new invention. The station had the most advanced technology to date, but even with the best reception circuits the Morse code messages from England could only be faintly heard when conditions were perfect.
When the Black Box was connected to the 400-foot masts, radio signals could be heard clearly from across the globe. In their excitement, the participants would work the entire night in a freezing cold construction shack. They could clearly hear stations in San Francisco, Hawaii and Europe. At the time this was an incredible leap in radio technology.
Worldwide wireless communication was born.
At the test was David Sarnoff, a Marconi Company manager, who would recommend the Marconi Company purchase the patent for the new invention. Armstrong and Sarnoff would become friends and would send each other cards each Jan. 31 to remember the event.
Edwin Armstrong went on to create other revolutionary circuits. The most important was FM radio circuitry.
Besides clearer and more enjoyable radio reception, FM radio gave the WWII Allied forces a strategic communications advantage.
Engineers developed equipment at Camp Evans to jam AM radios used by the Nazis, as this interfered with communications between troops and command. The Nazi scientists could not develop FM radio jamming equipment to interfere with Allied radio messages.
The Soviet Army’s victories are in part due to the thousands of FM radios America supplied under the lend-lease program.
Edwin Armstrong would allow American industry to use his patents for free during WWII. Millions of dollars went to the war effort rather than into his pockets.
Just after the war, FM equipment specially designed by Armstrong was used at Camp Evans in Project Diana to open space communications on another January day in 1946. This was only 32 years after his first invention made history at Camp Evans.
During WWII, great electronic progress was made in the development of radar to help defeat the Axis powers. This progress was focused on developing television.
Sadly Sarnoff, then the power-ful president of the Radio Corporation of America, would use his political influence and patent attorneys to deny Armstrong the royalties he was entitled for his invention. Sarnoff incorporated Armstrong’s FM circuitry into television, but he refused to honor Armstrong’s patents.
The two battled in the press and the courts for years. In 1954, on the 40th anniversary of the day Armstrong and Sarnoff first worked together in Wall, Armstrong wrote a letter to his wife, put his coat on and walked out a 13th story window. The master of circuits ended his life in frustration. Later, his wife would win against Sarnoff in court.
Many talented inventors would work at the Marconi Wireless Station, later renamed Camp Evans, but only a few changed the history of technolo-gy like Edwin Armstrong.
Circuitry developed by Edwin Armstrong played a key role in the birth of worldwide wireless and the opening of space communications. Both of these inter-nationally historic events took place at Camp Evans.
The next time you enjoy a FM radio program or watch a TV program, take a moment to remember the master of circuits, Edwin Armstrong, a real American patriot and a stellar electronic genius who was the first to make electronics history in Wall. [Fred Carl is the director of the InfoAge Science-History Center at Camp Evans.]
page created August 30, 2003