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Guide to The Lee and Marie de Forest Papers
2003-34.  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Related Collections
  • Other Finding Aids
  • Publication Note
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content Summary
  • Indexing Terms

  • Title: The Lee and Marie de Forest Papers
    Date: 1873-1977
    Date (bulk): 1890-1961
    Collection number: 2003-34.
    Collectors: de Forest, Lee, 1873-1961
    Extent: 28 linear feet
    Repository: History San Jose Research Library
    San Jose, CA 95112
    Abstract: Papers of electronics inventor, radio and film pioneer Lee de Forest and his fourth wife, Marie Mosquini de Forest. Collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, sketches and diagrams, notebooks, patents, memoirs, patent notes and legal papers, scrapbooks, speeches, poems, photographs, and articles and other printed material, and awards, spanning from de Forest's early education at the Mount Hermon School for Boys and student days at Yale (1890s), to material collected by Marie following his death in 1961.
    Physical location: History San Jose Collection Center
    Languages: The majority of the collection material is in English with the exception of French and German patents, and French, German, and Spanish journal articles.

    Access

    The papers are available for researchers by appointment through the Curator of Library and Archives. A small number of personal documents contain sensitive information and redacted versions will be used for research purposes.

    Publication Rights

    The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgement, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.

    Preferred Citation

    The Lee and Marie de Forest Papers, 2003-34. History San Jose Research Library, San Jose, California.

    Acquisition Information

    The vast majority of the papers were donated by Marie de Forest in 1968 to the Perham Foundation of Los Altos Hills, California. There appear to have been at least two other additions made through rescue efforts by individual Foundation members between 1964 and 1968. After going into storage in 1991, the papers were donated in 2003 to History San Jose as part of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics.

    Processing History

    Processed by Catherine Mills, History San Jose Research Library, 2012, under a grant from the Council on Library Resources' Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.

    Related Collections

    Lee de Forest and de Forest corporate materials can be found in sub-collections of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics (2003-1). In particular, the Perham History Files (2003-33) include several early De Forest brochures and Lloyd Espenschied's original correspondence with de Forest. The Thorn Mayes sound recordings of lectures and interviews (2003-38) also contain detailed histories of the de Forest early wireless telegraph and radiotelephony ventures.
    Associated material in other repositories includes:
    • Lee De Forest Papers at the Library of Congress (1.6 feet, MS998006)
    • Lee De Forest Papers at Yale University (1 foot, MS 1210v)
    • One scrapbook held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History completes the History San Jose scrapbook series

    Other Finding Aids

    History San Jose's PastPerfect catalog, which includes many digitized images, is searchable at http://historysanjose.pastperfect-online.com

    Publication Note

    Original source material from these papers, including journals, correspondence, and photographs, were cited in the following monographs.
    Mike Adams, Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television and Film, (New York: Springer, 2011).
    James A. Hijiya, Lee de Forest and the Fatherhood of Radio, (Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, c1992).
    Tom Lewis, Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, (New York: E. Burlingame Books, 1991).

    Biography

    Few individuals better represent the vicissitudes of invention than Lee de Forest, an ambitious experimenter and inventor with more than 300 patents, but whose business ventures often failed or became embroiled in litigation. Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on August 26, 1873, de Forest grew up at Talladega College, where his father, Henry Swift De Forest, served as president. After attending boarding school at Mount Hermon School for Boys, de Forest enrolled at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School through the DeForest family scholarship, where he earned money from mechanical and gaming inventions, receiving his B.A. in 1896 and Ph.D. in Physics in 1899. Early in his career, de Forest adopted the use of a lower case "d" in "de Forest;" the rest of his family used an upper case "D."
    De Forest's doctoral thesis, titled "Reflection of Hertzian Waves from the Ends of Parallel Wires," focused on wireless propagation of electromagnetic waves, and with Edwin Smythe, a colleague from Western Electric, he developed an electrolytic detector for wireless telegraph communication. He spent the early 1900s working on wireless telegraph business ventures, including the American DeForest Telegraph Company created with Abraham White in 1902, which advertised itself through a telegraph tower at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, 1904. In 1906, however, de Forest was forced to resign from the company over patent infringement issues with Reginald Fessenden. A detailed history of these companies can be found in Thorn Mayes' Wireless Communication in the United States: The Early Development of American Radio Operating Companies (East Greenwich, R.I.: New England Wireless and Steam Museum, 1989).
    During this time, de Forest had been experimenting with vacuum tube technology in his laboratory, and he filed a patent application for the three-element tube (audion) in January of 1907. His focus was now on voice communication, and by early 1907 he was able to communicate using radiotelephony across his laboratory in New York City. Between 1907 and 1911 de Forest launched and built his radiotelephone companies; on January 13th, 1910, he broadcast a performance of several opera stars from the New York Metropolitan Opera House. His radiotelephone company went bankrupt in 1911 while de Forest was on the West Coast supervising Signal Corps installations in Seattle and San Francisco; he remained in Palo Alto, California, to work at the Federal Telegraph Company, hired by Chief Engineer Cyril Elwell to head a team to concentrate on the development of a circuit that would cause an audio tube to amplify.
    It was at Federal Telegraph, through de Forest's work with C. V. Logwood and Herbert Van Etten, that the 1906 three-element vacuum tube (triode) was recognized as a detector, amplifier and oscillator of radio waves, and de Forest's career was reinvigorated. He then began to experiment with the possibility of recording sound on the wire that was synchronized with the taping of motion pictures and in April 1913 returned to New York City.
    De Forest went on to play a significant role in broadcast radio and sound-on-film development during the 1920s. His work on the De Forest Phonofilm process, and the drama surrounding the development of sound-on-film systems, is the subject of Mike Adams' biography Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Film and Television (New York: Springer, 2011). De Forest received a Life Achievement Oscar from the Motion Pictures Academy in 1959/60 for his pioneering in the advent of "talkies."
    De Forest spent the latter half of his life in Los Angeles, married to Marie Mosquini, a silent film star. He continued working in his laboratory on inventions including an aerial bomb, ground speed indicator for airplanes, a light amplifier, color television picture technologies, and a means for direct heat conversion, supported in part by a yearly grant from Bell Laboratories, and between 1950-1958 by funding from Lyndon A. Durant of the American Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois.
    In 1950, de Forest published his autobiography The Father of Radio (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1950) and continued to encourage publicity throughout his life. The year 1956 was established as the golden anniversary of the Audion, instigating multiple celebrations in de Forest's honor. Despite these awards, however, de Forest was unsuccessful in his campaign for a the Nobel Prize in Physics.
    De Forest was married four times. His first marriage to Lucille Sheardon in 1906, lasted less than a year. His second wife, Nora Stanton Blatch, was the first woman to receive a civil engineering degree from Columbia University. Married in 1907, they were divorced in 1911, with one daughter, Harriet (b. 1909). Mary Mayo, his third wife, was an accomplished singer; they married in 1912 and lived at de Forest's home on the Hudson River at W. 231st Street, Spuyten Duyvil, New York, called "Riverlure." She bore him two daughters, Eleanor (b. 1919), and Marilyn (b. 1924), but their marriage had ended by the time de Forest met and married Marie Mosquini in Los Angeles in 1930.
    Lee and Marie lived at 8190 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles; Marie sold the house in 1967, several years after his death in 1961.
    References:
    • Mike Adams, Lee de Forest : King of Radio, Television, and Film, (New York: Springer, 2011).
    • Lee de Forest, Father of Radio : the Autobiography of Lee de Forest, (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1950).
    • Tom Lewis, Empire of the Air : The Men Who Made Radio, (New York: E. Burlingame Books, 1991).
    • Thorn Mayes, Wireless Communication in the United States : the Early Development of American Radio Operating Companies, (East Greenwich, R.I.: New England Wireless and Steam Museum, 1989).

    Scope and Content Summary

    Papers of electronics inventor, radio and film pioneer Lee de Forest and his fourth wife, Marie Mosquini de Forest. Collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, sketches and diagrams, notebooks, patents, memoirs, patent notes and legal papers, scrapbooks, speeches, poems, photographs, and articles and other printed material, and awards, spanning from de Forest's early education at the Mount Hermon School for Boys and student days at Yale (1890s), to material collected by Marie following his death in 1961.
    De Forest's 1906 invention of the "Audion" tube (or triode), the first electronic amplifier, has been called the most important electronics invention between the development of radio and the birth of the transistor. De Forest is credited with some 300 patents, and spent much time on patent litigation. He also played a significant role in broadcast radio and sound-on-film development. His papers reveal much about the man and the inventions as well as the evolution of radio, motion pictures, and American electronics.
    The papers are divided into 12 series. It is worth noting that gaps in de Forest's early research have resulted from the January 1908 fire that destroyed records and notebooks housed at his laboratory in the Parker Building in New York City.

    Indexing Terms

    These and related materials may be found under the following headings in online catalogs.

    Subjects

    De Forest, Lee, 1873-1961--Archives.
    Mosquini, Marie, 1899---Archives.
    Mayo, Mary
    de Forest, Nora Stanton Blatch
    De Forest, Henry Swift
    De Forest, Anne Margaret Robbins
    De Forest, Charles Mills
    De Forest, Mary Robbins
    White, Abraham
    Armstrong, Edwin H. (Edwin Howard), 1890-1954
    De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company
    De Forest Phonofilm Corporation
    De Forest Radio Telephone & Telegraph Co.
    Dominion DeForest Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd.
    De Forest's Training, inc.
    De Forest Dynatherm (brand)
    De Forest Pioneers
    De Forest Radio Company
    Yale University. Sheffield Scientific School.
    United Engineering Laboratories
    Inventors--California.
    Radio--History.
    Radio broadcasting--United States--History.
    Wireless telegraph--History.
    Vacuum-tubes--History.
    Sound motion pictures--History.

    Genres and Forms of Materials

    correspondence
    scrapbooks
    patents
    administrative records
    photographs
    clippings (information artifacts)
    ephemera
    manuscripts for publication
    research notes