Tag Archives: Columbia University Electrical Engineering

Welcome to the Major Armstrong blog

W.H. Lighty's letter of admiration stems from his lengthy career at the University of Wisconsin...continued    

This significant and historically rich collection has been open for use here now for many years. To any who may have searched within it, this will come as some welcome news: thanks to the Armstrong Memorial Research Foundation and generous grants from the IEEE Foundation, the IEEE Communications Society, the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society, Alcatel-Lucent Foundation, Columbia University’s Department of Electrical Engineering, and Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, I have been charged with re-processing this collection with the goal of increasing accessibility through the provision of a more descriptive aid.

This blog will highlight just a sliver of this incredible collection. I have been blessed with the luxury of hiring a graduate student, Jen Howard (EE GS ’10), who will be sharing these finds as well (expect forthcoming posts from her!). She is studying for her masters in electrical engineering here, which when contrasted with my humanities background, will serve to provide a broader and hopefully, a more interesting and varied perspective.

On the Title…

By now, you have noticed the letter up on your left—While debating the title of this blog Jen, who has been given the task of researching and describing the photographs, came upon the one shown below of Major Armstrong and William H. Lighty. She pointed out the accompanying letter which we both agreed was perfect—“scientist, technologist, philosopher, inventor triumphant in the arts of communication”.

E.H. Armstrong and W.H. Lighty, WHA Radio Institute, University of Wisconsin, Summer Session, 1945    
E.H. Armstrong and W.H. Lighty, WHA Radio Institute, University of Wisconsin, Summer Session, 1945

The awe and inspiration Lighty expressed in this letter permeated the entire scientific community from the time of Howard’s first creation, the regenerative circuit in 1912 to his complete Frequency Modulation system, in 1933.

 Letter to the Major 1945 August 25     
1945 August 25 Letter to the Major

Edwin Howard Armstrong (known to his friends as Major) is credited with a multitude of inventions in the radio communications field. He secured 42 patents throughout his career, of which the most well known are the regenerative circuit, superheterodyne circuit in 1918, the superregenerative circuit in 1922, and his commercially viable FM Radio system.

Armstrong was of a stubborn character, refusing to follow the accepted mathematical theories of the time. His persistence and systematic method of experimentation produced discoveries that would turn accepted dogma on its head. His creative genius ushered mankind into a new world and his inventions remain the mainstay of wireless communications today.

An invitation…

It is our hope that this blog will serve as not only a place where we can post our finds, but in addition, serve as an informal exchange of information, inspiration, and opinions on this creative genius who was once known as a fixture here at Columbia. He was usually found toiling away in the Marcellus Hartley Laboratory located in the basement of Philosophy Hall. He forms not only a fundamental part of American History, but also a salient part of Columbia University’s history and its renowned engineering school (www.ee.columbia.edu/pages/deptoverview/index.html).

I wish to invite and encourage students, faculty, staff, electrical engineers, young radio enthusiasts and historians of Radio History, to post here and pass this site around. Let’s increase interest in this historically rich collection, and the overlooked importance of Armstrong’s role in revolutionizing radio communications.

More posts to follow!


(From first picture caption)

Lighty worked in the field of adult education serving on the administrative staff of the Extension Division and first program manager of Station WHA.  His primary influence was the use of radio broadcast as an educational medium.  WHA is today considered the most successful model  of educational radio in broadcasting history.