This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 12, 2017: Moonrise, Aurora, Nebraska

May 12, 2017: on this day: Nathan B. Stubblefield patents Wireless Radio Broadcasting system

On this day in 1908, self-described “practical farmer, fruit grower, and electrician” Nathan B. Stubblefield of Murray, Kentucky, patented his Wireless Radio Broadcasting system, which allowed for the use of short-distance, mobile wireless telephone devices.

Stubblefield made his first big step into wireless telecommunications in 1892, when he shocked his then-neighbor with a wireless telephone conversation between their houses. A few years later, Stubblefield demonstrated the first wireless ship-to-shore phone transmission using wires that had been laid in the water by a steamer boat.

Stubblefield feverishly tried to patent and market his creations, but he struggled to commercialize the idea. His technology was so limited by distance that it was not appealing to many people. At the same time, others began to develop technology to span much longer distances — the birth of radio transmission.

Although Stubblefield’s work did not directly lead to the discovery of radio as a means of communication, his work may have sparked wider interest among the public for the possibilities of wireless sound.