James A. Hijiya

This book is not so much an analysis of de Forest's contribution to technology as it is a chronicle of his spiritual quest. Lee de Forest was an important inventor, and this biography attempts to explain what moved him to become one. It tries to show how—in a universe from which deity has seemingly disappeared.de Forest's devotion to invention was part of his search for a new light. The book is not a study in the history of technology but in the history of the religion of technology.


In 1906, de Forest created the "Audion," the three-electrode vacuum tube, which became the foundation of the electronics industry for half a century. He was a pioneer in radio and talking pictures, and he worked on projects ranging from television to solar energy. Holder of more than three hundred patents, he was one of the most prolific inventors in American history.


But he was more than that. Lee de Forest had an immense curiosity that extended beyond science and engineering to politics, literature, and religion. His active and far-ranging mind became a register for many social and intellectual events during his long life: from Populism to McCarthyism, and from Darwinism to agnosticism. But while his interests were diverse, his vision was not. For him invention was not merely a vocation but a worldview. He represented a technological progressivism that advocated reform, but reform stemming less from social engineering than from real engineering. Although he favored certain improvements in law and education, he did not think that these would be the basis of social transformation. Instead, he believed that inventions―ranging from radios to war planes―would reform the human condition and that the future was more in the hands of inventors than statesmen. The millennium would be a technical innovation, with himself as one of its principal inventors.


As a young man, de Forest came to spurn conventional notions of an immortal soul; but he never ceased to seek ways to overcome death.

9781611460216 (RLPG)
9780934223238 (AUP)
Lehigh University Press - Lee de Forest and the Fatherhood of Radio