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George Sweigert

George Sweigert

''For the U.S. basketball player see George Webb Sweigert.

George H. Sweigert (1920-1999) is widely credited as the first inventor to hold a patent for the invention of the cordless telephone.

Born in Akron, Ohio, Sweigert served for four years in the US Army as a radio operator in World War II in Guadalcanal, Bouganville, and New Georgia (assigned to the 145th Headquarters Company under the 37th Infantry Division (United States)). Following the war Sweigert briefly dated Eva Marie Saint while he attended Bowling Green State University (near Toledo, Ohio).

Sweigert credited his military service for invention of the radio telephone, citing experimentation with various antennas, signal frequencies, and types of radios. Sweigert rigged some battlefield radios to send and receive on different frequencies, enabling full duplex communication. Full duplex communication was a key feature that allowed the users to avoid the word "over" at the end of each communication, making conversations more natural.

Cordless phone

In the patent application submitted on June 10 1966 to the US Trade and Patent Office, Sweigert submitted a working model of the phone in addition to the required description. An image of the original patent application can be viewed at A Cleveland Plain Dealer article published shortly after the patent was filed documented the first public demonstration of the cordless phone with a picture of the device and the inventor.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer article cited that Sweigert actually used a part from his washing machine for the invention - the solenoid used to lift the phone's receiver when a current was sensed in the induction coil. Sweigert, who suffered severe back pain from a war injury, saw the device primarily helping handicapped and elderly people.

Sweigert vision of "a phone carried in a shirt pocket" that could be used to "call anyone in the world, anytime" was realized years later by Martin Cooper of Motorola with the invention of the cellular phone. Shortly before he died, Sweigert received a long distance call on a Motorola cellular phone, realizing his lifelong dream.

It is also worth noting that Sweigert held two amateur radio licenses: W8ZIS (Ohio) and N9LC (Indiana). He was an amateur extra radio operator, the highest class of amateur radio. He also held a First Class Radiotelephone Operator's Permit.

Patent

  • US 3,449,750 -- Duplex Radio Communication and Signalling Appartus -- G. H. Sweigert

Source: US Patent Trade Office

At the time of its issuance, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission remarked, "this is the most significant advancement in telecommunications since the invention of color television". Indeed, full duplex radio communications is the cornerstone upon which cellular telephone communications was built. In a sense, anyone using a cellular phone today owes their full duplex communication conversation to Sweigert and to amateur radio experimentation.

Early Role Models

Sweigert's heroes included Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Lee DeForest, Edwin Armstrong, Albert Einstein, and Philo Taylor Farnsworth. Sweigert was coincidentally born in the same city that hosts the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Akron, Ohio.

Sweigert studied the life stories of these inventors, and he frequently would recount the early technical and legal struggles of these inventors to get their inventions patented and protected.

Sweigert credited Morse with the early insights using the relay to repeat telegraphic signals, and Sweigert's cordless phone made used of a similar relay device.

Edison's early technical struggles with full duplex (two way) communication was another favorite subject, born out of Edison's desire to "speed up" telegraphic conversations by sending and receiving at the same time. Whether Edison could actually perform this telegraphic feat has never documented, but Sweigert credited this story with his inspiration for a full duplex cordless telephone. Sweigert studied how duplexes reduced frustrations dealing with technologies, going all the way back to the early days of telegraphy. People quickly tired in conversations anticipating the speaker's "over" signal. The listener's ability to tell speakers to slow down, speed up, stop, or inject their own thoughts was fundamental to the acceptance of a cordless phone.

Sweigert admired Alexander Graham Bell's work with the deaf as an inspiration for development of the telephone. One of Sweigert's sons is hearing impaired. This may explain Sweigert intricate use of amplifiers in the initial invention. Sweigert was physically disabled, and saw the cordless phone as a similar to the telephone in terms of motivation and inspiration for the development of the invention. Sweigert sided with Alexander Graham Bell in the Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone controversy, although Elisha Gray was another Cleveland inventor. He did credit Gray with being the first to come up with a way of multiplexing several messages simultaneously on the same wire.

He also enjoyed the fact that Bell was a complete amateur compared with professional established laboratories of Elisha Gray and super-inventor Thomas Edison. He greatly admired Edison's work on improving the vibrating diaphragm to vary the induced resistance from varying frequency in the voice. He frequently cited Bell besting Edison on the invention of the telephone as Edison's motivation to invent the phonograph. He expressed dismay how Bell missed inventing the phonograph after his frequent lectures about visualizing audio waves and electrically reproducing them. Sweigert credited being able to visualize human voice waveforms as another key in perfecting the cordless phone.

Sweigert also admired Edwin Armstrong and his invention of FM radio. Armstrong's concept of the superhetrodyne receiver to filter out noise and amplify the original signal is used in the cordless phone. He also admired Armstrong's courage to challenge the status quo of AM radio and its powerful leader, David Sarnoff.

Wireless Networking

Sweigert's philosophy was "the simpler, the better, as could be understood by a child". He often recounted Einstein's experience of reading a children story about a child racing a telegraph signal going through a wire. Einstein later credited this story for inspiring his thought experiments about on riding a beam of light, leading to the Special Theory of Relativity. Sweigert's eureka moment for the cordless phone was similar, imagining the human voice waveform for a word as a short "worm" traveling through the air and then the wire, linking the words together to reproduce a conversation. He envisioned a home where all kinds of devices generated "message worms" to share the electromagnetic spectrum, foreshadowing Ethernet. Up until this time, consumers did not have devices that transmitted frequencies in their homes. This created a whole new area of regulation for the Federal Communications Commission, leading to the regulation of wireless networking.

He later years were spent trying to perfect antennae designs, applying the work of James Clerk Maxwell's work on electromagnetic theory and Maxwell's Equations. His persistent frustration after the invention of the cordless phone was not being able to do the advanced calculus required by these equations for advanced antennae design.

Sweigert predicted that half of the people in the world would own a wireless phone in the time of his children. With the current world population of wireless phones at 3.2 Billion in 2008, he was probably not far wrong with this prediction. He predicted integrated cameras, GPS, accelerometers, and other advanced sensors in the 1969 moon lander would be integrated into the wireless phone. Sweigert received notice of his patent approval the same day of the first moon landing on June 20th, 1969.

Later Years

Sweigert greatly admired Philo Farnsworth for his invention of television, and more specifically his work with the cathode ray tube and the electronic amplifier. Sweigert nicknamed his osciliscope in his home electronics lab "Philo" in honor of Philo Farnsworth, critical to Sweigert for visualizing his "word worms". He also admired Farnsworth for his ability to challenge RCA, founding the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1938. While reading about Farnsworth and his later work on submarine detection equipment, he was led to a research and development position with Magnavox Corporation in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1969. Magnavox manufactured "sonabouy" devices in Fort Wayne that were dropped into the ocean to listen for enemy submarines.

Sweigert took the R&D position with Magnavox Corporation in 1969 in Fort Wayne to work on Army field radios for soldiers in the Vietnam War. He sympathized with the soldiers fighting in the Vietnam jungles which were similar to the jungle conditions he fought in at Guadalcanal and Bouganville Island in the Second World War. Magnavox field radios were key to the US Army for the entire Vietnam War. Sweigert was fascinated by the development of the integrated circuit and its potential uses to reduce the size of electronic products. He was friends with many of the people involved in the founding of Bowmar Instrument Corporation in Fort Wayne, the makers of the first electronic pocket calculator, or more popularly known as the Bowmar Brain.

Sweigert taught electronics at the vocational college level in his later years for ITT Technical Institute in Fort Wayne despite his physical disability. He credited ITT for purchasing the Farnsworth Television from Philo Farnsworth, enabling him to finally receive compensation for his invention. Sweigert sympathized with the struggles in the later life of Edwin Armstrong and wanted to avoid a similar fate in his own life.

Trivia

Sweigert also admired Guglielmo Marconi for his work with wireless telegraphy. He was internally conflicted on whether Nikola Tesla or Marconi should be credited with the invention of radio. He often recounted a story that Marconi was committed briefly to an institution for believing there could be "voices transmitted through the air". Whether or not this actually happened to Marconi has never been verified.

Sweigert's third son, David Sweigert, experimented briefly with a linked system of radio towers or "cells" between Fort Wayne, IN and Chicago in 1977 using General Mobile Radio Service GMRS radio handsets with telephone dialing capability, inspired by his father's vision of the "shirt pocket" phone that could call anywhere in the world. David's start-up company was aquired by the Readak Corporation of Celeveland, Ohio in 1979.

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