By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Toledo played a role in the invention of modern broadcast radio.
Marconi invented radio in 1895, but his machinery could only produce a faint, tiny signal, making it almost useless for large-scale use.
In 1906, Dr. Lee DeForest invented what he called the Audion, and what is now known as the triode. It was the first functioning vacuum tube, and allowed signals to be amplified and sent over longer distances. It was an invention necessary for long-distance telephone networks, as well as commercial radio and television.
But Dr. DeForest had trouble finding investors for his invention, and needed to have a public display of its powers. Struggling for money, he decided to move from New York to Toledo, where he could stay with one of his top assistants, Toledoan Frank Butler.
Dr. DeForest decided that the annual Put-in-Bay Regatta would be the place to demonstrate the Audion. He put a radio transmitter, equipped with his invention, on board the Thelma, a yacht competing in the regatta. When it came time for the yacht to leave for the regatta, the two men tried transmitting back to a receiver in Toledo.
It was the first ship-to-shore broadcast in history, and gained a measure of excitement for the Audion. The Navy was impressed enough to order Audions to equip the Atlantic fleet with radio phones. Dr. DeForest never worried about finding investors again.
After the regatta, Dr. DeForest and Mr. Butler stayed in Toledo for a while longer for further experiments, setting up a transmitter in the old Nicholas Building downtown and a receiver in the Ohio Building.
Mr. Butler later called those Toledo experiments the first successful radio broadcasting station.