The busy marina area at Put-in-Bay, Ohio draws many visitors leaving for a day trip out to one of the neighboring islands or looking for a place to dock their own boats.
Golf carts, the major mode of summer land transportation in Put-in-Bay, buzz along the main streets running by the marina.
With so much activity, it can be easy to miss this historical marker standing near the docks.
I'd guess most people don't know the tale of Dr. Lee de Forest who made history at Put-in-Bay in 1907 by broadcasting race results from a boat in the harbor to an assistant near the spot the during the Annual Inter-Lakes Yachting Association's annual Regatta
That broadcast helped cement de Forest's reputation as "The Father of Radio" and helped lead to many of the communication channels we take for granted today.
The American inventor held over 180 patents and invented Audion, an early vacuum tube and the first electrical device capable of receiving and amplifying electrical signals. De Forest dominated electronics for nearly a half century, paving the way for radio broadcasting, television, sound movies and long-distance telephone phone service to become realities.
De Forest coined the term "radio" to describe his early broadcasts as he disliked the term "wireless" that most people used during the early years of the 1900s.
De Forest was a born tinkerer, and one of his early tinkering misadventures with came when the then-student at Yale managed to tap into the school's electrical system as he experimented. De Forest managed to throw the entire campus into a blackout and soon found himself suspended. Yale eventually let him back in, and he earned his bachelor's and doctorate degrees by 1899.
De Forest's experimenting led inventing the Audion, but he wasn't really sure why it worked.
He teamed up with a railroad dispatcher and telegraph operator in Toledo named Frank Butler after they met when Butler saw de Forest demonstrating how to broadcast telegraph signals the without the use of wires at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.
The tinkerer and the telegrapher made a good team because Butler had a good understanding of why things worked as they did. The duo began racing other inventors to be the first to send voices over the air.
They did a number of experimental broadcasts atop buildings in downtown Toledo, making the first real radio broadcast in the United States, and possibly, the world.
The pair took some primitive sending and receiving units for a real test at the regatta in Put-in-Bay They set up de Forest on a yacht called Thelma, and he broadcast results during the race to Butler on shore in what became the first ship-to-shore broadcast on July 18, 1907.
Many people expressed skepticism about the broadcast, with some folks accusing de Forest and Butler outright of faking the story.
Butler always fondly remembered working with de Forest, but he remained in Toledo to work as de Forest traveled the world and developed many more inventions over this lifetime. De Forest also spent a lot of his income defending his patents and defending against fraud (case ended in acquittal) in court.
Among the more interesting recognitions earned by de Forest was an Academy Award in 1959/60 for his pioneering inventions that led to adding sound to motion pictures and a star with his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He married four times, including his wedding to a silent film actress named Marie Mosquini in 1930. He remained married to Mosquini until his death in 1961.
Another famous family member was his grandnephew, comedian Calvert DeForest, who played Larry "Bud" Melman for many years on David Letterman's late-night television show.
Want to learn more about Lee de Forest? Check out Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television and Film by Mike Adams.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved