The Audion

The Vacuum Tube that Changed the World

When thinking about the future of the Internet a lot of people make comparisons to radio. The consensus seems to be that currently the Internet is about equal to what radio was in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Back then everyone seemed to know that radio would take off and change things, but few people had an idea of it's full potential. Interestingly enough, radio and computers actually share a common ancestor: the Audion. The Audion is the original name of the vacuum tube that Lee De Forest invented for AT&T, back when it was still American Telephone and Telegraph Company. The invention of the Audion helped make it possible for Alexander Graham Bell, who was in in San Francisco, to call Watson in New York. But that was just the beginning. Soon the Audion would find its way into other devices, and pave the way for the future of electronics.

Besides their use in telephone, Audion vacuum tubes became a useful way to boost radio signals. They were eventually used in televisions and even the ENIAC (electronic numerical integrator and computer) ballistics computer. At its peak, ENIAC used over 19,000 vacuum tubes, also known as triodes, to power its calculations.

Lee De Forest 1873 - 1961De Forest's remarkable invention marked a major transition point in the history of electronics. When he inserted a small, coiled grid into the center of an ordinary vacuum tube, it paved the way for the future of telephone, radio, television and computing. What he did then was relatively simple by today's standards. He found that by regulating the voltage that went into the grid he could boost the amount of current flowing through the tube. That meant, instead of having a telephone signal fade out after just 1200 miles, Audions could be set up across the country, and boost the audio signal enough to go from coast to coast, over 3000 miles.

Audion vacuum tubes would continue to be used in radios until the early 1950s. That's when a new technology would take hold, making radios lighter, smaller, and more portable. This new technology changed the world of electronics once again, and today, almost any audio or visual electronic device we use relies on this electronic wonder.

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