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Alexanderson, Ernst Fredrik Werner (25 January 1878–14 May 1975), engineer and radio and television pioneer, was born in Uppsala, Sweden, the son of Aron Martin Alexanderson, a professor, and Amelie von Heidenstam. From an early age Alexanderson showed interest in things scientific, and so he was sent to the Royal Institute of Technology at Stockholm, where he studied engineering, graduating in 1900. The Royal Institute had no specific program in electrical engineering, which was Alexanderson’s major interest, and so he spent the following year at the Königliche Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Germany, then one of the best engineering schools of Europe. Here for the first time Alexanderson became acquainted with contemporary work in electromagnetics and wireless communication....

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Armstrong, Edwin Howard (18 December 1890–31 January 1954), electrical engineer and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of John Armstrong, a publisher, and Emily Smith, a teacher. Armstrong attended public schools in New York City and in Yonkers, New York, where the family moved in 1900. Fascinated by machinery, he enjoyed repairing broken toys for friends and later learned to repair automobiles. In his teens he was impressed by ...

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Berkner, Lloyd Viel (01 February 1905–04 June 1967), engineer, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Henry Frank Berkner and Alma Julia Viel. Berkner and his two brothers were raised in the small towns of Perth, North Dakota, and Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Berkner enrolled in a radio operator’s school and served aboard ship for one year after completing his high school studies. He then entered the University of Minnesota as an electrical engineering student, receiving a B.S. in 1927 as well as a commission as an aviator in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He later took some graduate courses in physics at Minnesota and at George Washington University but earned no graduate degree. In 1928 he married Lillian Frances Fulks; they had two children....

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Crockett, James Underwood (09 October 1915–11 July 1979), gardener and writer, was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, the son of Earle Royce Crockett and Inez Underwood Crockett. After attending area public schools, he studied horticulture briefly at the University of Massachusetts. By 1935 he had moved to Long Island, New York, where he became an employee of Oak Park Nurseries, in East Patchogue. Four years later he moved again, this time to Texas, and became the superintendent of the Japanese Nursery Company in Houston. During his two years in Texas he studied horticulture part time at the state Agricultural and Mechanical College, now known as Texas A&M University....

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de Forest, Lee (26 August 1873–30 June 1961), radio engineer and inventor, was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the son of Henry Swift de Forest, a Congregational minister, and Anna Margaret Robbins. He grew up in Iowa and (after 1879) Talladega, Alabama, where his father was president of the Talladega College for Negroes....

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Fessenden, Reginald Aubrey (06 October 1866–22 July 1932), inventor, was born in East Bolton, Quebec, Canada, the son of Elisha Joseph Fessenden, an Anglican clergyman, and Clementina Trenholme. Fessenden spent his earliest years at Bolton Centre, Quebec, and Fergus, Ontario. From a young age he showed a keen interest in invention and science and filled every free moment with the reading of scientific texts, being encouraged in this pursuit by his uncle, Cortez Fessenden, a teacher of science and mathematics. At the age of seven Fessenden read Gibbon’s ...

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Goldmark, Peter Carl (02 December 1906–07 December 1977), inventor, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Alexander Goldmark, a hatmaker, and Emmy (maiden name unknown). In 1919 Goldmark’s family fled to Vienna, Austria, to escape the Communist revolution in Hungary. Goldmark studied for a year at the Berlin Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Germany, and then transferred to the Physical Institute of Vienna, where he received his B.Sc. in 1930 and his Ph.D. in physics in 1931....

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Atwater Kent. Standing by radio in the Hamilton Hotel, Washington, DC. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109738).

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Kent, Atwater (03 December 1873–04 March 1949), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Burlington, Vermont, the son of Prentiss J. Kent, a physician, and Mary Elizabeth Atwater. His first name was actually Arthur, but he used his middle name alone throughout his life. He attended Wooster Polytechnic Institute from 1895 to 1897 but left school to begin a manufacturing business and did not graduate....

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Kieran, John Francis (02 August 1892–10 December 1981), sports writer, radio personality, and naturalist, was born in the Bronx, New York City, the son of James Michael Kieran, an educator, and Kate Donahue. He grew up in a book-oriented home. His father was a public school principal who later became a professor of education at Hunter College and then president of that institution. His mother was a school teacher before her marriage who, said Kieran, “quoted the classics on the slightest provocation.”...

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Kompfner, Rudolf (16 May 1909–03 December 1977), physicist and radio engineer, was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Bernhardt Kompfner, an accountant and musician, and Paula Grotte. His middle-class Jewish family fully participated in turn-of-the-century Viennese social life, including its musical culture. He was educated in public school (1915–1920), the Gymnasium (1920–1924), and Realschule (1924–1927) in the twentieth district of Vienna. Influenced by an uncle, Fritz Keller, to take up architecture, he was admitted to the Technische Hochschule in Vienna in 1927 and acquired an engineering degree (Diplom-Ingenieur) from the Faculty of Architecture in 1933....

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Popeil, Samuel J. (22 January 1915–15 July 1984), inventor and manufacturer, was born in New York City, the son of a garment worker; his parents’ names are unknown. Little else is known about his childhood and early education, but Popeil’s career training came through the family. Several of his uncles worked as product demonstrators in New York department stores and flea markets, selling potato peelers, cheese slicers, and other household gadgets....

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Carl Sagan. Courtesy of Cornell University.

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Sagan, Carl (09 November 1934–20 December 1996), space scientist, author, science popularizer, TV personality, and antinuclear weapons activist, was born Carl Edward Sagan in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Rachel Molly Gruber Sagan and garment industry worker Samuel Sagan, an immigrant from the Ukraine. Carl Sagan's Jewish background encouraged him “to ask questions early,” as he later observed (Davidson, p. 57); so did his mother's skeptical, sometimes acidic personality. At age five, he became interested in astronomy when he read in a library book that the stars are distant versions of our sun. His interest in science soared when his parents took him to the New York World's Fair of 1939–1940, which offered an optimistic and (as he later acknowledged) “extremely technocratic” view of the future (Davidson, p. 14)....

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David Sarnoff. Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach, c. 1939–1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92231).

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Sarnoff, David (27 February 1891–12 December 1971), media executive, was born in Uzlian in the Russian province of Minsk, the son of Abraham Sarnoff, a trader and house painter, and Leah Privin, a seamstress. When David was five, his father left for the United States and he was sent to live with an uncle. When his father sent money for his passage five years later, David rejoined the family and traveled to Canada in steerage, landing in Montreal and entering the United States by train in 1900. The Sarnoffs settled in the Lower East Side of New York City, and David entered school but also helped support the family by running errands for a local butcher, delivering newspapers, and singing soprano in a synagogue. He also studied at the Educational Alliance, quickly learning English. When he was fifteen his father died, and David left school for good; while he later received many honorary degrees, his formal education ended with eighth grade....

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Storm, Hans Otto (29 July 1895–11 December 1941), writer and radio telegraph engineer, was born in Bloomington, California, the son of Joachim Otto Storm, a bank teller, and Marie Rehwoldt. His parents both came from Germany and met in the United States. Storm grew up in Anaheim, California. After graduating from public high school, he worked for a year in the electrician’s trade. In 1917 he was conscripted into the army, but he spent most of the war in hospitals on account of illness. Afterward Storm was frequently ill, and he was never robust....