Perham Collection Creator Profile: Lloyd Espenschied

Lloyd Espenschied was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1889, and became an amateur radio operator in 1904. While living with relatives of his mother in Brooklyn, New York, he worked as a shipboard wireless operator for the United Wireless Telegraph Company during summer vacations. It was during this time that he heard Lee de Forest speak before the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in March 1907, where the grid triode made its first public appearance. Espenschied graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1909 with a degree in applied electricity and initially worked as an engineer for the American affiliate of the German Telefunken Wireless Telegraph Company. Among his assignments was the installation of the Telefunken quenched spark system on ships of the U.S. Navy. Espenschied joined the Engineering Department of AT&T in 1910 and remained with the Bell Company until his retirement, in 1954.

Espenschied began corresponding with de Forest during Espenschied’s employment at Bell Telephone Laboratories as part of its business relationship with de Forest, but their personal friendship continued after he retired. This original correspondence (1954-1955) is part of the Perham History Files (2003-33), as well as the Lee de Forest Papers (2003-34), both part of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics. Among their topics was de Forest’s Nobel Prize campaign; a heated exchange about the merits of de Forest’s work provides insight into both men’s personalities, as well as de Forest’s accomplishments compared to his contemporaries. Espenschied also used his access to Bell Laboratories’ records to research many of the claims made by de Forest in his autobiography, “Father of Radio,” and questioned de Forest about discrepancies during the course of their correspondence.

For further information on Espenschied’s career, see The Lloyd Espenschied Papers are held at The Smithsonian Institution.

Search History San Jose’s online catalog for Espenschied materials (Collection Nos. 2003-33, 2003-34)

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