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Mr. Roy Weagant – RADIO pioneer works to conquer static

Source: Radio’s 100 Men of Science, Biographical Narratives of Pathfinder in Electronics and Television By Orrin E. Dunlap, Jr  1944  Page 204-207

Roy Weagant was an employee of Marconi who did pioneering work in static reduction and antenna construction at the Belmar station.  A. Hoyt Taylor tells of some of his work at the station during WWI.  It is interesting that Mr. Weagant had a theory that static originated from overhead.  Years later others (K. G. Jansky of nearby Bell Labs) would prove the origin of natural static was outer space.

Roy Alexander Weagant

BORN: March 29, 1881, Morrisburg, Ontario

DIED: August 23, 1942, Sherbrooke, Quebec

Roy A. WEAGANT, the radio engineer, inherited an interest in mechanical and scientific devices from a long line of “ancestors of engineering instinct.” One of his father’s inventions was a Venetian blind. Roy’s hobby as a telegraph enthusiast led directly to his career. When he was four years old his parents moved across the Canadian border to Derby Line, Vermont, where he attended the village school.

Dr. M. L. Baxter, a retired physician of the town whose hobby was telegraphy, had set up a circuit between his home and the residences of near-by friends. Roy’s stepfather had been a telegrapher and he helped the lad to build a sounder and key to “cut in” on the village line. Young Weagant was fired with the spirit of an amateur telegrapher, and sensing his interest in the apparatus, Dr. Baxter encouraged the boy to learn all he could about telegraphy and electricity.

When he went to preparatory school and college in Stanstead, Quebec, Weagant devoted special attention to physics and electricity. He went to McGill University, Montreal, in 1898, and it was there that Sir Ernest Rutherford taught physics. Because of lack of funds, after one year Weagant dropped out of college and worked for three years. By 1902 he had saved enough money to enable him to resume his studies at McGill, and in 1905 he was graduated with the degree of B.S. He saw Rutherford demonstrate the principle of the magnetic detector and that really gave him his first urge toward radio engineering. He made experiments with Hertzian waves, and by the time he was graduated, his interest in wireless was fast gaining momentum. For a time he worked with the Montreal Light and Power Company and then joined the Western Electric Company in New York where he worked in the Apparatus Design Department. He left this job in March 1906; the company record of his work stated, “He had shown considerable originality on subjects of general electrical interest and was particularly adapted for the detailed design of small apparatus.”

Weagant then went with the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh as a draftsman, remaining there from May 7 until October 31, 1907, when he joined the General Electric Company at West Lynn, Massachusetts. Business conditions caused his dismissal after two months and he found his next position with the DeLaval Steam Turbine Company at Trenton, New Jersey.

It was at this time that Fessenden wanted a steam turbine for his alternator and consulted the DeLaval Company. Weagant worked on the job and was fascinated with Fessenden’s idea; it rekindled his interest in telegraphy and linked it with wireless.

As time went on, Weagant noticed in an electrical magazine that Fessenden was advertising for a draftsman-that was Fessenden’s way of hiring men. From draftsman, Weagant transferred to engineering, testing, and designing. It was not long before he was at Fessenden’s National Electric Signaling Company’s station at Brant Rock, Massachusetts, working for $112 a month. There he served his “wireless apprenticeship.” He worked on the design of the 100-kilowatt spark transmitter to be installed at Arlington, Virginia, the Navy’s first high-power station. Elimination of static became

Weagant’s “hobby,” yet he won a reputation in designing towers. antennas, transmitters, and receiving sets.

. In March 1912, he parted company with Fessenden. and joined the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America as a designer. He introduced many innovations, among them the panel type of transmitter which became a standard. Within the limits of commercial necessity he replaced the old with the new. Weagant was always a modern; he was also a combination in ability of the engineer and the litigation expert, abetted by a clear method of analysis. He became chief engineer of the American Marconi Company.

One of the first attempts to avoid conflict or infringement of the “third electrode,” or grid patent of the audion invented by De Forest, was made by Weagant, who put one of the electrodes outside instead of inside the glass bulb. In 1914, a vacuum-tube detector appeared featuring the Weagant external grid. It was a tubular fountain-pen-shaped affair with the filament and plate inside the glass bulb, but the grid was wound around the exterior. In effect it was a Fleming valve-with filament and plate and it became an audion in performance when the external grid was applied.

During the First World War, Weagant, as chief engineer of the Marconi Company, designed much equipment used by the United States Navy-and built according to government specifications. The Marconi factory at Aldene, New Jersey, became an arsenal for radio apparatus and was greatly expanded in capacity for manufacture of transmitters, receivers, wavemeters and associated equipment. It was estimated that more than ten million dollars’ worth of wireless equipment was made at Aldene during the war, almost all for government use.

As consulting engineer of RCA from 1920 to 1924, Weagant devoted years of intensive research to the problem of eliminating static-Nature’s uncontrolled vagaries. He developed directional antennas and other anti-static devices which minimized the effect of atmospherics in transatlantic reception. He predicted that airplanes with direction finders would sail through fog and thick weather with undiminished speed; that wireless would create great ocean lanes of air travel with airships passing to and fro regardless of weather.

At a meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers and the New York Electrical Society in March, 1919, he explained his method of eliminating static. It dispensed with lofty towers at wireless stations and was credited with effecting a one and one-half reduction in the amount of power required.

He explained that the essence of his anti-static development lay in the discovery of the fact that static moved in a vertical direction, from a source overhead, while the wireless signals traveled in a horizontal direction above the earth’s surface. Based on the observation that these two conflicting forces moved at right angles to each other, the next logical step, as Weagant saw it, was to develop a selective device for neutralizing the effect of static, yet at the same time receiving the wireless signals.

As he stated, Weagant believed that static came from above, but it is recorded in the history of wireless that “notwithstanding this misconception, he accomplished genuine advances in antenna construction.”‘

Weagant spent the winter of 1921-22 in Bermuda working on a static eliminator, but with little success. He left RCA in 1924, and shortly after joined forces with Dr. Lee De Forest in research work, finally in 1925 retiring to Lake Memphremagog, Vermont, near his childhood playground.

When the curse of creativeness was on him, Weagant was a man alone [said one of his associates in engineering], and if forced to attend an engineering meeting or routine business conference, he would appear, but in a sullen mood. Now and then, however, between flashes of momentary insight into the unknown, he would become his un-inventive self, and then he was the ideal host indeed. The two natures were as different as black is from white. But is that not the way with all inventors? Weagant’s, thoughts were with his work; he lived for it, he died thinking of it.

*In recognition of his work, the Institute of. Radio Engineers presented the Morris Laebmann Memorial Prize to Weagant in 1920.

Thanks to the Historical Electronics Museum, Md. This book available in their library
Source: Radio’s 100 Men of Science, Biographical Narratives of Pathfinder in Electronics and Television By Orrin E. Dunlap, Jr  1944   Page 204-207

To find more information on Roy A. Weagant…
The Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in the George H. Clark Radioana Collection has Weagant’s papers:
ROY A. WEAGANT: After his death, George Clark received some papers of his former colleague who had been chief engineer of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. These consisted mostly of Weagant’s work on static reduction. From these papers and his own Clark wrote a biography of Weagant (Class 4, Book 17, Box 40 D, Bound Volumes)
Also on file in box 22 is an oral history:
with special reference to the static eliminator.
Dictated to G. H. Clark  April 1943
by Claire L. Farrand
with additional information relating to the Belmar Station.

Edward Julian Nally Papers (C0251) at Princeton University Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.  The collection (Box 4) has a review copy of the book George H. Clark authored on Roy Weagant in 1944.  The box also has a scrapbook Mr. Nally kept of dozens of newspaper articles written after the November 19, 1918 disclosure of Roy Weagant’s anti-static breakthrough and its secret use during WWI.   It was hailed as the major scientific advance of the decade by the New York Times and other major newspapers.   Most of the preliminary work was carried out at the Belmar Marconi Station. Basically, Mr. Weagant’s work improved transatlantic reception to the point that the large wireless masts (six 400′ masts at Belmar) normally employed to catch wireless signals from the ether were no longer needed.

Page created March 11, 2000

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