The Perham Collection of Early Electronics at History San José is the legacy of radio pioneer Douglas McDonald Perham (1887-1967), an early wireless experimenter and radio broadcaster. Perham, a talented technician, was also a life-long collector. The collection parallels Perham’s career and documents early electronics in the West, particularly the Santa Clara Valley, from the early 1900s to 1960. The current collection includes more than 2,500 objects and 1,200 photographs, and more than 200 linear feet of manuscript collections. Rare books, trade manuals, ephemera and other printed material are also part of the collection.
Perham’s original electronics museum was displayed at New Almaden, California, during the 1950s and 1960s. Perham’s collection was acquired in 1963 by the Perham Foundation, a non-profit group made up of local electronics pioneers (many of them Perham’s personal friends). In 1969, the Foundation raised funds to construct the Foothill Electronics Museum at Foothill College in Los Altos, California. The Museum, opened in 1973, was operated by the College until 1979 and by the Foundation and its many volunteers until its closing in 1991. After twelve years in temporary storage, the Perham Collection was given by the Perham Foundation to History San José in 2003. Today, the “Perham Collection in Early Electronics” is maintained as a separate collection, and again focuses predominantly on the first fifty years of the development of the electronics industry in the western United States, particularly the South Bay region.
For more information, please visit www.perhamcollection.org.
Douglas Perham (1887-1967)
This original stopper lamp was used, and burned out, on the newly invented Ferris Wheel at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair), where George Westinghouse dramatically demonstrated the superiority of transmitting electricity by alternating current. Westinghouse handed the bulb to six-year old Douglas Perham, then visiting the fair with his parents. Westinghouse told the boy to save such things because they would one day have historical significance. The bulb became the starting point of Perham's life as a collector as well as an electronics pioneer, and the centerpiece of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics.
Doug Perham’s career spanned the first 50 years of commercial electronics in the West — from his first teen-aged experiment with a Marconi coherer in 1898 to his retirement from Varian in 1953. As Federal Telegraph Company’s first American employee (1909), he built the company’s first four Poulsen arcs, and worked with Lee de Forest’s research team (1911-12). He installed experimental and commercial Federal wireless stations throughout California and Texas. In 1922, he built and operated one of Iowa’s first licensed radio broadcasting stations, WJAM, and the first affiliated with a newspaper (The Cedar Rapids Gazette). Coming back to California in 1928, he worked for many local firms, including Federal, Heintz and Kaufman, Dalmo Victor, Ampex and Varian Associates.
Lee de Forest (1863-1961)
Few individuals better represent the vicissitudes of invention than Lee de Forest, an ambitious experimenter and inventor with more than 300 patents, but whose business ventures often failed or became embroiled in litigation. In 1911, de Forest was working at a young Palo Alto start-up company named Federal Telegraph. There his 1906 three-element vacuum tube (triode) was recognized as a detector, amplifier and oscillator of radio waves. Among the many who helped de Forest was a young Federal Telegraph technician named Douglas Perham.
Today, the Lee de Forest papers are a part of the Perham Collection of Early Electronics at History San Jose. This large collection of papers, publications, photographs, and several pieces of electronics apparatus, spans from de Forest’s years at Yale University’s Sheffield Scientific School to his not-so-retiring years through the 1950s with his fourth wife, Marie Mosquini de Forest. Among the collection are de Forest’s correspondence, manuscripts, sketches, notebooks, patents, patent notes and legal papers, memoirs, speeches, photographs, and awards. His papers also include correspondence with Lloyd Espenschied regarding de Forest’s autobiographical claims.
This circa 1903 “spade” responder (or electrolytic detector) is one of the best examples of Lee de Forest's several costly attempts to work around Marconi's and Fessenden's patents. A variant of Fessenden's electrolytic detector, it uses a flat piece of platinum leaf sealed into glass instead of Fessenden's platinum wire. De Forest's detector soon became standard equipment in de Forest wireless stations as well as U.S. Navy receivers. Fessenden successfuly sued de Forest, but by then de Forest had moved on to crystal detectors. Switches and/or knobs on top of the radio are labeled: Potentiometer, Battery, Shunt and Telephone. De Forest exhibited this apparatus as part of his display at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, along with a 300 foot high “De Forest Wireless Telegraph Tower.”
In 1906, de Forest improved upon fellow electronics pioneer Reginald Fessenden's vacuum tube, creating what he called the triode, or “Audion.” After further experimentation in 1911-12, the Audion was used as a detector of radio signals, an amplifier of audio, and an oscillator for transmitting, making possible great advancements in transcontinental telephony and radio broadcasting. This rare dual tantalum filament de Forest Audion was handmade by H. W. McCandless & Co. of New York (an automotive light bulb maker) in 1908, the only year double filament Audion tubes of this type were made. The glass tube was mated to a standard candelabra light bulb screw base. The grid is the usual zig-zag formation (made by bending wire between nails hammered into a piece of wood). The single plate has a single anchor wire. The filament supports come up from the screw base, rather from a glass press. The contact was soldered externally to the base to make contact. The base insulation is glass, rather than porcelain. The cap is tarred over, covering the exhaust tip.
This rare 1914 de Forest Audion Detector Control Box (Wireless) Model RJ4 was sold to amateur radio operators and for experimental use. The RJ, or “Radio Junior,” was not a complete receiver, but a box to hold the A and B batteries for the vacuum tube and switch taps to set the proper voltages. A spherical (later tubular) audion tube was mounted on the front of the box. The box and tube were sold together. In addition to a set of headphones, the radio operator would also have at hand a tuner connected to an antenna. In 1916, de Forest came out with a lower-priced RJ-9, but ongoing price wars, along with increased war-time federal control over amateur radio production and operation, drove many small companies out of business. Like many others, de Forest would soon sell most of his patent rights to RCA.
The popularity of amateur radio (home receivers) skyrocketed during the 1920s as broadcasting stations popped up across the country. This 1923 radio telephone and telegraph apparatus (DT-600), known as the Everyman Radio Receiver, was made by de Forest Wireless and used in homes to receive radio signals. The device is housed in a box with removable lid and contains seven tuning coils. This set was modified by removing the Bakelite panel and replacing it with a plastic panel to show the interior. The instructions, set into the lid, made the set more accessible to the general public.
This cathedral-style home broadcast radio receiver was produced by the “Lee de Forest Manufacturing Co.” under license from Gilfillan in 1930. De Forest had just moved to Los Angeles, setting up a laboratory in Hollywood. The “midget Royale” was only 18 inches high and 16 inches wide, and was produced by more than one independent shop. This radio set belonged to Dr. and Mrs. de Forest.
Elmer T. Cunningham (1889-1965)
Elmer T. Cunningham produced this tubular double filament triode vacuum tube, which he called an “Audio Tron,” around 1916 at his Audio Tron Sales Company in San Francisco. Cunningham started the company in 1915, without patent rights, to compete with Lee de Forest's spherical Audion. His tubular double-sided design allowed dual filaments, providing longer operating life. Produced in large numbers, and more dependable than the Audion in quality, the Audio Tron contributed to the rise in amateur radio interest and provoked de Forest to devise his own tubular audion.
A 1916 De Forest suit against Cunningham was settled out of court, but Cunningham continued to produce the Audio Tron and soon after, Otis Moorhead of San Francisco also began marketing his own Electron Relay Tube, similar to the Audio Tron. The competition created a price war, severely affecting de Forest's business. Cunningham, whose business was aimed largely at amateurs, temporarily discontinued production during World War I. Today he is remembered as the most successful of the tube counterfeiters, flaunting both Fleming's and deForest 's vacuum tube patents (1915-1920). Aggressive both in marketing and in the courtroom, Cunningham, unlike Moorhead or de Forest, not only was financially successful but won concessions from powerful RCA, who decided to buy his company rather than fight him.
Otis Moorhead (1893-1923)
A series of 1919 of photographs of Moorhead Laboratories, San Francisco, reveals the working world of those in the business of producing vacuum tubes. Here men and women work in the Glass Department. Otis Moorhead, a San Francisco native, had worked as a Marconi radio inspector, and had helped Lee de Forest sell his audions at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. Moorhead recognized the possibilities of bootlegging the de Forest tube, and after a brief partnership with fellow counterfeiter Elmer Cunningham, started his own business in 1916. By 1919, Moorhead's company claimed to be the world's largest exclusive electron tube manufacturer. Their products (tubes and other components) were made largely for amateur radio operators, and thus included the offer of “novel wiring diagrams supplied with tubes.” The Perham Collection also includes advertising and other printed Moorhead materials.
Ralph M. Heintz, Sr. (1892-1980) / Heintz and Kaufman
During the 1920s and 1930s, many companies tried to develop a triode vaccum tube that would side-step de Forest and RCA, patents that were the backbone of the “Radio Trust.” The Heintz and Kaufman Gammatrons were a rare and notable success.The Perham Collection includes many examples of both experimental and production gridless gammatron tubes, given to Douglas Perham by his friend Ralph M. Heintz. The Perham Collection may have the only example of the Type 155 Gammatron. With a plate dissipation of 150 watts, it was intended for the amateur market. It was rejected by Heintz as too small, and never went into production.
Here, Ralph Heintz holds a 50-watt 'Radiotron' tube from an early short-wave airborne radio transmitter. Heintz had earned a reputation for innovative electromagnetic design suited to the needs of the adventurous, on land, sea or in the air. This light-weight radio was on the Pabco Flyer, one of several contestants in the August 1927 “Dole Air Race” from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, the longest and most dangerous air event to date. After the Pabco Flyer crashed twice on takeoff, the radio was installed in the Dallas Spirit. Listeners on land as well as ships at sea could hear the transmissions from the Dallas Spirit while they looked for planes of other contestants, presumed lost at sea, and finally, to the sounds of the fatal tail spin of the Dallas Spirit. The tragic air race--six men and one woman lost at sea--underscored the need for air navigation instruments and improvements in portable radio equipment.
Exhibit J, one of seven breadboard exhibits using “gridless” tubes, used in the patent suit of RCA v. Heintz and Kaufman in 1936-37. Although the first gammatrons were built in 1928 and 1929, the exhibits for the trial were built in 1935 and 1936. RCA, which had been threatening to sue Heintz and Kaufman for years, finally sued H&K in federal court for infringement of RCA owned de Forest patents. H&K assembled a strong technical defense, including Stanford electrical engineering professor Frederick E. Terman, to attack the validity of the de Forest patents. Exact replicas were built from drawings by earlier inventors, and presented in depositions and pre-trial demonstrations by Ralph Heintz. When the trial opened, RCA's lawyers withdrew their complaint rather than risk losing the suit and possibly valuable patent authority.
Poulsen Wireless / Federal Telegraph Company
Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company was organized in San Francisco in October 1909, with working facilities in Palo Alto to commercially produce a wireless radio transmitting device based on the arc system, a dramatic improvement to Marconi's spark system.
Initially the company was a Stanford-Palo Alto affair, with alumnus Cyril Elwell as president, engineering professor Charles D. Marx as vice president, and alumni R. W. Barrett, F. A. Wise, and M. A. Thomas helping to set up the organization. Despite the financial backing of eminent professors, among them Marx, math professor L. M. Hoskins and university president David Starr Jordan, this initial funding was not enough for the ambitious expansion Elwell envisioned.
Soon after this certificate was issued, the company would be taken over by San Francisco financial men and Elwell relegated to the position of “chief engineer.” This stock certificate, issued November 16, 1909, to C. F. Elwell, for “two million four hundred and eighty nine thousand 990 shares,” is signed by R. W. Barrett, secretary and C. F. Elwell, president. Certificate No. 75.
Below are the original 50-watt (output) and a one-of-a-kind “working model” or prototype of a 25 watt Poulsen Arc Transmitter. The former was brought from Denmark by Cyril Elwell in 1909, the latter built by Douglas Perham and Cyril Elwell at the Poulsen Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Company laboratory in Palo Alto, California, probably in late 1909.
Elwell obtained the U.S. rights to manufacture Valdemar Poulsen's invention, which was considered to be superior to the Marconi spark transmitter. As refined by Elwell's Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company (later renamed Federal Telegraph Company), the Poulsen arc was capable of transmitting a high power radio signal that could span thousands of miles.
Federal grew dramatically during World War I manufacturing 500kw and 1000kw arcs for the U.S. Navy under the direction of chief engineer Leonard Fuller.
This water-cooled, high-power (5 kW) radio frequency amplifier (transmitting) vacuum tube is believed to have been manufactured by Federal Telegraph & Radio Co., Palo Alto, California, while James F. Lee worked there as a glassblower. Scratched on the socket is “15 BAR.”
In addition to the eponymous arc, Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen also developed the first magnetic wire recorder, or telegraphone, in 1899. The wire recorder for telephone was made by Aktielselskabet Dansk Telegrafonfabrik, Copenhagen, ca. 1906. The Perham Collection also includes this rare magnetic detector, invented by Marconi and manufactured by Siemens & Halske, as well as later magnetic recording technology developed by Ampex.
National Radio Company (San Francisco)
Originally the Ignatius McCarty Company, the National Wireless Telephone & Telegraph Company was located in San Francisco. This wireless telephone receiver and transmitter, with generator on the floor, was designed by William W. Hanscom, consultant and chief engineer between 1914 and 1919. Hanscom was also in charge of equipment tests at Mount Hood, Oregon, in 1919, in conjunction with the Forest Service. The company re-branded itself as the National Radio Company in 1919.
The Perham Collection includes many photographs of National Radio Company products and workshops, as well as archival materials from William Hanscom and others.
Charles “Doc” Herrold / KQW San Jose
This water-cooled microphone was invented by Charles “Doc” Herrold. Although first developed and used in 1913, it was patented in 1915 by Herrold and Emil Porter, one of his students. In 1909, Herrold was the first to broadcast radio entertainment and information for an audience on a regularly scheduled, pre-announced basis. Along with his broadcasts as 6XL, or “San Jose Calling,” Herrold operated his College of Wireless and Engineering from the Garden City Bank building in San Jose, California. He was forced off the air in 1917 by a wartime ban on non-governmental radio broadcasting. In 1921, he received a license as KQW in San Jose. In 1949 KQW became KCBS, San Francisco. The Perham Collection includes extensive documentation regarding the work of Doc Herrold, and his early relationship with National Radio and many of California's early radio technicians and broadcasters.
The Colin B. Kennedy Company (San Francisco, California)
Colin Kennedy, a former employee of Federal Telegraph of Palo Alto, began producing radios in 1919 while operating his own station 6XAC from Los Altos. Although originally established for the manufacture of radio receiving equipment for experimenters, the Colin B. Kennedy Company was among the first to produce receivers for home use at the advent of radio broadcasting. His company was merged in 1922 and moved to St. Louis, but went bust in 1926. Kennedy went into business with Studebaker in 1928, to produce light weight radios for automobiles, but the Depression forced him out of business once again in 1933.
The Kennedy factory in San Francisco made high quality commercial receivers and home radios. A solid mahogany or walnut cabinet, silver plated knobs, and polished Formica panels are indicative of the quality and care that went into the building of Kennedy receivers. Kennedy regenerative receivers were so well-respected that they were still being sold in 1925 when most regenerative receivers were considered obsolete.
Peter L. Jensen (1886-1961) / Magnavox
Peter L. Jensen, formerly an assistant of Valdemar Poulsen, had come to California from Denmark in 1909 at Cyril Elwell's invitation to work at his Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph (later, Federal Telegraph Company). Jensen and colleague Edward Pridham left Federal to work on their own on loudspeaker technology. They invented the moving coil loudspeaker in 1915, and founded Magnavox in 1917, based out of Oakland, California. Jensen later formed Jensen Radio Manufacturing Company, which produced speakers for radio, military, and musical instruments.
Amateur Radio in the Bay Area
This QSL card is an example of the longevity of amateur, or “ham” radio, as both a hobby, and as a means for wireless communication. Since the first ship-to-shore wireless telegraph message was sent in San Francisco in August, 1899, to announce the arrival of the USS Sherman, radio operators on the Pacific Coast have played an important part in the development of communications technology for the shipping industry, U.S. Navy, and Bay Area electronics. Many inventors and engineers got their start tinkering with their home sets, learning from their experiences, and from the input of the greater amateur community.
This 1960 QSL card is one of hundreds in the Perham Collection from around the world. Amateur radio operators sent these postcard-sized communications to each other to confirm reception of one- or two-way transmissions between their stations. The Collection also includes early amateur technology, publications, log books, photographs of wireless stations, and an assortment of ephemera and archival material documenting the history of this important legacy.
Bolinas and Marshall Stations
The former Marconi, later RCA, point-to-point transmitting station in Bolinas, California, has a long history, along with its receiving counterpart across Tomales Bay in Marshall. This General Radio Co. Type 224R, Serial No. 22, 12-53 meter Precision Wavemeter was used at the Bolinas, California, station circa 1928.
In addition to photographs and ephemera related to the station at Tomales Bay, the Perham Collection contains a rich selection of materials documenting other stations throughout the Bay Area, including KQW, KPH, KFS, KPO, KLS, and KGO.
Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971) and the Advent of Television
Philo T. Farnsworth first submitted a patent application for his image dissector on January 7, 1927. The image dissector is a video camera tube in which photocathode emissions create an electron image. Farnsworth transmitted the first image using this tube, a simple straight line, in his small loft at 202 Green Street, San Francisco, the following September. By September 3, 1928, Farnsworth was able to demonstrate the first fully electronic television system.
The Perham Collection includes a selection of early television models that reflect the changing technology and styles as Farnsworth's invention evolved into a household entertainment medium.
This 1932-1933 mechanical television (Model 26) was designed by the noted American inventor Hollis Semple Baird, and manufactured by the Shortwave and Television Corporation, Boston, Massachusetts. It has a 1-inch screen and one tube. Hollis Baird's design was considered an improvement in mechanical television quality. (Hollis Baird was no relation to Scottish inventor John Logie Baird, who first invented mechanical television).
The Pilot Radio 3-inch TV-37 (Candid Model) was introduced in 1948 for $99, and was marketed for college students. Pilot eliminated the power transformer, making the unit lighter and cheaper, but decreasing the reliability. This was a black and white TV with marginal video quality even when using the optional magnifying lens to increase the image size. However, this is a popular set among collectors.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Douglas Perham started his own electronics parts factory in San Carlos, California. In 1951, he leased the facility to Varian Associates, at the same time becoming part of the firm. Thus began a relationship with the Varian brothers, Sigurd and Russell, that would continue after Perham retired from Varian and opened his museum at New Almaden.
The 1959 Varian Klystron (VA-842), a liquid-cooled, multicavity radar transmitting tube, was the largest documented production klystron, weighing in at 900 pounds. It was used in the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, a Cold-War radar system designed to detect Russian missiles and aircraft. This example was given to Douglas M. Perham by Varian Associates for his electronics museum in 1959, and was later on display at the Fry's Electronics store in Sunnyvale, California.
Early Personal Computing
As befits a collection based around electronics in the Bay Area, the Perham Collection includes early examples of both mainframe computers as well as the evolution of microcomputers, from companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation, Altair, IMSAI, Zilog, Heathkit, Olson, NorthStar, and Commodore.
One of the most significant is this Apple 1 circuit board, restored to working condition in 2013 by Ralph Simpson and three Apple engineers: Dr. Wendell Sander, Allen Baum, and Dan Kottke. (As of October 2013, this is one of 19 working Apple 1s out of 62 known to exist, largely in the hands of private owners.) On June 18, 2013, Steve Wozniak powered it up at the History San José Collection Center. Only 200 Apple 1s were manufactured, of which 175 were sold between May 1976 to Oct. 1977. The first batch of 100 were made without a PCB manufacturer identified, like this example. The second batch of 100 were made by NTI, with its logo printed under “Palo Alto.”
The original Apple 1 included only the motherboard and chips -- the buyer had to supply the mounting board, transformers, keyboard, monitor, additional memory, cassette interface card and cassette tape player. The two larger white ceramic chips on the bottom left are the 6820 PIA chip (Peripheral Interface Adapter) and the MOS 6502 microprocessor chip. The white ceramic 6820 is very rare, the only known examples are the press photo (that machine is missing) and the first hand-made Apple 1 bought by Wozniak and given to Liza Loop.
During the press event at History San José on 18th June 2013, Wozniak stated that the History San José Apple 1 appeared to him to be an early hand-built version. The date code on the 6502 microprocessor is 1576, meaning it was made in the 15th week of 1976. This would place it in the first week of April, 1976, coincidentally the date of incorporation of Apple Computers.
Curators — Bjorn Forsberg, Stuart Hansen, Will Jensby, Dr. Roxanne Nilan, Ralph Simpson
Exhibit created by — Collections and Exhibitions Staff, History San Jose