Celebrating American Innovation: Edwin Armstrong

C4IP is recognizing Edwin Armstrong, whose invention of the frequency modulation (FM) radio system revolutionized modern communication.

Edwin H. Armstrong was born in New York City in 1890. He was fascinated from a young age by mechanical devices and decided to become an inventor at the age of 14 after learning about Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the first practical radio. Armstrong attended Columbia University’s engineering school, where he developed and patented improvements to radio technology that would eventually prove essential to his signature invention. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and continued to develop radio innovations before eventually returning to Columbia as a teacher.

In 1933, Armstrong made his breakthrough discovery. Combining the numerous advanced circuits he had invented, he created the first frequency modulation (FM) radio system, which avoided natural static and made possible the first high-fidelity broadcasts. Armstrong patented this invention in 1933 and built the first FM radio station in 1940.

Ninety years after Armstrong patented his invention, we are reaping its benefits more than ever, showing how a strong IP system leads to meaningful innovation. The FM radio system he pioneered has become the dominant method of radio broadcasting and is also used to broadcast audio for television and enable communication with space satellites. It has enabled numerous other technological breakthroughs — including the moon landing.

In 2023, there were estimated to be more than 15,000 radio stations in the United States, with more than two-thirds dedicated to FM broadcasting. The global radio broadcasting industry is worth an estimated $143 billion. And despite the growth of online streaming platforms, radio is still extremely popular — thanks largely to the FM method’s high fidelity. According to a recent Nielsen report, radio reaches more than nine in 10 Americans each month.

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