Milestone-Proposal:Early Broadcast

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Docket #:2017-06

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on the edit button in toolbar above, indicated by an icon displaying a pencil on paper. At the bottom of the form, check the box that says "Submit this proposal to the IEEE History Committee for review. Only check this when the proposal is finished" and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? No

Has the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? No

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? No

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? No

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Early Wireless Broadcast - 1902

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

From the courthouse square of Murray, KY, Nathan B. Stubblefield conducted a public demonstration of wireless broadcasting. A large crowd watched and listened as one transmitter sent voice and music to five receivers. The transmission medium was the earth beneath their feet. Wherever receiving rods were inserted around town, the broadcast was heard. Stubblefield, a local farmer and electrical experimenter, ushered in the future of wireless broadcast news, weather, and entertainment.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

Region 3 Section TBD

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

Milestone proposer(s):

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):


Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. TBD I envision placing the IEEE plaque on the town square, where the demonstration took place and an area that is readily accessible to the public and walking distance from the original site of Stubblefields farm - now part of Murray State University.

Are the original buildings extant?

The town square is still there, including the courthouse.

Details of the plaque mounting:


How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?


Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

City of Murray, KY

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

While others, including Marconi, sought to demonstrate that a wireless connection was possible between two distant sites, Stubblefield's vision was much broader, and, for this vision, the 1902 broadcast demonstration eclipsed all other efforts. He was able to not only demonstrate point-to-point communications, he demonstrated point-to-multipoint communications, plus a practical application, known today as broadcast. He demonstrated that information content equivalent to a face-to-face encounter could be wirelessly transmitted to a large target audience in real time.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The most obvious obstacle was lack of good, timely knowledge regarding other experimenters. Ironically, the very technology that Stubblefield and others were attempting to develop, could have solved this problem. A lack of formal education in the physical sciences was also an obstacle to Stubblefield's work, but he availed himself of every printed resource he could get his hands on. As an independent inventor, away from the mainstream of scientific endeavor in America, he remarkably produced, with his meager personal financial resources, complex working models to validate his claims.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The primary thing that set Stubblefield's work apart from similar achievements was that, from the beginning, he concentrated on voice transmission - wireless telephony. He received an 1888 patent for what, today, we call a "tin can telephone". That device was commercialized and installations were made in at least half-a-dozen states by Stubblefield himself or one of his franchise owners. Obviously, this niche market disappeared as electrical telephones moved into rural areas and offered superior performance and versatility. Being forced out of the land-line telephone market, Stubblefield put his time and meager financial resources into developing his electrical wireless telephone - and, along the way, broadcasting.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

The quintessential examination of just what Nathan Stubblefield did, and did not, do in the field of wireless communications has to be Dr. Bob Lochte's book, "KENTUCKY FARMER INVENTS WIRELESS TELEPHONE! BUT WAS IT RADIO?".

Dr. Lochte, well aware of the strong regional belief that Stubblefield had been egregiously denied recognition as the father of radio, conducted his research for the book with a resolve to simply document the truth of the matter - based on as much original documentation he could obtain. Rather than quibble over definitions of just what "radio" was in the days leading up to 1902, he set the bar higher - Could a case be made for Stubblefield's documented and demonstrated communications devices that would rise, not only to a definition, yet to be posited, but to the very soul of wireless communications - worldwide, point-to-point movement of information by an electrical means? Dr. Lochte's book is well illustrated and documented, as to allow primary verification of the book's claims.

News-Democrat Paducah, Kentucky Sunday, January 19, 1902 - Page 4 Describes, in detail, Stubblefield's earlier demonstration of broadcast radio in the dowtown section of Murray, KY with an audience in the hundreds.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.


Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.