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AT&T Archives: Bottle of Magic

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Published on May 25, 2011

See more from the AT&T Archives at http://techchannel.att.com/archives

Bottle of Magic traces the development of the electron tube from the pioneering efforts of such scientists as Lee de Forest, Thomas Edison, and John Fleming, then demonstrates the role the tube played in our society.

The audion, later known as the vacuum tube, had revolutionized long distance voice communication, from radio to telephony in the years between the World Wars.

This picture shows how, in the hands of Bell system scientists, the first three-element electron tube was fashioned into a tool for amplifying long distance telephone voice currents. As the story progresses, we see the electron tube applied first to the transcontinental telephone in 1915, through to transoceanic radiotelephony, public address systems, commercial broadcasting and television, radar, and radio relay. Following these historical sequences, the film takes the audience behind the scenes in a Western Electric plant, where the components are being made by men and women.

The film includes animation of how a vacuum tube works. The vacuum tube was supplanted in the 1950s and 60s by more reliable, less power-hungry transistors.

Today, vacuum tubes are mostly obsolete, though audiophiles and musicians still swear by the vacuum tube's distinct signature in audio amplification. Until recently, a common form of vacuum tube was the cathode ray tube, also known as a CRT. Microwave ovens still use a magnetron, another form of electron tube.

Producer: Wilding Picture Productions

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

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