16 November 1904: John Ambrose Fleming patents the oscillation valve

On this day in 1914, John Ambrose Fleming patented his oscillation valve – a component which formed the basis of the electronics industry for half a century.

Perhaps the only contact many of us have with the sort of valves you get in electronics these days is if we have an ageing cathode-ray tube TV, or if we know a particularly boring audiophile who is prone to drone on at length about how his organically grown amp produces a much richer, more vibrant sound than your puny CDs or that new fangled streaming "music" that all the kids are listening to these days.

But valves (which our Americanly-challenged friends call vacuum tubes) were the backbone of the electronics industry for 50 years or so, until they were superseded by solid-state transistors.

And it's all thanks to the efforts of John Ambrose Fleming, the first professor of electrical engineering at London's University College, who also worked for both Marconi and Edison. He invented the oscillation valve, which he patented today in 1904. It was, without doubt, one of the most important developments in the history of electronics.

Fleming's valve was the first practical application of the “Edison effect” – the phenomenon of “thermionic emission” whereby electrons flow from a heated element to a cool one – which Edison observed while creating his electrical light bulbs. Indeed, in many ways, Fleming's “thermionic” valve is little more than a modified light bulb.

By heating an electrode inside a glass bulb containing a vacuum, it is possible to “rectify” an electrical current and radio waves, and amplify them. And the later addition of a grid through which the electrons had to pass meant the current could be regulated.

The valve's invention led to the introduction of radio around the world, the discovery of radar, and eventually to the supercomputers and artificial intelligence of today.

Recommended

Isas vs private pensions – which is better for retirement?
Isas

Isas vs private pensions – which is better for retirement?

Isas are becoming a popular option for retirement, but private pensions still have certain advantages.
7 Dec 2022
UK house prices see their biggest fall since 2008
House prices

UK house prices see their biggest fall since 2008

Halifax’s latest house price index shows UK house prices fell by 2.3% in November
7 Dec 2022
Key dates for 2023: here are the dates you need to know when it comes to your money in 2023
Personal finance

Key dates for 2023: here are the dates you need to know when it comes to your money in 2023

There is no shortage of important dates to be aware of next year – which are likely to affect your financial health. We run through the key dates in 2…
6 Dec 2022
What is a recession and how will it affect you?
UK Economy

What is a recession and how will it affect you?

The UK economy is heading towards a recession, according to economists. But what is a recession, and what does it mean for your money?
6 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?

We compare the costs, pros and cons of radiators and electric heaters and see which one will help keep your energy bill as low as possible.
28 Nov 2022
The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?
Personal finance

The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?

A smart meter can help you keep tabs on your energy usage, but is it better than a regular meter? We take a look at smart meters vs regular meters.
2 Dec 2022