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History of the Cellular (Cell/Mobile) Phone - People - Dr Mahlon Loomis


 Alexander G. Bell

 B. Ghillebaert

 C. Dunstone

 Daniel Noble

 F. Hillebrand

 Gug. Marconi

 Lars Ericsson

 Lee De Forest

 John Mitchell

 Karl Braun

 Mahlon Loomis

 Martin Cooper

 Michael Faraday

 Reg. Fessenden

 Samuel Morse


Mahlon Loomis (26 July 1826 - 13 October 1886) was a dentist from Washington DC and, as one of the early pioneers of the wireless telegraph, made a significant contribution to the history of the mobile / cell phone. Loomis claimed to have transmitted signals in October 1866 between two Blue Ridge Mountain-tops 14 miles apart in Virginia, using kites as antennas. This claim is unconfirmed though as there were no independent witnesses present.

Dr Mahlon Loomis in about 1865

Dr Mahlon Loomis

Wireless telegraph patents

In 1872, Loomis received U.S. Patent 129,971 for a wireless telegraph. The patent, which is only a single page in length, makes a vague claim about using atmospheric electricity to eliminate the overhead wire used by the existing telegraph systems. The patent, however, contains no schematic diagram of how to build it, and no theory of how it might work.

Loomis's patent is very similar to U.S. Patent 126,356, which was submitted by William Henry Ward just three months earlier. Ward applied for his patent on June 29, 1871 when Loomis was actively promoting his idea of using atmospheric electricity for telegraph communication. Ward's patent also contains no schematic diagram. Instead, Ward illustrates and describes towers that rotate into the wind "to drive an aerial current of electricity into the insulated middle portion of the tower, which current passes upwardly through the upper portion of the tower and out through the ventilator or the top... whereby the tower is receiving continually fresh and new supplies of electricity".

The similarity between the two patents is uncanny, and in some places the two use the same words:

"I also dispense with all artificial batteries, but use the free electricity of the atmosphere, co-operating with that of the earth... for telegraphing and for other purposes, such as light, heat, and motive power." (Loomis)

"I entirely dispense with artificial batteries, forming my circuit merely by connecting the aerial current with the earth current... for the use of land lines of telegraphs or for other purposes, such as light, heat, &c." (Ward)

In January 1873, the United States Congress refused to charter the Loomis Aerial Telegraph Co. One congressman, pleading Loomis' case in the House, said, "He entertains a dream, and it may be only a dream, a wild dream that when his proposition comes to be fully applied, it may light and warm your houses...." Loomis, himself, addressed Congress at one point, stating that his proposal functioned by "Causing electrical vibrations or waves to pass around the world, as upon the surface of some quiet lake one wave circlet follows another from the point of the disturbance to the remotest shores, so that from any other mountain top upon the globe another conductor, which shall pierce this plane and receive the impressed vibration, may be connected to an indicator which will mark the length and duration of the vibration; and indicate by any agreed system of notation, convertible into human language, the message of the operator at the point of the first disturbance."


One thing that Loomis noticed was that transmission was possible only when the kites were flown to the same altitude above ground, which seemed to confirm his theory that he was completing a DC circuit through layers of the atmosphere that he hypothesized carried such currents. These days we know that there is no basis for such a system.

One version of the Loomis apparatus used a keyed connection to ground at the transmitting station, and a spark gap to ground at the receiver. Radio frequency transients would have been generated by keying the sky-ground DC potential at the transmitter, and if the kite wires were of the same length (which would have the kites at the same altitude above ground), the receiving apparatus would have been resonant and able to receive such a signal. This may account for his result - not by tapping into the same layer of atmosphere, but because the wires were the same length.

More information about the life and work of Dr Mahlon Loomis can be found here:

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