Who invented the walkie talkie?

The original inventor of that walkie-talkie is actually the focus of some disputes. A similar 3 names come up again and again, but how many of those names deserves the foremost credit? I’ve to confess, I had a tough time deciding.

The first name to emerge is Canadian inventor Donald L. Hings. Reported by his blog,

“The “walkie-talkie” is Don Hings’ most well-known invention. The earliest versions of this device were designed as portable field radios for the bush pilots of Consolidated Mining and Smelting (now Cominco), who had to fly their planes between remote sites in the far north of Canada. The first true walkie-talkie was built by Hings in 1937, but it was not called a walkie-talkie at the time. In Hings’ notes, it was simply a two-way field radio. They were also called wireless sets, or “pack sets”. The term “walkie-talkie” (sometimes “talkie-walkie”) was coined by journalists reporting on these new inventions during the war”.

The site maintains (fittingly, I think) that walkie-talkies were not particularly recognized until the occurrence of the 2nd World War in 1939.

An additional name which is frequently mentioned is United states inventor Al Gross. Gross seemingly patented the term ‘walkie talkie’ in 1938, after which, the term was actually used by the media as a ‘catch all’ name for just about any/all lightweight 2 way radios. Undoubtedly, Gross worked on the technology and was instrumental in its plan, but did he devise the walkie-talkie? Lemelson-MIT appears to think so, as their blog says of Gross:

“The pioneer nonpareil of wireless telecommunications is Al Gross. In 1938, he invented the walkie-talkie. In 1948, he pioneered Citizens’ Band (CB) radio. In 1949, he invented the telephone pager. His other inventions include the basics of cordless and cellular telephony. (…) Determined to exploit the unexplored frequencies above 100 MHz, Gross set about inventing a mobile, lightweight, hand-held two-way radio. In two years, Gross had invented and patented the “walkie-talkie” (1938)”.

If Hings invented the walkie talkie back in 1937, then that signifies that Gross basically re-invented the identical device in 1938. If that is undeniably true, then certainly Hings is the chap most responsible, right?

Well, before you make your minds up, let Wiki Replies present some more names; their account of that walkie-talkie’s creation states that,

“The first radio receiver/transmitter to be nicknamed “Walkie-Talkie” was the backpacked Motorola SCR-300, created by an engineering team in 1940 at the Galvin Manufacturing Company (forerunner of Motorola). The team consisted of Dan Noble, who conceived of the design using FM technology, Henryk Magnuski who was the principal RF engineer, Bill Vogel, Lloyd Morris, and Marion Bond”. 

This Motorola team, headed up by Dan Noble, actually made the walkie-talkie in 1940, a full three years after Hings allegedly created it and 2 years after Gross apparently patented it. Ugh. This is giving me a headache!

So, perhaps we can clear this up a little now. The name ‘walkie-talkie’ was commonly applied to WW2-era Motorola radio, which led to Dan Noble’s staff being accredited with its creation. That is true, Noble and co DID create that particular model, however the technology itself had clearly existed before.

Now, Hings’ model was noticeably more portable, and pretty different to the Motorola model. Hings named his invention a ‘packset’ so it was consequently entirely probable for Gross to have patented the same invention (under the term ‘walkie-talkie’) in 1938 and for that name to migrate over to the Motorola adaptation, via the wartime press (1939 – 1945 was not a well-known era of journalistic accuracy, lest we forget).

Reported by Wikipedia, Hings’ model did not get used by the forces until 1942, the results of which would be Don Noble and co being credited with the invention, with Hings being relegated to the spot of just another engineer (Hings was employed by the allies during WW2) who was working on armed forces gear.

Largely, I’d say that Hings is likely the likeliest inventor of the initial technology and definitely of the portable system we understand today. Still, with so many talented inventors functioning at around the same time, this indicates as possible to claim Gross as inventor of the walkie-talkie as well. Hings pioneered it, Gross patented it and Noble’s team brought it into mass manufacture and normal usage. There. Simple, right?

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