Edwin Howard Armstrong - Early Life

Early Life

Armstrong was born in the Chelsea district of New York City to John and Emily Armstrong. His father was the American representative of the Oxford University Press, which published Bibles and standard classical works. John Armstrong, who was also a native of New York, began working at the Oxford University Press at a young age and eventually reached the position of Vice President of the American branch. Emily Smith first met John Armstrong in the North Presbyterian Church, which was located at 31st Street and Ninth Avenue. Emily Smith had strong family ties to Chelsea, which centered around the church, in which her family took an active role.

When the church moved further North the Smith and Armstrong families followed it. In 1895 the Armstrong family moved from their brownstone row house at 347 West 29th Street to another similar house at 26 West 97th Street in the Upper West Side. At the age of eight Armstrong contracted a disease that was known as St. Vitus' Dance, which left him with a lifelong tic when excited or under stress. Because of the illness Armstrong was withdrawn from school for two years. In order to improve his health the Armstrong family moved in 1902 from the Upper West Side into a house at 1032 Warburton Avenue in Yonkers, which overlooked the Hudson river. The Smith family moved into a house next door.

Armstrong's physical tic and the years he was removed from school led him to become withdrawn. Armstrong showed an interest in electrical and mechanical devices, particularly trains, from an early age.

He loved heights and constructed a makeshift radio antenna tower in his back yard. Swinging on a bosun's chair, he would hoist himself up and down the tower to the concern of his neighbors.

In late 1917, Armstrong was invited to join the U.S. Army Signal Corps with the rank of captain and was sent to Paris to help set up a wireless communication system for the Army. He returned to the United States in the fall of 1919.

During his service in both world wars, Armstrong gave the U.S. military free use of his patents. Use of these was critical to the Allied victories.

Unlike many engineers, Armstrong was never a corporate employee. He performed research and development by himself and owned his patents outright. He did not subscribe to conventional wisdom and was quick to question the opinions of his professors and his peers.

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