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Edward L. Bowles

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Biography

Edward Bowles was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who led the university’s development of radio technology and laid the groundwork for the field of electronics.

Bowles was born in Westphalia, Missouri, and received a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree from MIT. He was an early expert in the field of radio, and began teaching at MIT in 1921. There, he guided MIT’s research in the field, creating a division of electrical communications in the mid-1920s. Bowles developed the multivibrator, a device capable of keeping a precise radio frequency with a tuning fork or crystal.

As World War II loomed on the horizon, MIT’s Round Hill Research Division, headed by Bowles, proved vital to the war effort. It created an airplane landing system using radio beams. During the war, Bowles went to Washington, D.C., where he headed a “combat laboratory” in Langley Field, Virginia charged with stopping German submarines from their disastrous attacks on merchant shipping. He outfitted Army Air Corps bombers with the advanced radar systems that his laboratory had developed. He also helped the bombers locate the submarines by installing electrical altimeters, magnetic detectors, rocket flares, depth charges, homing devices, and radio sonobuoys on the planes. He was given the Distinguished Service Medal for these contributions in 1945.

After the war, Bowles continued to develop defense technologies as a consultant to the Air Force and the Army. Bowles was a key participant in the formation of Project RAND, a nonprofit private sector research firm that collaborated with the military on technological research. In 1955, he led a Congressional committee that facilitated the allocation of television channels in the ultra-high frequency range.

Further Reading

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, "Edward Bowles and Radio Engineering at MIT, 1920-1940," Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1990), pp. 313-337.