Round, Henry Joseph 1881 - 1966


(1881-1966) Radio and Electronics Engineer

Captain Henry Joseph Round was born on 2nd June 1881 in Kingswinford, which at the time was situated in Staffordshire but is now in the West Midlands metropolitan county. He was educated at Cheltenham Grammar school before going on to the Royal College of Science to study mechanics, graduating in 1901.

Following his education, in 1902, Round joined the Marconi Company, then known as Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, and was sent to the work at its wireless station in Babylon, Long Island. Here he worked alongside David Sarnoff, later head of the Radio Corporation of America. He also experimented with dust-core inductances, worked on components that would be later used in radio direction finding systems and conducted transmission and reception tests over land and sea. In his spare time he would continue to work on various projects including one of the first arc radio telephones, which he work on during the night often in sub-zero temperatures, and, in February 1907, would conduct an experiment whcih demonstrated that passing current through silicon carbide would generate light, an effect later used to develop the LED. At this time, he was fired from the American Marconi Company, as it was struggling financially, and he had to find work at the New York Telephone Laboratories, although he still used Marconi premises for private experiments. This did not last long as he was soon reinstated at his former employer and was recalled home.

Whilst in Britain Round would marry Olive Winifred Evans and they would have two sons and five daughters. He also continued his work becoming a personal assistant to Marconi and helping to improve the performance of the Clifden transatlantic station based in Galway. He would also be involved in a number of other projects alongside Marconi in Canada and Italy. The success of this would lead to his being sent to South America in 1912, in order to fix a pair of stations the company had installed for the Madeira-Mamore Railway in Brazil. These were situated in the upper reaches of the Amazon in Manaus and Porto Velho and where having difficulty communicating in the challenging conditions of the jungle, which was causing an unprecedented degree of static interference and heavy signal attenuation. At the time the effects of the ionosphere where not well understood and it was Round’s earlier transmission experiments that proved to be the basis of the work that was to be undertaken. His first act was to substitute daytime operation for night, which allowed much better operation and cleared the backlog of messages, which was followed by a redesigning of the two stations so that they operated on different wavelengths during the day and night. This was the first time such a solution had been implemented to solve reception issues.

After his work in the Amazon, Round would spend a short period at the Glace Bay station in Nova Scotia before returning to Britain. On his return most of his work was focused on the issue of valve amplification and between 1913 and 1914 he patented several valve improvements, including the indirectly heated cathode. He also worked on an auto-heterodyne circuit and a comprehensive transmission system. This was also being researched separately by Alexander Meissner, Charles Samuel Franklin and Edwin Howard Armstrong. Although he was the last of all of these to register a patent, doing so in May 1914, he had developed a much more efficient valve and circuit, and had also given a demonstration of valve radio telephony. He also carried out tests between several Italian warships in 1914, attaining good results over distances up to 44 miles.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Round was seconded to military intelligence, with the rank of Captain, and was tasked with establishing a network of radio direction finding stations along the Western Front. Once these had been put in place, he was also detailed to establish a second network in Britain that could be used to track U-Boats, Zeppelins, and ship operating in the North Sea. It was these stations that would detect a slight change in the bearing and intensity of transmissions from the German High Seas Fleet that indicated they were putting to sea, and allowed the British Grand Fleet to intercept them in the Battle of Jutland. In 1920 Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, who had been the First Sea Lord in 1916, would credit Round with being the man primarily responsible for bringing about the battle. In addition to this he worked with C.E. Prince to develop the first radio systems for aircraft that was capable of transmitting and receiving voice communications. For his work during the war he would be awarded the Military Cross.

Following the cessation of hostilities Captain Round continued to work for the Marconi Company and developed the MT1 and MT2 valves, which would be used in March 1919 in a transmitter at the Ballybunion station. It was this station that made the first successful east-west transatlantic broadcast of voice in March 1919, although it would never be operated commercially. He would also be involved in the design of the transmitter for the 2LO radio station, based at Marconi House, London, which was the first taken over by the newly formed BBC in November 1922. This was not his only contribution to the field of radio broadcasting as he developed the artificial echo system and the Sykes-Round microphone. He would also redesign the Marconi high-power station in Caernarfon, converting it from spark to valve operation, which resulted in its signal being picked up in Australia.

In 1921 Round was appoint head of the Marconi Research Group and in this role he designed valve receivers for ships and constructed the first batch of maritime valved transmitters. He also designed the ‘straight eight’ broadcast receiver, a gramophone recording system, a public address system used to relay King George V’s speech at the Wembley exhibitions and a sound system for cinema film, Visatone which was licenced to Stoll.

In 1931 Round left Marconi to become a freelance research consultant and continued to work prolifically. From 1941 until 1950 he worked on ASDIC, the forerunner to sonar, and after this on echo sounding for Marconi. He also developed new magnetostrictive devices, the first permanently magnetized nickel transducers and the first belt recording system. Over his lifetime he filed 117 patent applications with the last one only coming in 1962 at the age of 82.

During his life time Round received very few accolades, and none from any civil bodies based in Britain, with the his most notable being the Armstrong gold medal from the Radio Clube of America in 1952. In 1958 his first wife would die and in 1960 he would marry Evelyn Bayes.

Henry Joseph Round died in the Innisfallen Nursing Home, Bognor Regis, after a short illness on 17th August 1966.