Detroit Fire Department History – March 28

Today in DFD history – March 28, 1962

The first two-way portable radios were issued to the department.

This ushered in an era of time spent on anxiety ridden seaches for “lost” radios by the firefighters who were responsible for them.

Of course, no firefighter would ever purposly moved a radio just to watch a guy sweat over where he left it. !  a 2 way

Question: Did a radio ever go “missing” while you were on duty? Tell us about it by leaving a comment.


Who made the first two-way?
So who was the geniuse who made the first two-way radio, and when was it invented? The answer varies greatly depending on the source you belive.

A paper written by Guy Cramer claims the first portable was invented by Don Hings. Of course, it should be noted that Guy is Don’s grandson, but his paper makes a compelling argument.

Was it Don?
According to Guy, Don had taken a 2 year wireless corse to become a ham radio operator. His interest and growing expertise in communications led him to work for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (Cominco) in 1930. Cominco needed communications between head quarters and their pilots flying into remote regions of Canada to bring supplies to miners and geologists to new areas for exploration.

In 1930 Don began to develop a wireless system for aircraft to allow the pilots to communicate over long distances. Don made his first portable two-way voice radio in 1937. It worked on AM frequencies, weighed 12 pounds, was 6” x 7” x 13” with a fold down antenna and had a range of approximately 130 miles.

Maybe it was a high school kid named Al?
Guy’s paper also makes note of Al Gross’ work. Al invented a small hand-held FM radio with two-way communication in 1938. He was still in high school at the time. Another source had credited Al with inventing the first two-way.

Al discovered a way to make miniature vacuum tubes that allowed him to make a very small light weight transceivers. At the beginning of World War II, Al’s invention appeared in a radio magazine. It caught the attention of the U.S. Army and Al was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA. By 1941, Al had developed a two-way that weighed only four pounds and had a compact antenna.

Let’s not forget about Sr. Constable Frederic!
Yet another souce states that two-way radios, in the format that is being used today, were developed by Frederick William Downie. Frederic was Sr. Constable with the Victoria Police of Australia. Unfortunately this source doesn’t give any information about when this was this happened.

The source also say that the first two-ways used in the world were in the Lancia Police Cars of the Victoria Police. They took up half of the car, leaving only the driver’s seat empty. This would make it hard to bring a bad guy back to the station, but then again, you could always radio for help.

Who cares. We’re just glad we have them. 
Who ever you credit with the invention of the two-way, it is undisputed that their use in the fire service has vastly improved fireground communications. Thanks Don, or Al, or Frederic.

Personally I like the Al story. There’s something compelling about a high school geek peicing something together in his parents basement that would eventually change how the world communicates.

I imagine his parents surprise and panic when CIA agents showed up on their front porch. I can hear the tenseness in his father’s voice as he yells from the top of the basement stairs, “Al. There are some gentlemen here to see you.” Fast forward to Mom nearly fainting when they reveil that their mission is to recruit Al to work for the CIA. This is the kind of story they make movies about. I guess that’s why I like it so much.

Guy Cramer’s entire paper you be found it here: Be warned, the paper is rather tedious reading, but it is filled with all kinds of geek type information some people would enjoy.

You can also read more about Sr. Constible Frederic at .

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