Lee De Forest was born Aug. 26, 1873, Council Bluffs, Iowa. De Forest was the son of a Congregational minister. His father moved the family to Alabama and there assumed the presidency of the nearly bankrupt Talladega College for Negroes. Excluded by citizens of the white community who resented his father's efforts to educate blacks, Lee and his brother and sister made friends from among the black children of the town and spent a happy although sternly disciplined childhood in this rural community. (Kraeuter, 74). As a child he was fascinated with machinery and was often excited when hearing of the many technological advances during the late 19th century. He began tinkering and inventing things even in high school, often trying to build things that he could sell for money. By the age of 13 he was an enthusiastic inventor of mechanical gadgets such as a miniature blast furnace and locomotive, and a working silverplating apparatus. (A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries).
His father had planned for him to follow him in a career in the clergy, but Lee wanted to go to school for science and, in 1893, enrolled at the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, one of the few institutions in the United States then offering a first-class scientific education. (Kraeuter, 74). De Forest went on to earn the Ph.D. in physics in 1899, with the help of scholarships, and money his parents made by working odd jobs. By this time he had become interested in electricity, particularly the study of electromagnetic wave propagation, then being pioneered chiefly by the German Heinrich Rudolf Hertz and the Italian Guglielmo Marconi. De Forest's doctoral dissertation on the "Reflection of Hertzian Waves from the Ends of Parallel Wires" is said to possibly be the first doctoral thesis in the United States on the subject that was later to become known as radio. (Kraeuter, 76).
His first job was with the Western Electric Company in