Harold Osborne


Harold S. Osborne
Fayetteville, NY, USA
Associated organizations
Fields of study
Howard Coonley Medal, AIEE Edison Medal

1942 -1943

Harold S. Osborne, AIEE President, 1942 - 1943, worked on wireless telephony. He is also a former mayor of Montclair, New Jersey.


Harold Osborne's diverse and noted career influenced the development of new forms of telephone communication. Osborne was born 1 August 1887 in Fayetteville, New York. He earned his B.S. degree and Eng.D. from MIT in 1908 and 1910, respectively. Between 1905 and 1910, Osborne worked for the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston, and the Turners Falls Power Company. In 1910, he began his long career with AT&T, first as an assistant transmission and project engineer. In 1914, he became an assistant to the transmission and protection engineer, and in 1920 the transmission engineer. In 1939, Osborne became operating results engineer and, one-year later, plant engineer. By 1943, Osborne had become Chief Engineer. Following his retirement from AT&T in 1952, he worked as a consultant to Brazilian Traction Light and Power and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Osborne was also very active in community affairs. Between 1952 and 1956, he was the Commissioner of Public Works in Montclair New Jersey. In 1961, he was elected Mayor of Montclair.

Osborne is well known for his work on wireless telephony. When the Bell System announced the development of the transistor on 1 July 1948, many inventors were reluctant to predict the long-term implications of such technology. Osborne responded in a famous quote: “Let us say in the ultimate, whenever a baby is born anywhere in the world, he is given at birth a number which will be his telephone number for life. As soon as he can talk, he is given a watch-like device with ten little buttons on one side and a screen on the other. Thus equipped, at any time when he wishes to talk with anyone in the world, he will pull out the device and punch on the keys the number of his friend. Then turning the device over, he will hear the voice of his friend and see his face on the screen, in color and in three dimensions. If he does not see and hear him he will know that the friend is dead.” No one else seemed ready to make an overt prediction like that.

Osborne earned many awards and honors, including the Howard Coonley Medal from the American Standards Association in 1956 and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) Edison Medal in 1960 'For his contributions to the art of telecommunication and his leadership and vision in extending its application; for his achievements in the coordination of international communication and in national and international standardization; and for his advancement of the engineering profession.'. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Radio Engineers, a Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He served as AIEE’s President from 1942 to 1943. He was a director of the American Standards Association from 1943 to 1952, and the President of the International Electro-technical Commission from 1952 to 1955. He was also a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Acoustical Society of America, and the American Society for Engineering Education. Osborne authored numerous technical articles in magazines and journals. His civic activities were recognized through awards from the American Society of Planning Officials (Silver Medal) and the Regional Plan Association of New York, among others. Eta Kappa Nu named Osborne an Eminent Member in 1955. He was married to Dorothy Brockway and they had two daughters.