Henry Taylor Howard

Henry Taylor Howard
Peoria, IL, USA
Death date
Associated organizations
Stanford University, Chapparral Communications
Fields of study
Communications, Signals


Henry Taylor Howard was an electrical engineering professor and NASA scientist who created the first known home satellite television system.

Howard was born in 1932 in Peoria, Illinois, and earned a B.A. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1955. He worked at the university for a year as a research assistant and then spent three years as a naval electronics engineering duty officer. In 1959, he returned to Stanford, where he served in a variety of research and teaching roles and became the director of the Stanford Radioscience Laboratory (STARLab).

While at Stanford, he was principal investigator for a number of NASA projects, such as flight experiments in the Apollo program. After retirement, he continued to serve on the radio team on the Galileo project exploring Jupiter. He received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for his experiments, which used radio waves to map the moon and study the atmospheres of other planets.

In 1976, Howard built a large dish-shaped antenna system in the backyard of his rural home in San Andreas, California, to capture broadcasts that cable television providers were sending through satellites for distribution to their subscribers. He wrote “The Howard Terminal Manual” to help other engineers build similar systems and co-founded Chapparral Communications to market satellite receivers. Chapparral became a $50 million company in six years, and Howard went on to found the satellite industry trade association, SPACE, in 1980.

Unlike many of the electronic pirates who followed him, Howard made a point of trying to pay for the content he pulled from C-band signals. He once wrote a check to the Home Box Office cable network for $100 to pay for programming he had watched with his backyard dish antenna. HBO declined the payment, saying it only dealt with large cable companies. Soon after, however, HBO and other content providers began scrambling their signals to prevent piracy. Eventually, engineers found ways for homeowners to use smaller and less expensive receivers to compress and capture signals, which led to the expansion of subscriber-based satellite companies like DirecTV.

Howard was an IEEE Life Fellow and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He held eight domestic and foreign patents and published more than forty scientific publications.

Further Reading

Barnaby J. Feder, "Taylor Howard, 70, Pioneer In Satellite TV for the Home," NY Times, Nov 15, 2002.

Dawn Levy, Henry Taylor Howard, Father of the Home Satellite Dish, Dies, Stanford News Service, Nov 18, 2002.