Oliver Buckley

Oliver Buckley
Oliver Buckley
Sloan, IA, USA
Death date
Associated organizations
Bell Labs
Fields of study
Cables, Telephony
AIEE Edison Medal


Oliver Ellsworth Buckley was born in Sloan, Iowa, 8 August 1887, son of William Doubleday and Sarah Elizabeth (Jeffrey) Buckley. His father was a lawyer. Buckley received his preliminary education at public schools and was graduated B.S. in 1909 at Grinnell (Iowa) College and Ph.D. in 1914 at Cornell University.

In 1914 he joined the Western Electric Co. as a research physicist, a post he held until 1925. In that year Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., was organized as a jointly owned enterprise of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and Western Electric Co. to take over the scientific and research work in the field of communications performed up to that time by the Western Electric Co. Continuing with the new organization, Buckley served as assistant director of research from 1925 to 1933, director of research during 1933-36, and executive vice-president during 1936-40. He became president and a director of Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., in 1940 and served in those capacities thereafter until 1951, when he became chairman of the board, the post he maintained until his retirement in 1952. He continued as a director of the company until 1955.

A leader in the field of submarine telephony, Buckley began working on the problems of transatlantic radio communication in 1914, and directed the production and testing of the power tubes used to relay the first telephone message across the Atlantic Ocean in May, 1915. Recognizing the potential of permalloy to increase the speed of telegraph transmission, he supervised the development of a permalloy-loaded submarine telegraph cable and of terminal equipment, which increased the carrying capacity of submarine telegraph cable four-fold. The first such cable was laid between New York City and the Azores in 1924. He subsequently worked on the development of loaded transatlantic telephone cable in 1929 and on non-loaded multi-channel telephone cable in 1932. Work on the latter project was basic to the development of all subsequent transoceanic cables.

Under Buckley´s direction as president of the organization, numerous technical advances were made, including the wave-guide, transistor, automatic message accounting, nation-wide dialing, and microwave relay networks. As a result of his research he received forty-three patents, including those for such devices as induction apparatus, 1926; telegraph conductor, 1928; submarine cable, 1928; signaling conductor, 1930; sub- marine signaling cable, 1933; and submarine cable loading coil, 1936. Buckley also assisted with war efforts in World War II, serving as a member of the communications and guided missiles divisions of the National Defense Research Committee. He received the Medal of Merit.

Active in the work of numerous scientific organizations, Buckley was chairman during 1939-42 of the Engineering Foundation Board; a member in 1944-45 of the Committee on Science and the Public Welfare, which recommended the establishment of the National Science Foundation; and a member from 1945 until his death of the National Inventors Council. He was also a member of the general advisory committee of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission during 1948-54, and he was appointed by Harry S. Truman to form a science advisory committee under the Office of Defense Mobilization. He participated at various times on committees for Case Institute of Technology, and Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton universities.

Honorary D.Sc. degrees were conferred on Buckley by Grinnell College in 1936 and Columbia University in 1948. He received an honorary D.Eng. degree from Case Institute of Technology in 1948, and the Edison Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1954 "For his personal contributions to the science and art which have made possible a transatlantic telephone cable; for wise leadership of a great industrial laboratory; for outstanding services to the government of his country."

Buckley was married in Webster City, Iowa, 14 October 1914, to Clara Louise Sheridan Lane, and had four children: Katherine Lane, William Douglas, Barbara, and Juliet Georgiana. He died in Newark, New Jersey, 14 December 1959.