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Squier’s Stories: Trees and Other Vegetation for Wireless Communication Antennas

In 1919, General George Owen Squier, the Chief Signal Officer, applied for a patent titled “Tree Telephony and Telegraphy.” 

GEN Squier was an ingenious and insightful individual as his accomplishments have shown (they included the “Wired Wireless” system for telegraphs, the basis for the modern carrier systems that we use for wired communications being one example, the multiplex telephone another). 

Patent 1,549,032 was filed 8 August 1919, and was granted about six years later, on 11 August 1925.  The 1925 Patent expands upon a 1905 Patent for “Wireless Telegraphy.”  The 1905 Patent was filed in November 1904, and granted in February 1905 (Patent No. 782,181).  The purpose of these patents was to demonstrate his invention for radio transmission and reception using living vegetable organisms such as trees and plants!

An illustration of how the tree antenna would work.

The 1905 Patent sites issues such as expense and maintenance as related to the erection and use of aerials for wireless telegraphy.  Squier in his patent notes that for moderate distances the “aerial conductors, plates, or surfaces or other means of absorbing electromagnetic waves” could be dispensed with, and in their place “living vegetable organisms, particularly in the form of growing trees, preferably covered with foliage” could be used. 

The patent discusses the fact that it was well known that electromagnetic waves are absorbed by objects on the earth’s surface, including (and especially) trees.  Squier noted that trees exhibited this capability to a remarkable degree.

The 1905 Patent further states that “a living vegetable antenna as presented in a growing tree, its large number of roots generally extending out radially from the trunk and often to depths and distances, conducts electromagnetic waves with great facility, affording an excellent ground or earth for intimately joining electrically the vertical antenna to the earth.”  The 1905 Patent then presents simple diagrams for receiving and transmitting wireless telegraphic waves using this invention.

Cover of a magazine highlighting the invention.

In the 1925 Patent, Squier claims that a recent discovery indicted that “living vegetable organisms generally are adapted for the transmission and reception of radio or high frequency oscillations.”  The Patent also discusses antenna placement and tree height.

The 1925 Patent includes diagrams and figures illustrating his invention. 

Note: Squier’s Stories is a blog miniseries about the life and inventions of George Squier that feature on Thursdays.  All are authored by staff historian Floyd Hertweck.

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  1. Meet George Squier! – CECOM Historical Office linked to this post on October 27, 2010

    Signal Officer after the war.  As Chief Signal Officer, Squier studied the Army’s cable and radio communications, and published papers in these