Eric Tigerstedt

Eric Tigerstedt

name = Eric M. C. Tigerstedt

imagesize =
caption =
birth_date = birth date|1887|8|14|mf=y
birth_place = Helsinki, Finland
death_date = death date and age|1925|4|20|1887|8|14|mf=y
death_place = New York, U.S.
occupation = inventor
spouse = Ingrid Lignell
child = Carl Axel Waldemar Tigerstedt (1921-?)
relations =

Eric Magnus Campbell Tigerstedt (August 4, 1887 – April 20, 1925) was one of the most significant inventors in Finland at the beginning of the 20th century, and has been called the "Thomas Edison of Finland". He was the first person to implement a working sound-on-film technology, and in the process, he made significant improvements to the amplification properties of the vacuum valve. Having seen a showing of the Lumière brothers new motion picture technology as a 9-year old boy in Helsinki in 1896, he was inspired to bring sound to silent pictures.

Many years later, his own film "Word and Picture" was presented to a gathering of scientific dignitaries in Berlin in 1914. It was the world's first successful "talking picture", although his technology was never commercialised. Apart from improving on the design of the triode vacuum valve, he also developed directional loudspeakers. Tigerstedt also predicted such future inventions as the television and the mobile phone, and in 1917, he filed a patent for what he described as a "pocket-size, folding telephone with a very thin carbon microphone". Tigerstedt was awarded a total of 71 patents in several countries between the years 1912 and 1924.


Early interest in technology

Tigerstedt was born in Helsinki and started to show a particular interest in all things technical already at an early age. He studied his father’s scientific books with great interest, and at age 11, built a simple photographic device. At age 13, he began experimenting with other technical devices and machines, and he built his own version of an electric motor and electrical batteries. After a fall-out with his father, he left home at the age of 15, and supported himself by working as a handyman and technician in mechanical workshops and shipyards in Helsinki. He later worked as a technician in the telephone industry, which was rapidly becoming a major business in Helsinki at this time.

tudies in Germany

In 1908 Tigerstedt moved to Germany to continue his studies. He completed his high school education, and began studies in electrical engineering at the Friedrichs Polytechnikum in Cöthen (Köthen). After completing his studies there in 1911, he moved back to Finland with his fiancée Marjatta Nybom, whom he had met and fallen in love with while in Köthen. She had been studying the violin in Switzerland and had met Tigersted through her brother Albert Nybom, who was also studying in Köthen and who was a class mate of Tigerstedt. However, the engagement between Tigerstedt and Marjatta Nybom was broken off in 1912.

First Sound-On-Film prototype

After having returned to Finland, he continued his experiments, and succeeded in building a prototype of sound-on-film technology ("talking movies"). Tigerstedt then returned to Germany in 1913, and founded a company with the Swedish merchant Axel Wahlstedt and the Swedish engineer Hugo Swartling. This was the first in a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Although Tigerstedt was able to complete his work with the sound-on-film technology, their laboratory was ultimately confiscated due to unpaid rent. They later managed to recuperate their laboratory, but it was finally destroyed in a fire. The cooperation between Wahlstedt and Tigerstedt also become strained, and in January 1914 they unwound their company. After breaking off their connercial partnership, Wahlstedt returned to Sweden while Tigerstedt stayed behind in Berlin, more or less broke.

First demonstration of Sound-On-Film

Tigerstedt continued working on his sound-on-film technology, and during the process, he managed to solve a major technical problem, that of how to amplify film audio in a large theatre hall. He did this by making major improvements to the vacuum tube design of Lee De Forest, increasing the amplification properties several times. In February/March 1914, Tigerstedt demonstrated his sound-on-film technology to a small group of scientists, using his own film "Word and Picture”.


After having been expelled from Germany in July 1914, Tigerstedt returned to Finland, but moved to Sweden a few months later, and then finally to Denmark in 1915. After another unsuccessful business venture, Tigerstedt once more returned to Finland. In 1917, he moved back to Denmark, founded yet another company, which was then sold. After this, he participated in the founding of the Norwegian company A/S Anod, in which he held a 45% stake.

Finnish Civil War of 1918

As a Finnish citizen, Tigerstedt was called back to take part in the Finnish civil war of 1918, and on 14 February 1918 he was on his way back to Finland. After the cessation of the hostilities, he participated in the victory parade on 16 May 1918, but then returned to Denmark, where he married Ingrid Lignell in 1919. Their son Carl Axel Waldemar was born in 1921. However, their marriage soon began to deteriorate, and they separated not long after the birth of their son.

Loss of German patents

During World War I, Germany had invalidated all of Tigerstedts patents. After the war, he received compensation from the German Government, but this amount quickly became worthless due to the hyperinflation in Germany during 1921 to 1923. In 1922, Tigerstedt moved his laboratory to Finland, and he founded a new company called “Tigerstedts patenter”, which however also failed.

Move to America

In 1923 Tigerstedt moved to America where he founded his last company, "The Tiger Manufacturing Co", to produce small radio receivers and cryptographic devices. The Mexican government purchased 2 of the cryptographic devices, and the radio receivers also sold relatively well. Tigerstedt also had the opportunity to meet with the great American inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Tigerstedt to the director of the Department of Commerce.


When it finally seemed that Tigerstedt was on the verge of commercial success, he was involved in an ultimately fatal car accident on April 20, 1924, when another car unexpectedly turned in front of the car Tigerstedt was travelling in. There were persistent rumours that a competitor had arranged for the accident, but there was never any proof of this. He succumbed to tuberculosis exactly one year later, on April 20, 1925 in the New York Fifth Avenue hospital, possibly due to side effects from his injuries in the car accident. He wrote his last letter to his brother Göran, in which he described the state of his company, explained the structure of a new membrane [Item "a" in [ labelled "Zu der Patentschrift 309535"] , [ described as "membran" in its caption] , appears suitable to function as an acoustic diaphragm.] that he was developing and stated that he was about to undergo a kidney operation due to the spreading tuberculosis. Unfortunately, medical science was not advanced enough to be able to save his life. After his death, his brother traveled to America and brought home his ashes for burial in Helsinki. As with many inventors, Tigerstedt's inventions were never fully appreciated during his own life time.


Tigerstedt experimented in many areas. He developed a new version of the shotgun that could be fired using the thumbs and that counted the number of shots fired. Unfortunately, he was perennially short of funds, and he did not have enough financial standing to file for a patent.

ound-On-Film technology

His greatest interest however, was in the field of sound recording, and he had developed a prototype for recording sound on a metal wire as early as 1912. He was convinced that he could find a way to record sound directly on the film. He started his first experients in Helsinki using very primitive equipment. The sentence he attempted to record on film was in German: "Grau ist alle Theorie. Grün ist nur des Lebens Baum". Finally, he succeeded and he called his invention the "photomagnetophone". Unfortunately, his achievements did not gain any recognition, nor did he reap any financial gains from his invention, so he had to maintain a day job in order to earn a modest living and he could only continue his experiements during evenings and into the nights (and sometimes through the nights without getting any sleep).

After meeting his former school mate Alfred Nybom in Berlin, he succeeded in using Nybom's connections to gain access to a research laboratory and employment as an inventor. Film with audio was thought to be a genuinely interesting field of development, but Tigerstedts invention still needed development before it could be commercialized. There was as yet no technology available to broadcast (and amplify) the sound in a large movie theatre. Tigerstedt also enlarged his vision of video transmission in the future. He wrote: "There will come a time when people can sit at home and follow events in the world through a device I now call the 'electronic eye'. When people get used to film with sound, they will soon adopt the electric eye, or electrophtalmoscope". When his father learned of his thinking, he tried to persuade him to not let his imagination carry him away, " ... otherwise you will surely end your days in the asylum in Lapinlahti".

Tigerstedt returned to Germany in 1913, where he continued developing the photomagnetophone, but there was still no solution to the problem of amplifying sound. He experimented with early versions of the vacuum tube, and he eventuelly managed to amplify the sound, but with disappointing results.

Tigerstedt also continued developing the electrophtalmoscope. The prototype consisted of vibrating mirrors in both the sending and receiving ends, using the photoelectric properties of a selenium element at the sender, and a light source at the receiving end which was modulated using a Faraday-device. The received picture was supposed to be displayed on a movie screen. Two electrophtalmoscopes were built, and an experiment was conducted using an electrical cable running from London to Berlin. Tigerstedt arranged several demonstration events and gained reputation as a knowleadgable scientist.

Improving on Lee De Forests vacuum tube

Tigerstedt also stubbornly continued to grapple with the problem of the early vacuum tubes, which were inefficient, expensive and prone to breaking. His German colleagues however, told him that the vacuum tubes could not be developed further and that there could be no solution to the problem with the weakness of amplification. Tigerstedt however, continued to experiment, as he was convinced that the vacuum tube held the solution to his invention of talking movies. After many disappointments, Tigerstedt finally succeeded in substantially improving on the design of Lee De Forest, and he achieved an amplification effect many times that of the original vacuum tubes. His achievement was purely experiemental, as there were no prior experience or mathematical models that he could have followed. This was a major step forward for Tigerstedt, and he was soon able to show a film with sound which was electrically amplified and broadcast through a speaker system. He had finally solved the most difficult practical problem of talking movies.

Patent for Sound-On-Film technology and Expulsion from Germany

Tigerstedt was awarded the German patent number 309.536 on July 28th, 1914 for his sound-on-film process. Tigerstedt also patented his improvement of the triode vacuum valve, which consisted of improving the amplification effect by re-arranging the electrodes cylindrically in the tube, changing the glass mould to prevent vacuum loss and for using steel mirrors inside the tubes to prevent electrostatic interference.

One month later, he was called for an interview to the German authorities, where he was declared to be an unwanted Russian citizen. Tigerstedt was then asked to leave the country within 3 days. World War I had started. Finland was at this time part of the Russian empire, having been ceded to Russia after the 1808-1809 war between Sweden and Russia. As a consequence of the declaration of war between Russia and Germany, the German government invalidated all German patents held by citizens of enemy nations, including those of Tigerstedt.

Ultrasound experiments

Tigerstedt moved to Denmark where he continued working on filmsound recording devices at the Petersen & Poulsen company. He befriended the Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen (1869 - 1942), who was the inventor of the telegraphone (steel wire magnetic recorder). Tigerstedt had also previously experimented with recording sound on a steel wire. Tigerstedt also experimented with transmitting spoken sound using a 30 kHz ultrasound which he attempted to transmit across the Jutland straits. The results however, were not promising. He also experimented with transmitting sound under water, which was more successful, and he was eventually granted a patent for this process.

Communication device

A pilot had suggested to Tigerstedt that he should develop a device to allow two pilots to communicate when seated in a row, such as in an open bi-plane. Tigerstedt went on to invent a small communication device. The device had a very small ear-piece that could be plugged into the ear. Tigerstedt spent considerable time on designing the ear-piece. The resulting device was also found to be suitable for people who were hard of hearing, instead of using a large ear horn.

References rather electromechanical amplifier

* Gerald F J Tyne: 'Saga of the Vacuum Tube' (ISBN 0672214717)
* A.M. Pertti Kuusela: "E.M.C Tigerstedt 'Suomen Edison'" (ISBN 951-793-395-9)
* J Kuusanmäki, Kauko Rumpunen & Pertti Vuorinen: "AO Lisiä historiaan" (ISBN 952-90-9878-2)

External links

* [ Virtual exhibition on Eric Tigerstedt by the Technical Museum in Helsinki (in Finnish only, opening spring 2007)]
* [ Swedish article and diagram on Eric Tigerstedt's sound-on-film patent (German patent number 309.536 - July 28th, 1914)]
* [ Reference to Eric Tigerstedt on "Virtual Finland" (Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Department for Communication and Culture)]
* [ City of Helsinki]
* [ Hochschule Anhalt (formerly Friedrich-Polytechnikum)]
* [ City of Köthen]

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