From the archive: Henry Joseph Round, unrecognised electronics pioneer Part 2

HJ Round Jervis family archive

Captain Henry Joseph Round – from the Jervis family archive

Part one of this story, first published on 18 May 1966, is re-published here

Captain Henry Joseph Round – from the Jervis family archive
Henry Joseph Round, unrecognised electronics pioneer
by WJ Baker 25 May 1966

Last week WJ Baker of the Marco Company, Chelmsford, described the earlier part of Captain HJ Round’s life. Now he continues the story, bringing it up to 1966.

Into the era of broadcasting

Probably the most significant single event in the history of radio communication was the discovery that the thermionic triode valve could act as a generator of continuous radio waves, and could therefore provide, among other things, a carrier wave for telephony.

This forward stride was made in 1913-14 (curiously enough, two years alter the effect had been noted in a semiconductor by Dr Eccles).

It may seem remarkable, in view of the fact that the mode valve had already been in existence for five or six years, that the discovery of its oscillatory properties had not been made by accident, that is, brought about by unintentional positive feedback. The triodes of those days were, however, woefully inefficient and little more than laboratory curiosities.

HJ Round, after the Amazon incident referred to in the previous issue and a further spell at the Glace Bay station Nova Scotia, returned to England to become deeply immersed in problems of valve amplification, during which period he experimented with various forms of grids in valves he had had specially made.

At that time CS (Charles Samuel) Franklin, another eminent engineer of the Marconi Company, returned from Germany with samples of Lieben-Reisz valve-type relays and with the information that Alexander Meissner had claimed that such valves could be made to generate oscillations. This was news indeed, for the possibility had occurred to both Round and Franklin.

Meissner took out a German patent to this effect on April 9, 1913, but the apparatus he had used in his experiments was inefficient.

The Leiben-Reisz valve was a ‘soft’ valve using ions to provide the conducting path between cathode and anode, and with a Wehnelt cathode of lime-coated platinum.

This type of cathode is stated to have lasted only for a few minutes in Meissner’s circuit and the power output to have been small. Nevertheless, he achieved radio telephony over a distance of 36km with the apparatus.

Round and Franklin both continued their individual researches, while, unknown to anyone, EH Armstrong in the USA was also working on the problem. In the event, all filed patents almost simultaneously. Meissner was first (April 9 1913), CS Franklin a close second (June 12 1913), Armstrong third (October 20 1913) and Round fourth (May 29 1914).

More efficient

The situation needs some qualification, however. Franklin’s patent related to regeneration as a means of improving receiver signal strength, although the wording of his application makes it clear that he knew of the valve’s property of oscillation.

Round, who on paper was a year behind Meissner, developed a much more efficient valve and circuit and had given a demonstration of valve radio telephony between Marconi House and the Savoy Hotel, London, in 1913. Round’s work was consolidated in the early months of 1914 when he and Guglielmo Marconi carried out radio telephone tests between several Italian warships off the coast of Sicily. Excellent performances were obtained between ships at anchor and on the high seas, with ranges of up to 44 miles.

A valve which Round had patented in 1913 used an oxide-coated filament surrounded by a thimble-shaped nickel grid and a cylindrical nickel anode. This type of anode became extensively used. Other patents taken out by him in 1913-14 include that for an independently heated cathode, an auto-heterodyne circuit and a comprehensive transmission patent which included the first use of automatic grid bias.

War work

With the onset of the Great War [World War 1], Round redoubled his activities. Several receivers were put into commission for interception purposes; the first valve direction finder was put into operation at Broormfield, Chelmsford, and other important developments relating to valve circuits were carried out there. The valves used were of the ‘soft’ type, tricky to operate but capable of a very useful degree of amplification.

Round’s war work on direction finding has already been mentioned in the previous issue, but in addition to this he was responsible with Major Prince, another distinguished Marconi engineer, for the design of the first aircraft telephony transmitters and receivers in 1916.

Round designed the first aircraft radio valves around which the MK1 airborne transmitters and receivers were produced. The amplitude control modulations system and the Round valve receiver with adjustable coupling were also developed at this time.

For his services, Captain Round (as he now was), was awarded the Military Cross.

By the end of the war the art of wireless telephony had developed enormously from its crude beginnings in 1914. Once more back in civilian life with the Marconi Company, both Round and Franklin continued their researches each with different ends in view.

Round was mainly concerned with valve improvements and the investigation of their possibilities in general communications; Franklin was using valved transmitters for the short-wave experiments which culminated in the development of the beam system.

In 1919, Round developed the MT1 and MT2 transmitting valves and constructed prototypes of transmitters of up to 20kW in power. In March of that year he directed the installation of a wireless telephone transmitter at Ballybunion, Ireland. This station, operating on 3,800 metres, was the first European telephony station to be heard on the other side of the Atlantic.

This was followed later in the year by experimental work at Chelmsford, first with a 6kW transmitter and (in 1920) with one of 14kW. These carried out a series of range tests upon which amateur wireless enthusiasts were invited to report, which they did, from all over the British Isles and the Continent. The tests (which often consisted of a recital of railway stations!) sometimes had musical items interspersed among them to relieve the monotony. This innovation brought shoals of appreciative reports, which were the original impetus for the establishment of an entertainment broadcast service.

‘Old Stagers’ may possibly recall the wireless telephony news service which was inaugurated from this station on February 23, 1920, on a wavelength of 2,500metres, the broadcast by Dame Nellie Melba on June 15 1920 and, two years later, the experimental concerts from ‘Two Emma Tock’, Writtle [near Chelmsford], which led to the establishment of the original 2LO at Marconi House in the Strand. The 2LO transmitter was designed by Captain Round.

This station [2LO] was the first to be taken over by the BBC in its formation in 1922.

During the period of hectic activity which followed, Round carried out a great deal of research connected with this new field of entertainment broadcasting, of which he had rather inadvertently become the father in this Country.

The artificial echo system and the Sykes-Round microphone are but two of his many contributions to the early stages at the art.

In parallel with all this work Round was also carrying out another huge project. This was the redesign of the Marconi nigh-power stations at Caernarvon from spark to valve transmission.

The Caernarvon station was equipped with a power panel consisting of 56 MT2 valves with a high tension supply of 10kV DC. On November 19, 1921, using the new equipment, signals from this station were received in Australia.

One of the many problems which beset designers at that time was that of obtaining a reasonable amount of RF amplification from the triode valve. In practice this resolved itself into finding ways and means of minimising the by-passing effect of the internal grid/anode capacity.

Round, in 1913, was probably the first to tackle this, doing so by providing an external neutralising circuit, but this method (later adopted by others) left much to be desired.

His ‘Q’ valve of 1916 attacked the problem at source by enclosing the electrodes in a glass tube closely fitting around the anode, and by bringing out the grid and anode connections on opposite sides of the tube.

His V24 valve (1919) was a further step in the same direction, having the grid and anode closer to the filament.

Around these two types of valve the Marconi 55 receiver was designed. This embodied six V24’s as RF amplifiers and a ‘Q’ as detector, the tuning was by dust core (here again, Round’s early experiments were bearing fruit).


In the following year he evolved the FEI valve, which incorporated a shield between grid and anode to reduce the inter-electrode capacity still further. Other work intervened, and it was not until 1925 that he was again able to give serious thought to the matter.

The result of his further investigations was that in 1927 the DES screened grid valve was introduced as the forerunner of a series which revolutionised receiver design with an unprecedented degree of signal magnification per stage. He followed this patent (taken out in 1926) with another in the following year for the RF pentode – His book, ‘The shielded four-electrode valve’, was published in 1927.

Going back in time to 1920 Round, in addition to all his other activities, had designed valve receivers for ships and had constructed the first batch of maritime valved transmitters.

In 1921 the Marconi Research Group was formed from various discrete research units, and Round was appointed as its first chief. (At approximately the same time Franklin became Chief of Independent Research.)

Round’s output in the 1920s was truly astonishing. He designed the ‘Straight Eight’ receiver; he produced a gramophone recording system (this was licensed to the Vocalion Company), and designed a large-audience public address system which was used to relay King George V’s speech at the Wembley Exhibitions.

Cinema boom

Patents for improvements to valves, to loudspeakers, to gramophone pick-ups, to portable receivers, to amplifiers, to microphones, to sound recording systems, to antennas – all these and more were filed.

Round also anticipated the cinema boom brought about by the advent of the talking picture. In 1930, when gramophone discs mechanically synchronised to the film were the order of the day, we find a Round patent – the forerunner of many such – for recording sound on film.

One talking picture system he devised (‘Visatone’, which incorporates inventions for obtaining constant speed and for a high frequency galvanometer) was licensed to Stoll.

In 1931, he elected to resign from the Marconi Company in order to set up in private practice as a research consultant. He continued to be closely associated with the company, however, and returned in 1337 in an advisory capacity for work on echo sounding.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II he worked for the Admiralty on ASDIC [Anti-submarine detection investigation committee, now ‘sonar’], continuing in this until 1950. There followed further work for the Marconi organisation, during which period he invented new magneto-strictive devices for use in the production of Marconi International Marine Company echo sounders.

He also introduced the first permanently magnetised nickel transducers and the first belt recording system for echo sounders.

Other inventions continued to pour forth – he last on record is dated 1962 – and one hopes there will be many more.

HJ Round at work in his private laboratory

Alert as ever

Today in 1966, nearing 85, he has been until recently a frequent and always a welcome visitor at Chelmsford, as mentally and physically alert as ever.

HJ Round at work in his private laboratory

The name of CS Franklin has cropped up more than once in this account. This is inevitable, since he and Round were the Castor and Pollux of the Marconi Company.

They joined within a year or so of each other. Both had a thorough grounding in electrical theory; both were brilliant and practical engineers; both became personal assistants to Marconi and had an unswerving loyalty to him.

Franklin, like Round, was a prolific inventor whose ideas did much to shape the company’s destiny. Both rose to positions of equal eminent as Chiefs of Research.

Physically, both were short in stature and both were non-conformists in the secular sense; one cannot imagine either of them being happy as cogs in a modern large laboratory set-up. But from that point onward a common denominator is harder to find.

Franklin – tiny, frail, diffident – had an almost psychic intuitive approach to a problem. Round – robust, bluff, extrovert, rather Churchillian even to the cigar – has what might be described as a commonsense approach, if it were not so very uncommon.


He has the uncanny ability to turn a problem inside out if need be to arrive at a solution. Yet when he explains it later – and in his day he wrote a number of papers and technical treatise – his exposition is so lucid and devoid of window dressing that the reader is left with no questions to ask.

It would not be surprising to find that Round and Franklin had been implacable enemies. In fact, despite the rivalry that undoubtedly existed, they were very good friends, although this did not prevent them from sniping good-humouredly at each other whenever they met.

On such occasions it was a joy to stand in the wings and listen. But never would anything even remotely derogatory be said in the other’s absence.

It is a sad commentary on the human sense of values that while the country sees fit to honour pop groups and other nonentities, Round’s services to science and industry have never received any British recognition whatever; neither has any tangible recognition been conferred by the learned societies, although the prized Armstrong Medal was presented to him by the Radio Club of America in 1952.

Surely we owe something to the man who, among other things, played so significant a part in founding broadcasting, direction-finding, aviation electronics and indeed (by his work on the thermionic valve) the entire industry as we have it today?

The end

HJ Round died three months after this article was first published.

Captain Henry Joseph Round (2 June 1881 – 17 August 1966)

Charles Samuel Franklin (1879–1964)

A little more on Round’s Armstrong Medal

According to Grandson David Jervis:

In December 1952 Henry Round travelled to New York to be guest of honour at the 43rd Anniversary of the Radio Club of America and to receive the prized Armstrong Medal. Only ten were ever awarded. Edwin Howard Armstrong – described as the most prolific and influential inventor in radio history – paid a 20 minute tribute to Round and, having explained the vital role played in WW1, said in a voice brimming with emotion: “I and some others here this evening have some first hand knowledge of the magnitude of the problems faced and successfully solved by Captain Round. We all join belatedly in the privilege of honouring him tonight and I know that all of you will join with us in expressing the hope that in the event of any future disturbance of the peace of the world which, God forbid, we have, that we have again with us on our side, helping us, the future Captain Rounds who will do as good a job for us as he did over thirty years ago.”

The citation was read as follows: The Armstrong Medal of the Radio Club of America for the year 1952 is awarded to Henry Joseph Round in recognition of his unexcelled contribution to the art of direction and position finding by radio; for the invention and amplifying and receiving means for short waves of unparalleled sensitivity and for the application of his discoveries to the cause of freedom and to the rendering of service to mankind.

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