Who actually developed the first Walkie-Talkie?

By Guy Cramer, President/CEO of HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. and grandson / former research assistant of Donald L. Hings, P.Eng, M.B.E. (Member of British Empire), C.M. (Order of Canada).

(Jan. 9, 2007, Vancouver, B.C.) There are five different individuals or groups that currently have been recognized for inventing the first true Walkie-Talkie. This paper analyzes the first hand accounts of each and compares this information to determine who actually did it first.

Motorola’s Paul Galvin, the founder of Motorola claims their engineering team led by Don Mitchell developed the first true 2 way portable transceiver, with the hand-held AM SCR-536 radio prior to the United States entering the war, and it was called the "Handie-Talkie" (HT). (1)

Galvin (Motorola) also claims the (FM) SCR-300 was their first “Walkie-Talkie”. This SCR-300 team was lead by Dan Noble, a polish scientist who moved to the U.S. is said to have conceived of the FM wireless. (2)

Al Gross a Canadian who moved to the U.S. is also given credit by MIT for inventing the first Walkie-Talkie. In 1976 the U.S. government declassified Gross’ Top Secret mobile transceiver war time program. (3)

The U.S. Army Signal Corps claim the first Military Walkie-Talkie SCR-194 was developed by their engineers prior to the war. (4) (5)

Donald L. Hings, born in England but moved to Canada early in his childhood, while never making the claim of the first Walkie-Talkie inventor himself is recognized by both the Canadian and British governments as the inventor. Don’s patent was held in secret by the Canadian government during World War II while he developed a number of models (the most notable being the C-58) for the Canadian military with crossover to the British military frequencies for British use. (6) (7)

Why the confusion over the forefather (or group) responsible of truly mobile wireless personal communications? A few reasons exist;

A)    Do we acknowledge the date of development of the first working model?

B)    Do we acknowledge the production date beyond the first prototype?

C)    Do we acknowledge the patent pending date (this is the date which the patent was filed on)?

D)    What is considered a one man portable? 2 way radio transmitter/receivers were being used before any of these claims but those radios were far from being portable by one person.

E)    Due to the secrecy regarding both Al Gross’ US Office of Strategic Services (later to become the CIA) used device and Hings’ Canadian device both were working on similar technologies and requirements without knowledge of the other.

F)     All three; Galvin (Motorola), Gross and Hings, claim the name “Walkie-Talkie” was first associated with their device.   

G)    Poorly researched details and incorrect accounts flood the internet concerning the development details for each of these pioneers.

Where possible I have attempted to use the accounts and timelines directly from Galvin, Gross, Hings and the US Army written accounts. I have also reviewed video from Gross which clarified his development timeline.  

By definition a walkie-talkie or two-way radio is a portable light-weight, bi-directional radio transceiver which should allow one person to communicate with it while moving on foot.

Two-way portable radios were available prior to the war but they were only portable in the case that you needed at least two people or a horse or vehicles to lug the heavy equipment around – some of this equipment required one carrier and one operator. The true walkie-talkie would be a one person device which that same person could carry and operate at the same time.  

Motorola’s contribution

Paul Galvin from the Galvin Manufacturing Company (fore-runner of Motorola) in his book A Founders Touch, The Life of Paul Gavin of Motorola provides a detailed story of their development of lightweight transceivers prior to and during the war:

SCR-536 Handie-Talkie

Their first was conceived of in 1940 – the “Handie-Talkie” two-way radio, or SCR-536, the Signal Corps number for the unit, saw action in every theatre of war in the world during the next five years, with nearly 40,000 of these units being made for the various services. The company went into full production of the SCR-536 in July of 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor. The Galvin team credited with the SCR-536 development is Don Mitchell, Chief engineer along with Ray Yoder, Jack Davis, Paul Smith, and several other Motorola engineers assisting them in developing a device.

SCR-300 Walkie-Talkie

In early 1940, Galvin read in a technical journal of the work of a professor at the University of Connecticut, Daniel Noble, who had developed an FM mobile communications system for the Connecticut State Police (placing permanent FM transceivers into their police cars to communicate with head quarters). Dan Noble was the first man to establish an FM system to the specialized requirements of a police department.

Noble joined the Galvin Manufacturing Company in early September 1940. He began by working on the possibility of adapting many of the AM systems common in that time to FM. He had no responsibility in the development of the “Handie-Talkie” radio but went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, with Don Mitchell to make the presentation of the unit to the Signal Corps. Among the Signal Corps officers present at that time were two, Col. Colton, and Major J. D. O’Connell, who would play important roles in the development of a longer range portable unit than the “Handie-Talkie” radio.”

Noble convinced the military to change the requirement of the longer range portable unit from AM to FM. The SCR-300 (FM) requirement came late in 1940; prototype testing was done in the spring of 1941 of two wood cased transceivers with success.  

Motorola was to produce nearly 50,000 of these famed SCR-300 Walkie-Talkie units during the course of the war (these can be seen in the opening D-Day invasion sequence for the Movie “Saving Private Ryan” when Tom Hanks gets bogged down on the beach. The first SCR-300 units were transported by air for use in the invasion of Italy by the Allied Forces. A sizeable quantity went to the Pacific. Perhaps their greatest contribution was in the European invasion, where their role in re-establishing order at the conclusion of the Battle of the Bulge gained Motorola tremendous recognition and a general feeling that perhaps the Walkie-Talkie was the single most useful piece of communications equipment employed in the invasion.

Daniel Noble’s Motorola team which helped develop the SCR-300 consisted of Henry Magnuski, Marion Bond, Lloyd Morris, and Bill Vogel.

Al Gross’ contribution

Al Gross was born in Canada but was raised in the United States. A Ham Radio operator (Call Sign W8PAL) Gross' first invention was the walkie-talkie, a small hand-held FM radio with two-way communication device which he developed in 1938 while still in high school in Cleveland. He had discovered a way to make miniature vacuum tubes operate at 200 MHz to nearly 300 MHz., before World War II, most radio gear was designed to work at frequencies under 100 MHz.. This allowed for very small light weight transceivers.

As far as we can determine no patent was ever applied for or granted on these 1938 devices (many web sites incorrectly state that a patent was granted for this device).

At the beginning of World War II, Mr. Gross’ walkie-talkie invention appeared in a radio magazine, soon catching the attention of the U.S. Army. Mr. Gross was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – (Later to become the CIA) to develop a two-way, air-to-ground system for use by troops behind enemy lines to communicate intelligence to bomber pilots.

By 1941, Gross developed a workable model that weighed four pounds with a compact antenna. The battery- operated unit worked at 260 MHz—a frequency less vulnerable to enemy surveillance.

In 1944 and 1945, intelligence teams in the Netherlands and Germany used the Joan-Eleanor system (as it was code named) to direct British mosquito planes flying six miles overhead. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Joan-Eleanor project ranked among the Allies “most successful wireless intelligence gathering operations” and helped shorten the war. This top-secret program was declassified in 1976.

This radio form was then adapted to Citizens Band or CB in 1946, Gross formed a company which received the first approval to utilize these frequencies he had previously utilized for the OSS war time radios.

In 1949 he adapted some of his devices to work as the first telephone pagers; it wasn’t until 1960 that the FCC approved those devices.

US Army Signal Corps Contribution

The internet has a few development dates for the SCR-194 ranging from 1935-1939, however, the official U.S. Army web site which chronicles their communications puts the development of the first SCR-194 which they refer to as the first military “Walkie-Talkie” at 1939. It was designed to be used by artillery teams for communication between groups.

Donald L. Hings Contribution

Don Hings was born in England but raised in Canada, having to leave school in Grade 7 to support his mother, this lack of a formal education was not a deterrent in Don’s career, who went on to become the only Professional Engineer in North America to be certified without any post secondary education. Don eventually took a 2 year wireless course becoming a ham radio operator (call sign VE7BH) and his interest and growing expertise in communications led him to work for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (Cominco) in 1930.

Cominco needed communications between head quarters in Trail and their pilots in the remote north of British Columbia and the Yukon and North West Territories to supply their mines and ferrying their geologists to new survey regions. If a deposit was found it could take a week or more for the company to hear about it. Simple accidents in this remote region became life and death situations without communications.

In 1930 Don began to develop a wireless system for aircraft to allow the pilots to communicate over large distances, continental code was used and the first test was successful.

The first portable two-way voice radio developed by Hings in 1937 was simply called the “waterproof field 2way radio” and produced in quantity for Cominco in 1938, this "Light Aircraft Emergency Set" as it was later called, was only 12 pounds, 6” x 7” x 13” with a fold down antenna - battery included, range approx. 130 Miles, painted yellow and water tight when the cover over the dials was locked on with two quick release latches on either side. Made buoyant for people near water in case the plane had to drop the radio into the water while still flying. Capable of 2 frequencies, one for the company “Cominco” and the other for the “Canadian Army Signal Corps” (the only other group that might be in range). This transceiver could be carried while transmitting and receiving voice.

It should be noted that this setup from Don was duplicated during the War by both the Germans and allies with what they called “Downed Airman's/Survival Radios (SAR)”

In late 1938 Hings developed the permanent aircraft cockpit installed 10PC20 which was a smaller version of the Light Aircraft Emergency Set to allow the Cominco Aircraft to pickup and transmit voice back to the emergency sets and communicate with the company’s mines and head quarters. It weighed 3.5 Ibs, 29 watts, Voice or Code transmitter and receiver, effective rage 250 miles on frequencies near 5000 kilocycles, (a newspaper article at the time references this radio could routinely be heard over 450 miles during favorable atmospheric times).

Don asked the President of Cominco for permission to patent the portable wireless transceivers to which he received approval as the company was not in the business of communications. Don began this patent process in 1939; Don was leaving the Patent Office in Spokane, Washington only to hear Canada had just declared war (Sept. 10, 1939) eventually to have the patent applied for on Oct 7, 1940 in Canada and Sept 29, 1941 in the U.S. – this is done as you have one year to make improvements and still utilize the priority of the other country’s filing, meaning if someone tries to file a similar patent in the U.S. within that year, the U.S. Patent Office would recognize the Oct 7, 1940 date from the Canadian patent application as his initial file date.  

In early 1940, Don submitted a letter to the Canadian Air Force regarding his 10PC20 wireless voice transceiver for practical military aircraft uses and they forwarded this to the Canadian Army who agreed that the technology would be useful - not for Aircraft but for ground troops – they wanted a small mobile transceiver – similar to his Light Aircraft Emergency Set. Don was loaned from Cominco to the Canadian Government for the duration of the War years and his two-way radio patents became secret.

Don was given the task to convert the 12 pound, 2 channel Emergency set into tougher military device which he called the “Pack Set” in July 1940 these were trashed in a Canadian Army obstacle course and a more rugged device which could withstand Army punishment and was capable of many more channels and be interchangeable with British antenna and frequencies was required – this eventually led to C-18 capacitive tuned prototype in 1941

First use of Walkie Talkie Name occurred in 1941: Don's quote ..."We also took two more C 18 sets to an enlistment drive in downtown Toronto where a Soldier walked about with a C 18 strapped to his uniform. A News Reporter asked him, "What does it do?" He replied, "Well you can talk with it, while you walk with it". So the reporter wrote in his newspaper there was a new invention on display, a "Walkie Talkie" and the name remained from then on."

In 1942 the preproduction C-18 Mk II induction tuned model was produced and brought about the C-58 production model – 18,000 made during the war.  

The C-58 MK1 weighed 20 Ibs, 300 tunable channels (at least 100 more than the Allied or Axis comparable devices by the end of the war), 6” x 7” x 13” range – 5+ miles.

1937-42 Walkie-Talkie & Handie-Talkie timeline:








Galvin-Motorola (Don Mitchell) Handie Talkie SCR-536 AM




Prototypes developed in late 1940

Full Production July


Galvin-Motorola (Dan Noble) Walkie Talkie SCR-300 FM




Noble joins company in early September 1940

Prototype testing spring of 1941


Al Gross FM wireless Handheld


FM Wireless Handheld

Produced a number of devices for fun


Prototype developed for OSS


U.S. Army Signal Corp. AM Wireless



SCR-193, 194, 195 developed. The 194 is referred to as the first Walkie-Talkie




Donald L Hings AM Wireless


“Waterproof field 2way radio” – 12 Ib walkie-talkie developed for Bush Pilots to drop or use in Emergency

Production in quantity for Cominco aircraft to carry “Emergency 2way radio”

10PC20 final production model developed Dec 7

10PC20 Produced in quantity for Cominco Aircraft Cockpits

Began Patent process

“Pack set” for Canadian Military Field tested July 10

Oct 7 Canadian Patent applied for

“C-18” Prototype

Sept 29 US Patent applied for

Toronto reporter coins Walkie-talkie name

C-58 Production Model

Used in Dieppe August 19, 1942



More often than not, the internet, news stories and magazine articles depict Al Gross as the inventor in 1938 and Hings invention occurring in 1942, which is actually the date for the production of the C-58. The first true portable two-way radio which could be used by one person (Walkie-Talkie) was invented by Hings in 1937 one year prior to Gross. Production of Hings (Emergency 2way field radio) preceded Gross’ few devices by one year. Hings Aircraft to Ground – Ground to Aircraft wireless system which Gross was to develop for the OSS was completed by Hings (albeit in AM versus Gross’ FM system) in Dec 1938 – at least two years prior to Gross’ prototype.

Hings 1937 device preceded the Motorola Walkie-Talkie by three years and the Handie Talkie by two years.

If we are to only look at Military Developed models Hings 1940 “Pack Set” still beats both Motorola prototype models by at least 5 months and Gross OSS device by one year, but precedes the US Army Signal Corps SCR-193 by one year. However a case could be made that Hings civilian 1937 developed "Light Aircraft Emergency Set" could be used without modification as a military “Downed Airman's/Survival Radios (SAR):”

Hings 1941 reference to the reporter applying the Walkie-Talkie name provided from the Toronto reporter and resulting Canadian news articles which reference the name is currently the first recorded reference. We don’t know if Gross’ work from this time references the name prior to the Canadian newspaper nor have we seen the Motorola claim for the name recorded prior to 1944. We will update this if we are presented evidence to the contrary.

If we are to provide proper credit with this compiled comparison the following would apply:

First truly portable two-way radio (Now known as a Walkie-Talkie) invented: 1937 Donald L. Hings “waterproof field 2way radio” Weight: 12 Ibs, Range: 130 miles

First Walkie-Talkie invented: 1937 Donald L. Hings “waterproof field 2way radio” Weight: 12 Ibs, Range: 130 miles

First Walkie-Talkie to Aircraft wireless combination – 1938 Donald L. Hings Don’s 1937 invented “1waterproof field 2way radio (first walkie-Talkie)” weight: 12 Ibs and Hings 1938 invention Aircraft two-way radio “10PC20” weight: 3½ Ibs, Range between both transceivers = 130 miles.

First portable FM two-way radio – 1938 – Alfred J. Gross (Canadian Donald L. Hings portable two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First Hand Held Walkie Talkie better known as the Handie-Talkie – 1938 – Alfred J. Gross (Canadian Donald L. Hings portable but larger (12Ibs) two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First Military Developed AM Walkie-Talkie: 1939 US Army Signal Corps SCR-194 (Canadian, Donald L. Hings, portable two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First Military Developed Walkie-Talkie with Speech Scrambler (only a similar radio from Hings could descramble the audio): 1940 Donald L. Hings “Pack set” (Canadian, Donald L. Hings, portable two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First Military Developed AM Handie-Talkie: 1940 Galvin Manufacturing Company (Motorola) (Don Mitchell) SCR-536 AM (Canadian, Donald L. Hings, portable two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First Military Developed FM Walkie Talkie: 1941 Galvin Manufacturing Company (Motorola) Dan Noble SCR-300 (Canadian, Donald L. Hings, portable two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First Military Developed FM Handie-Talkie to Aircraft wireless combination: 1941 Alfred J. Gross (Canadian, Donald L. Hings, portable two-way AM radio invented in 1937)

First use of Walkie-Talkie name – Unknown. It may have been created by a number of people without the knowledge of others. Currently the first historical reference we have is in a 1941 Toronto News Paper referring to Donald L. Hings C-18 Canadian Military prototype as a Walkie Talkie.

My Grandfathers refused to take extra credit for his pioneering work in the field of wireless communications – he said we (his family) could acknowledge his past accomplishments after he passed away as he was always focused on making the future better rather than dwelling on the past. However, a hard lesson he learned through the years – if you don’t take credit for something you did, someone else will.

With the Internet we find any Joe can write a story and their incorrect interpretation of history can make its way into the general population if the story is picked up by other sources and used as reference for further stories or articles. We also find prior to the internet, claims of historical significance of one nation could be unheard of in another country. Thus you will get two or more nations claiming to have done something first.

In the case of determining the first Walkie-Talkie we see both factors at work, poor reporting and past historical first claims of one country at odds with the records of another. While the Internet has brought about some of this confusion it also has provided detailed direct written accounts, photos, original news articles and even video directly from these inventors to clarify who did what and when.

Why is it important to determine the correct series of events; to give proper credit where credit is due and to ensure that this snapshot of wireless history is captured as it happened.   









This page and information © Copyright 2007 Guy Cramer, All Rights Reserved.

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