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Harald T. Friis
Born 1893
Naestved, Denmark
Died 1976
Palo Alto, California
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Electrical engineering
Notable awards IEEE Medal of Honor

Harald T. Friis (August 27, 1883 - June 28, 1976), who published as H. T. Friis, was a noted Danish-American radio engineer whose work at Bell Laboratories included pioneering contributions to radio propagation, radio astronomy, and radar. His two Friis formulas remain widely used.



Friis was born in Naestved, Denmark, and in 1916 received his electrical engineering degree from the Royal Technical College, Copenhagen. After a stint at the Royal Gun Factory, in 1919 he received a Columbia University fellowship to study radio engineering under John H. Morecroft. In 1920 Friis joined a Western Electric Company research group which in 1925 became part of Bell Laboratories. There he remained for his entire professional career.


Friis' first important publications were his 1923 Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) paper on radio transmission measurements, 1925 IRE paper on directional antennas, and 1928 IRE paper on oscillographic observations of propagation phenomena. These papers documented studies of field strength and noise over a wide range of frequencies and stressed the importance of the signal to noise ratio (SNR) in receivers rather than simple field strength.

During the early 1930s Friis helped design the radio receiver used by Karl Jansky for radio astronomy, and with Edmond Bruce invented the rhombic antenna widely used for shortwave communications. In 1938 Friis became the director of the Holmdel Radio Laboratory developing microwave systems, where he and Alfred C. Beck designed a horn reflector antenna; AT&T's national microwave relay network was subsequently based on this work. During World War II, Friis invented a "rocking horse" mechanical scanner for radar used to locate enemy mortars. He also authorized research into the first germanium diodes (Teal, 1942).

In 1946 Friis published his well-known analytic formula for transmission loss, the Friis transmission equation, which is still widely employed. In 1958 he retired but continued as a research consultant to the Hewlett-Packard Company as a friend of David Packard. He held 31 U.S. patents. Friis died in 1976 at age 83.[1]


Friis received the IRE Morris N. Liebmann Award in 1939, the Valdemar Poulsen Medal of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in 1954, the IRE Medal of Honor (now the IEEE Medal of Honor) in 1955, the Ballentine Medal from the Franklin Institute in 1958 and the Mervin Kelly Award of the IEEE in 1964.

Selected works

  • Seventy Five Years in an Exciting World (1971)
  • Antennas: Theory and Practice (1952)
  • Proc. IRE, vol. 34, p. 254 (Friis transmission equation)(1946)
  • A New Directional Receiving System (1925)
  • High fFequency Amplifiers (1924)


  1. ^ "Died.". Time (magazine). June 28, 1976.,9171,911823,00.html. Retrieved 2008-04-28. "Harald T. Friis, 83, radio-communications pioneer whose work helped make possible, among other things, modern radio reception and microwave transmission; of a stroke; in Palo Alto, Calif. Born in Denmark, Friis became a leading research scientist with the Bell System, eventually holding 25 patents, including one for the famous horn-reflector antenna of microwave systems first used in satellite communication. Highly regarded as a teacher of other scientists, Friis also supervised the work of the late Karl Jansky, founder of radio astronomy."  

Other sources

  • Pierce, John Robinson The Wisdom of Harald Friis (1957)
  • Teal, Gordon K. Single Crystals of Germanium and Silicon—Basic to the Transistor and Integrated Circuit (IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, vol. ED-23, no. 7, July 1976)

Further reading



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