Biography of Robert von Lieben

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Robert von Lieben was physicist who invented the amplifier thermionic valve named after him with magnetic control (1905/06) and a glowingcathode ray tube with grid control (triode) (1910), both were essential in the development of radio and television technology.

Robert von Lieben was born on 5 September 1878 in Vienna in a wealthy Jewish family. His father, Leopold von Lieben, was president of the Viennese stock exchange and his mother was Anna von Lieben (nee Todesco). The family owned a house in the downtown of Vienna, near the Opera. Robert spent an unencumbered childhood, but received a good education.

Lieben’s family house – how it looks now (Photo by H.-T. Schmidt)

In a high school he became interested in physics and chemistry. Robert von Lieben was so much interested in electricity, that was actualy very popular in this time, that he went for a short time as an unsalaried employee to the Siemens company in Nuernberg. Then he volunteered for the military service, but soon accidentally fell from a horse and was heavily injured. He never completely recovered and this accident was probably a reason for his early death.

Lieben’s laboratory in Vienna

Robert von Lieben didn’t have systematic university education and visited lectures at the Vienna University only occasionaly. However, he spent one year (1899) as an assistant of Professor W. Nernst at the Universityof Goettingen. In 1900 he returned to Vienna and created his own laboratory for physical and chemical experiments.

In 1904 Robert von Lieben bought a telephone company in Ohlmuetz and started to work systematically on the improvements of electronic components for telephone communications. In 1905/06 he invented the amplifier thermionic valve named after him with magnetic control (on March 4, 1906, German patent No. 179 807) and in 1910 invented a glowing cathode ray tube with grid control (triode) (on December 10, 1910, German patent No. 249 141), both were essential in the development of radio and television technology. The amplification tube, which Robert von Lieben patented in 1906, was the basis for wireless telegraphy and up to the 50ies, a component of radio receivers.

In 1911 Robert von Lieben married actress Anny Schindler.

At the age of 34 years Robert von Lieben died on 20 February 1913 after serious illness. He was survived by his father.

This plaque memorizing Robert von Lieben was created by the well-known sculptor A. Gerhardt and was attached to the wall of the RAVAG house (Austrian broadcast) until 1938 when it was removed (and never restored) from anti-Semitic reasons. (Graphic by H.-T. Schmidt)

An Austrian postal stamp memorizing Robert von Lieben and his amplifier tube 1906 (the stamp mistakenly shows the tube design of 1910).

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