May 26 • 06:00 PM

Squier is 'unsung hero of electronic age'

After the Titanic sank in 1912, a maritime commission sought Squier’s advice on the use of telecommunications to improve the safety of ocean travel.

March 24, 2010
Editor's Note: The following is the third and final installment in a series of guest columns about Dryden's own General Squier submitted by Almont native, Larry Bentz, now a resident of Clinton Township. Bentz holds BS and MBA degrees from Michigan State University and works in corporate finance.

While serving at the National Bureau of Standards (1909-1911), Squier invented a means to apply a concept that had existed only in theory since the 1870s—"carrier multiplexing." Without multiplexing, only one telephone conversation or telegraph message at a time could be sent through a wire and only over short distances. Squier's multiplexing (which he called "wired wireless") allowed multiple telephone conversations and/or telegraph messages to be sent simultaneously in the form of modulated high frequency radio signals guided along the outside of a wire over long distances, without interfering with each other or with any transmission going through the wire. In 1911, Squier received four U.S. and several foreign patents for multiplexing. His invention won him world acclaim and was hailed as the most important electronic development since the invention of the telephone.

Applications of Squier's multiplexing are universal in modern telecommunications and other electronic systems, including the following: telephones (corded, cordless, and cellular), television and radio (digital, satellite, and cable), analog FM radio, stereo and surround sound systems, video editing and processing equipment, satellite-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS), computer networks, email, and the Internet. Multiplexing makes possible the use of fiber optic cable, which is present in many of these systems. Fiber optics are also used in instruments such as the oscilloscope, which allows signal voltages to be viewed. Fiber optic scopes are used for a variety of medical procedures and fiber optic lasers are used for surgical procedures such as LASIK.

Under an obscure provision in patent law, Squier could have kept the rights to his U.S. multiplexing patents and collected royalties, even as a government employee. Wanting to repay U.S. taxpayers for financing his education at West Point and Johns Hopkins, however, he assigned his rights to the public. The New York Times carried two full-page articles on Squier, praising him for his patriotism and generosity. After AT&T began using these patents royalty free for commercial gain, Squier sued in 1922, demanding that AT&T pay royalties to the public. In a decision upheld on appeal and still questioned, the court ruled against Squier.

With the backing of a utility company, Squier formed Wired Radio, Inc. in 1922 and applied multiplexing to broadcast dance music over electric power lines to homes. Later, the company broadcast "society" music over telephone lines to restaurants and hotels, and background music to businesses (to help companies boost employee productivity). Squier's cable radio had many advantages over wireless radio at that time. In 1934, Squier changed Wired Radio's name to one we all know—Muzak (from the words "music" and "Kodak," a made-up name he liked). Dentists began using Muzak to comfort anxious patients. Muzak acquired the nickname "elevator music" when it started being used to calm nervous elevator passengers. (Incorrectly, Muzak became known as a style of music rather than as a form of music delivery.)

Today, Muzak Holdings LLC is based in Fort Mill, SC and is the world's leading music, messaging, and sound systems provider. It is broadcast by satellite and is available on the Internet. Over 100 million people in 19 countries daily hear Muzak over 80 channels in places such as offices, malls, supermarkets, airports, and over telephones on hold. Muzak is heard at the White House and Pentagon—even by NASA astronauts in space. Thankfully, "elevator music" is only a small part of Muzak's current repertoire of one million recorded songs. To honor Squier as the founder of Muzak, the Daily Press (Newport News, VA) created a "Top 10 Georges" list on his birthday in 2009. George Washington came in first.

My first major exposure to Muzak was in my freshman dorm (Wonders Hall) at Michigan State University, where I heard it daily in the elevators, lobbies, corridors, cafeteria, and grille. Also, Wonders had a closed-circuit cable radio station ("WEAK") used by television and radio majors (including my former Almont High School classmate and Wonders roommate, Rick Liblong) to develop broadcasting skills. WEAK radio broadcasts were sent to Wonders dorm rooms over electrical wires using Squier's Muzak multiplexing technology. To hear a WEAK broadcast, a Wonders resident simply plugged a radio into any dorm room electrical outlet and tuned to the station's frequency.

Squier never married but in 1918 with the aid of his sister, Mary Parker, wife of a Dryden physician, opened his free 80-acre Golden Rule Park ("leave the grounds and equipment as you found them") a mile south of Dryden. The park consisted of the family farm established in 1835 and bordering acreage purchased by Squier. In its early years, this "country club for country people" welcomed 60,000 visitors annually. Renamed General Squier Park, it was donated to Lapeer County upon Squier's death in 1934. It was designated a Michigan Historic Site in 1977 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Although most of the original structures at the park are gone, Forest Hall, the multi-purpose building constructed in 1919, remains. It became so popular that many people refer to the entire park as Forest Hall. A water feature (now closed due to lack of funding) was added a few years ago.

Squier was named a fellow of Johns Hopkins University, awarded an honorary degree by Dartmouth College, and elected to the National Academy of Sciences and several other similar organizations. Numerous organizations in the U.S. and three other countries awarded him several medals for his scientific achievements. He was knighted by the King of England—adding "Sir" to his other titles, "Dr." and "General."

A Lapeer County road was named in his honor.

During World War II, the Navy established the General G. O. Squier Class Transport (30 ships all named for army generals). The USS General G.O. Squier was lead ship of the class and earned three campaign ribbons, a battle star, and the Victory Medal for its service in transporting troops to strategic battlefronts such as Guadalcanal and Southern France (Operation Dragoon).

Whenever you think of America's great military air power, please remember that Squier was a key figure in its origination. Whenever you use a telephone, watch television, listen to radio, enjoy stereo or surround sound, use GPS, send an email, surf the Internet, listen to Muzak, or have a medical procedure employing a fiber optic instrument, please remember that operation of these modern electronic systems would not be possible without multiplexing, patented by Squier in 1911—four years before his hometown received electrical service. Dryden's amazing General Squier is truly the father of modern telecommunications and the unsung hero of the electronic age.

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