Magnetic recording technology, introduced in the later part of the 19th century, inspired an entirely new world of electronic communication. German-American inventor Semi Joseph Begun made contributions in this field that sped the development of the broadcasting industry. His electromagnetic talking device allowed for the recording and playback of the human voice. Patented in 1934, his was the first tape recorder designed for broadcasting.
Begun was born in Danzig, Germany, on Dec. 2, 1905. He became interested in magnetic recording as a student at the Institute of Technology in Berlin, from where he graduated in 1929.
He immigrated to the United States in 1935 and began working for the Brush Development Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. With Begun’s help, Brush, which was mainly a manufacturer of phonograph pickups, began making magnetic tape sound recorders in cooperation with Western Electric. Begun’s magnetic recorder was used for broadcasts during the 1936 Olympics.
When World War II broke out, Begun promoted the development of magnetic recording as a member of the National Defense Research Committee and began experimenting with recording media, developing various types of coated paper and magnetic, plastic tape. In 1943, he was named Brush’s Vice President of Research.
Begun secured a funding contract at Brush from the NDRC to research possible substitutes for a stainless steel wire component used in recording devices that made them somewhat expensive to manufacture. He invented a coated, non-metallic tape that led to the development of the first consumer tape recorder, dubbed the Sound Mirror. He also invented the Mail-a-Voice, which magnetically recorded on one side of a paper disk for letter correspondence. Begun was honored with a Presidential Certificate of Merit from President Truman for his work with the NRDC. In addition to his inventions, Begun led the charge in forging a sourcing partnership for magnetic tape with 3M. This would later become a billion-dollar product line for that company.
Begun founded his own technology consulting firm, Auctor Associates, in 1971. He died on January 5, 1995. In 1998, he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.