Historical Marker #87 on the Murray State University campus remembers the life of inventor Nathan Beverly Stubblefield, who developed an early form of radio.
The nineteenth century was a revolutionary time of invention, especially in the field of communications. Inspired by the experiments of Samuel Morse in the 1840s, inventors including Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison made strides in voice transmission in the latter half of the century. Similarly, Calloway County native Nathan B. Stubblefield, largely unaware of the progress of his peers, engineered a wireless telephone that surpassed Bell's model. However, unlike Bell’s invention, Stubblefield's ground-breaking work passed largely unrecognized through the pages of history.
Born in 1860 to William and Victoria Stubblefield, the future inventor was educated by a governess at an early age and later attended Calloway County public schools. He was eventually sent to boarding school in Farmington, Kentucky. Despite his education, Stubblefield's extensive knowledge of the scientific world was largely due to self-education. With his experiments Stubblefield developed improvements for the telephone and engineered the lamp lighter, electric battery, and mobile radio telephone.
In 1902, Stubblefield demonstrated his wireless voice transmission system to a crowd in Murray. On that occasion he transmitted his son's voice to a receiver at almost a mile distant. Later that year Stubblefield demonstrated his technology to officials in Washington D.C., where he transmitted from a boat to shore. Reluctant to price his invention to investors Stubblefield attempted to start the Wireless Telephone Company of America, which failed.
The end of Stubblefield's life was marked with tragedy. The family farm was sold off by his children after his wife abandoned him. Plagued with paranoid thoughts, he broke contact with family and friends and became a recluse. The inventor spent his final years in a small shack in Almo, Kentucky, where he died of starvation on March 28, 1928. He is buried in Bowman Cemetery near Murray.