Researching Uncle Cledo’s Life Spurs Several ‘Oh Wow!’ Moments

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about several “Oh Wow!” genealogy moments he had when he researched a remarkable member of his extended family: the brilliant scientist Cledo Brunetti.

While I really enjoy every aspect of genealogy and family history, if you are like me, you really treasure and celebrate those amazing “Oh Wow!” moments when you make an unexpected research discovery.

For me one of these exciting genealogy research moments, which actually resulted in me doing my best Happy Dance (something like this that you do not want to witness), happened when I was looking through GenealogyBank.com for information on one of my wife’s great uncles, Cledo Brunetti. I had not done much work on my wife’s “Uncle Cledo,” but I had become intrigued by a number of family stories that this fellow was involved in sophisticated research on behalf of the United States. So off I went in search of the story of Uncle Cledo.

As I said, Oh Wow! My very first research discovery was a 1946 newspaper article that confirmed a whopping four of the family stories I had heard about Uncle Cledo.

Radar, Radio Pocket-Sized, Oregonian  newspaper article 9 February 1946

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 February 1946, page 1

First, it reported that Dr. Cledo Brunetti worked for the Bureau of Standards for the U.S. government. The old newspaper article went on to say that he was with a group instrumental in the development of the proximity fuse for American munitions, was involved in the creation of the first transistor radio (about the size of a pack of cigarettes), and had a hand in the invention of the very first printed circuits. Not a bad start to my ancestry research, especially since a subsequent newspaper article included the fact that Uncle Cledo was actually the Director of the Ordinance Division of the Bureau during World War II.

Then I opened another amazing research find! This 1947 news article reported that Uncle Cledo was introducing a “personal vest-pocket broadcasting station” for radio communications. One half was so small it fit in a tube of lipstick and the other half was on a calling card. This certainly seemed to be the beginnings of what I had been told was his development of the “Dick Tracy Wrist Radio.”

Radio Station Made to Fit Lipstick Tube, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Best of all, this 1947 article featured a picture of Uncle Cledo!

photo of scientist Cledo Brunetti, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Then surprise, surprise! In a 1948 newspaper I found an article entitled “Dick Tracy Radio May Come True” and who do you think was the inventor quoted? Yep, none other than Uncle Cledo and he was talking about having one made as a Christmas present for President Truman!

Dick Tracy Radio May Come True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 11 August 1948

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 11 August 1948, page 14

A 1949 newspaper reported (with some wonderful photographs): “Dick Tracy’s Wrist Radio Comes True.” Yep, Uncle Cledo really did it!

Dick Tracy's Wrist Radio Comes True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 20 February 1949

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 20 February 1949, page 26

Then I found a 1961 newspaper article that surprised even my wife, Mary Kay, Cledo Brunetti’s niece.

New U.S. Rocket Series Urged in Space Race, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 April 1961

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 April 1961, page 7

This old newspaper article quotes Uncle Cledo, in his role as president of the Grand Central Rocket Company, discussing his work on space rockets and how NASA could get a man on the moon—and his testifying before the House Space Committee in Washington D.C.

Wistfully, Mary Kay told me how much I would have loved meeting Uncle Cledo, and then she related how Uncle Cledo had given her and her family a private tour of the Lick Observatory while on a family vacation in California. It’s such a small world…my great uncle James Vanek was the man who accompanied the Warner & Swasey telescope parts on the train from Cleveland, Ohio, to the observatory where it was installed.

I thought I was done with my genealogy research on Uncle Cledo when I decided to do a quick Google search to augment my GenealogyBank.com information, and I found one more amazing item. It seems that ever since 1975 the world-premier award in nanotechnology, awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is named the “Cledo Brunetti Award.”

What is the biggest Oh Wow! moment you have had in your genealogy efforts? I’d sure love to hear about it! Please share your ancestor stories in the comments.

Today in History: Bizarre Yet Brilliant Inventor Nikola Tesla Born

Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla!

When most people think about an electrical genius who was a master inventor, they think of Thomas Edison. However, when Edison was working his magic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries he had a rival who was every bit his equal in brains if not lasting fame: Nikola Tesla. Today marks the 156th anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s birth on July 10, 1856. In remembrance and celebration of Tesla’s legacy on his birthday we explore his uncommon life.

A Brief Biography of Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan, present-day Croatia, but became an American citizen. In his eventful 86-year life Tesla proved to be a real wizard of electricity: he perfected alternating current (AC) electrical power; made breakthroughs in radar, X-rays and robotics; invented the Tesla coil; and made many important discoveries that justify calling him the “father of modern radio.”

Unquestionably a genius, Tesla spoke eight languages fluently. He experienced astonishing visions in which he saw inventions so clearly that every detail was already sharp in his mind before he ever set them down on paper. At the height of his fame the public marveled at his inventions and recognized him as the equal of fellow inventor Thomas Edison.

Sadly, that fame was not to last. As he aged he became increasingly strange, with ever-more bizarre behavior. He was obsessed by many things, including pigeons and a deathly fear of dirt. The number 3 haunted him: for example, he always walked around a block three times before entering any building. The public lost its fascination with him, and his life ended without acquiring the lasting fame that Thomas Edison enjoys to this day.

Nikola Tesla died broke and all alone in a New York City hotel room on Jan. 7, 1943. Despite making more than 700 inventions in his lifetime and many of science’s most important breakthroughs, he died deeply in debt, unnoticed and forgotten—perhaps the archetype of the “mad scientist.”

He may have been bizarre, but Tesla was not crazy—and many of the devices and procedures we use today sprang from the mind of this baffling, incredibly inventive man.

Tesla's Latest: The Electrician Illustrates Three New Discoveries, Plain Dealer, 9 April 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 April 1897, page 8

Published in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 April 1897, page 8.

The above old newspaper article was written when Tesla enjoyed great renown.

The article begins: “After many months of silence, Nikola Tesla spoke night before last at the Academy of Science, and, as always happens on such occasions, the scientific knowledge of the world was the richer thereby. Mr. Tesla, without going deeply into the details of his methods, announced three discoveries he has made, and gave practical illustrations of them. One will revolutionize the present methods of electric lighting, will exert a tremendous influence upon a hundred different things, and will open to the investigator an infinite number of highways of research, and will end, Mr. Tesla says, in bringing about that sought-for end of all electricians: the transmission of information through space without the agency of wires now needed.”

A collection of old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, provides tremendous information to help with your family history research—and also contains stories about the times and leading figures that influenced your ancestors’ lives such as this remarkable inventor. You can explore thousands of articles to learn more about the curious life of Nikola Tesla in our online archives.