Donald Hings: Engineering the Walkie-talkie

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Donald Hings at work: Courtesy of the Hings family

Donald Hings, an engineer and inventor, equipped the Canadian and British military with an early version of the portable two-way wireless radio (walkie-talkie) during the Second World War.

Hings was recognized by the Telecommunications Hall of Fame in 2006 because “his modifications of the two-way radio … which he evolved into the world’s first functional and operational walkie-talkie, saved the lives of thousands of British, Canadian and American troops during the Second World War and helped to usher modern telecommunications technologies into the military”.

Earlier mobile radios were mounted in vehicles and relied on Morse code for transmission. Hings’ model, developed in 1937 when he was working at Cominco in Trail, British Columbia, was portable and could transmit the human voice over long distances. He called his invention “the packset”.

Hings patented his invention and offered it, royalty free, to the Canadian government for use in the war effort. His design (the C-58 or No. 58 MK1) quickly spread, and by the end of the war, 18,000 of his devices were in use by Allied forces. Similar models, developed around the same time, were used by American and British forces. The rapidly evolving technology continued to be modified into the postwar era, when walkie-talkies became readily available as toys for children.

Hings was later named a Member of the Order of the British Empire and of the Order of Canada.

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Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history and one of the world’s most respected museums for the study and understanding of armed conflict.

The Museum traces its origins back to 1880, when it consisted primarily of a collection of militia artifacts. The Museum opened at its new location on the LeBreton Flats site in downtown Ottawa on May 8, 2005. Its opening not only marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe (V-E Day) but also the 125th anniversary of the Museum itself. Since its opening in 2005, the Museum has welcomed approximately 500,000 visitors every year.