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, 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.