100th anniversary of Lev Theremin’s theremin


Petr Chachin | 11/14/2020

November 2020 marks 100 years since the day when the physicist, inventor and musician Lev Theremin (1896 – 1993) first demonstrated the electro-musical instrument he created, called
subsequently theremin. During radio measurements of the dielectric constant of gases at variable temperature and pressure, Theremin noticed that the device made a sound, the height and strength of which depended on
the position of the hand between the plates of the capacitor.

Perhaps just a physicist would not have attached any importance to this, but Theremin was a graduate of the conservatory and he tried to put together a melody from these sounds. Thus was born the world’s first electronic music
theremin instrument – “Theremin’s voice”.


Lev Sergeevich Termen was born on August 15, 1896 in St. Petersburg into a noble family with French roots. His father was a lawyer. In 1914 he graduated from the Petersburg first men’s gymnasium, in
1916 St. Petersburg Conservatory, cello class. In parallel, he studied at the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of Petrograd University.

In 1916 he was drafted into the army, underwent training at the Nikolaev Engineering School and at the officer’s electrical engineering courses. He served as an officer serving the country’s most powerful Tsarskoye Selo
radio station. After the 1917 revolution, he continued to work at the same station, then was sent to a military radio laboratory in Moscow.

In 1919, Theremin became the head of the laboratory of the Physico-Technical Institute in Petrograd, where he was invited by Professor A.F. Ioffe. Here Lev Sergeevich, on the basis of one experimental measuring device, made two inventions – theremin and electronic signaling.

In 1922, a demonstration of these inventions was arranged in the Kremlin, which was attended by V.I. Lenin. The head of the Council of People’s Commissars approved both works. The burglar alarm device soon found application in
Gokhran, State Bank and Hermitage, and theremin concerts were held in many cities of the country.

Theremin had many inventions – from automatic doors to one of the first television systems “Far Vision”. When he went to the exhibition in Frankfurt am Main, he made a splash there with his
performance. The best concert halls in Europe opened before him.

In 1928, Theremin, while remaining a Soviet citizen, moved to the United States. Upon arrival, he patented the Theremin and his security alarm system. He also sold the serial production license
a simplified version of the theremin of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). At the same time, he developed alarm systems for the high-security prisons of Sing Sing and Alcatraz.

Speeches, patents and developments made him a wealthy man. Lev Theremin organized the Teletouch and Theremin Studio companies and rented a six-story building in New York for 99 years for
music and dance studio. This made it possible to create trade missions of the USSR in the USA, under the “roof” of which Soviet intelligence officers could work.

In 1938, Theremin was recalled to the USSR. Soon he was accused of attempted murder of S.M. Kirov and exiled to Kolyma for eight years. A year later he was sent to Moscow to OKB-29 (“Tupolev sharaga” – Research Institute
prison type), where he, together with S.P. Korolev developed a radio-controlled missile.

Then he was transferred to the Kuchin sharaga, where he designed special radio equipment. Two works on this topic have received special recognition. Among them is the Buran eavesdropping system, which reads
information by means of the reflected infrared beam from the vibration of glass in the windows of the listening room.

In addition, the scientist in 1943 invented another eavesdropping system “Zlatoust”, which was reported to Stalin himself. It did not need power supply, since it was based on
principle of high frequency resonance.

This device (endovibrator) was remotely “illuminated” by a powerful external source of microwave radiation, and the reflected signal was received by a specialized highly sensitive receiver “Los”
demodulated and recorded on a tape recorder.

In 1945, as part of a special operation of the NKVD at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the pioneer camp “Artek”, schoolchildren presented the US Ambassador to the USSR Averell Harriman the coat of arms of the United States, made by the hands of pioneers
from valuable varieties of wood. It was a real work of art. The diplomat almost cried with happiness, he immediately wrote a check for $ 10 thousand to the camp, and hung a gift from Soviet children in his work


So the product “Zlatoust”, disguised in the coat of arms, got into the American embassy and worked there for seven years. After Harriman, three more ambassadors worked in the office until they were discovered. But also having received
his hands “Chrysostom” (in American documents The Thing – “thing”), foreign experts did not immediately figure it out.

Then it was copied many times by American and British intelligence services, and the story itself was included in many textbooks on international espionage. The author of the invention was convict Theremin in 1947
The “closed” Stalin Prize of the first degree and was rehabilitated, and the “thing” itself became an exhibit at the CIA Museum in Langley, Virginia.

More information about the work of Russian radio engineers can be found on the website of the Virtual Computer Museum

history of domestic ICT

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