“A Telephone for the World” Wins 2021 Middleton Prize


In June 1990, Motorola publicly announced an ambitious business venture called Iridium. The project’s signature feature was a constellation of 77 satellites in low-Earth orbit which served as the equivalent of cellular towers, connecting to mobile customers below using wireless hand-held phones, enabling a completely global communications system. Focusing on the Iridium venture, A Telephone for the World: Iridium, Motorola, and the Making of a Global Age, (Johns Hopkins Press, 2018) explores the story of globalization at a crucial period in US and international history. It received the 2021 William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award from the IEEE History Committee.

In A Telephone for the World, Martin Collins, a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum combines oral history interviews with research in corporate records to reveal the role of the Iridium project’s communication satellites in advancing globalization. A Telephone for the World has been called “a fascinating look at how people, nations and corporations across the world grappled in different ways with the meaning of a new historical era.” 

The Middleton Award, established in 2014 thanks to a bequest from the estates of long-time IEEE leader William W. Middleton and his wife Joyce F. Middleton, recognizes annually the author of a book (published within the previous three years) in the history of an IEEE-related technology that both exemplifies exceptional scholarship and reaches beyond academic communities toward a broad public audience. It carries a cash prize of US$2,000. 

Past recipients of the Middleton Award include:

  • 2015, W. Bernard Carlson, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (Princeton University Press)
  • 2016, Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Simon & Schuster)
  • 2017, Megan Prelinger, Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age (Norton & Co.)
  • 2018, Marc Raboy, Marconi: The Man who Networked the World (Oxford University Press)
  • 2019, Jimmy Soni & Rob Goodman, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented  the Information Age (Simon & Schuster)

2020, Lillian Hoddeson and Peter K. Garrett,The Man Who Saw Tomorrow: The Life and Inventions of Stanford R. Ovshinsky (MIT Press)

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