Dr. DuMont was born in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 10, he was stricken with polio and was quarantined at his family's Eastern Parkway apartment for nearly a year. During his quarantine, his father brought home books and magazines for the young DuMont to read while bedridden. At this time, DuMont developed an interest in science and specifically in wireless radio communication. DuMont taught himself Morse code. His father bought him a "crystal radio set" which he assembled, took apart, reassembled and rebuilt several times. He improved his set each time he rebuilt it and later put together a transmitter, while his father got the landlord's permission to erect a 30-foot high transmitting and receiving antenna on the roof.
While recuperating from polio, DuMont was advised to swim to regain the use of his legs. In 1914, the family moved to Montclair, NJ, where there was an indoor year-round pool available at the local YMCA. He graduated from Montclair High School in 1919, and went to RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), in Troy, NY. At RPI, DuMont filed his first patent application for a sound activated switch, used to turn on and off lights and appliances.
In 1915, DuMont became the youngest American to obtain a first class commercial radio operator's license at age 14. The following summer, DuMont got a job as a radio operator aboard a coastal steamer making runs from New York to Providence, Rhode Island. As the summers went by, he made his way to the Caribbean, South America and after World War One, to Europe, where, during the summer of 1922, he was stuck in Copenhagen for months because of a dock workers strike.
After graduating from RPI in 1924, he obtained a job at the Westinghouse Lamp Company in Bloomfield, NJ, and was put in charge of radio tube production. While there, he increased production from 500 tubes per day to an astounding 50,000 tubes per day. Flabbergasted by his genius, management decided to give him a $500 bonus, a small raise and the "Westinghouse Award", an award devised to recognize his accomplishments. Later the "Westinghouse Award" was presented as a scholarship award to high school seniors showing promise in a field of science.
By 1928, DuMont searched for new opportunities and was wooed by Dr. Lee De Forest, a radio pioneer who developed the audion tube, the original voice amplifier for radio reception. De Forest had a checkered career as an inventor and had gone in and out of business several times. DuMont was hired as vice president and production manager of radio tubes. Here he came in contact with mechanical television, one that De Forest had purchased from C. Francis Jenkins, another radio pioneer. DuMont worked to improve television transmission and reception and went to De Forest asking for funds to build a long lasting cathode ray tube for television reception. Dr. De Forest denied DuMont's request as De Forest's investors were demanding return. Subsequently, DuMont resigned at the same time that De Forest sold his radio manufacturing business to David Sarnoff at RCA.
DuMont then started his own company in the basement of his Cedar Grove, NJ, home building long lasting cathode ray tubes. In 1931, he sold two tubes to two college science laboratories at $35 each.
In 1932, he proposed a "ship finder" device to the U.S. Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, NJ, that used radio wave distortions to locate objects on a cathode ray tube screen (Radar). The military asked him not to take out a patent for developing what they wanted to maintain as a secret. He later went on to develop long range precision radar to aid the Allies during WWII. The French Government recognized his achievements by knighting him in 1952.
DuMont produced the finest longest lasting black and white televisions available in the 1940s and 1950s. The DuMont Network, however, was faced with one major problem, making a profit without the benefit of using an already established radio network and profits from same.
DuMont eventually sold the network to John Kluge in the late 1950s. Kluge renamed the network Metomedia and sold it in 1986 to Rupert Murdoch of FOX. The manufacturing divisions were sold in 1960. The television manufacturing division was sold to Emerson Radio. His research lab became part of Fairchild Camera and developed semiconductors. Robert Noice, a founder of INTEL, originally worked for DuMont. The laboratory also developed, under a subcontract, the original SONY Trinitron(R) color picture tube.
DuMont always loved the sea and became a national powerboat champion in predicted log races in the 1950s.
DuMont was recipient of countless honorary degrees and awards and was first to provide funding for educational television broadcasting. He died in 1965 and is buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Upper Montclair. The television center at Montclair State University is named for him.