Although his father intended for him to become a businessman, Oliver Lodge instead became one of the pioneers of communication systems at the turn of thenineteenth century. Born on June 12, 1851, at Penkhull, Staffordshire, England, he was the oldest of nine children. His father, who was also named Oliver(and was the twenty-third of twenty-five children), was a pottery merchant.
Young Oliver went to work in his father's business at age 14, but occasionalvisits to London afforded him the opportunity to attend lectures given by John Tyndall (1820-1893) at the Royal Institution. These lectures turned Lodge'sinterests toward science, and in 1873, at age 22, he enrolled at the Royal College of Science and at University College in London, studying electricity and physics. He received his doctorate degree in 1877, and became the first professor of physics at University College in Liverpool in 1881. He spent the next nineteen years in Liverpool, where he made contributions in the theory ofthe ether and electromagnetic wave propagation.
The theory of light at the time required a medium through which light waves were to pass as they moved through space. Lodge helped to disprove the existence of such an "ether," clearing the way for Albert Einstein's (1879-1955) newtheory of matter and energy, which did not need an ether to explain the behavior of light. More importantly, Lodge studied electromagnetic radiation closely. In 1887, he discovered that traveling waves and standing waves were produced along conducting wires as a result of oscillations involving the discharge of a Leyden jar. These waves were measurable and followed precisely the theory of electromagnetism established by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879).
Meanwhile, German physicist Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) had generated similarinvisible radiation at a wavelength of 2.2 ft. (66 cm). While Hertz just beatLodge to the discovery, Lodge invented a better method of detecting the "Hertzian waves." Lodge named his device the coherer. In 1890, French physicist Edouard Branly (1844-1940) observed that loosely connected metals would coherewhen subjected to electromagnetic radiation. Lodge's coherer contained metalparticles which stuck together in the presence of these waves, and made an excellent detector.
Lodge concentrated on studying long wavelengths, much longer than the wavelenghts of visible light, making him the leader in early radio communication. By1894 he had used radio waves to carry Morse code signals half a mile (800 m).
On June 1, 1894, five month's after Hertz's unfortunate early death, Lodge gave a commemorative lecture in which he stressed the importance of syntony, resonant tuning by focusing electromagnetic radiation to obtain better results.One of his concepts involved a resonant antenna circuit. Lodge and his associate, Alexander Muirhead, formed a business and were farsighted enough to obtain patents covering this circuit. His lecture was printed in a book which had great influence on the development of radiotelegraphy around the world. Guglielmo Marconi would incorporate Lodge's devices and concepts into his radiosystem, which produced the first successful trans-Atlantic telegraph. Lodge was knighted for his accomplishments in 1902.
In 1883, Lodge had become interested in extremely long-distance communication of another type. He began to study psychic research, telepathy, and communication with the dead. Following the death of one of his sons (Lodge hadtwelve children of his own) and his own retirement, his interest increased.In addition to the p rofessional organizations to which he belonged, he was twice president of the Society of Psychical Research. On August 22, 1940, eighty-nine year old Oliver Lodge died.