Spirit of Radio Exhibition


Sir Oliver Lodge 1851-1940

Locally born, Sir Oliver Lodge, pioneered the development of wireless technology and was a professor of physics by the age of thirty. He was known as a brilliant scientist who had a gift for explaining complex scientific principles in a manner that could be understood by many.

Oliver Lodge left school in 1865 aged 14 and initially helped his father in running a business selling clays and glazes to potbanks – pottery manufacturers. However, Lodge showed keen interest in the field of science, conducting experiments in his bedroom in his home in Wolstanton after the family moved there from his birthplace in Penkhull. The big breakthrough came when he stayed with an aunt in London and attended lectures on scientific subjects at London University. Lodge could hardly contain his excitement. In his own words, he "got impregnated" with physics. He returned home and studied at the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem, and elsewhere before going back to London to gain the degree Doctor of Science. He wrote his first book, Elementary Mechanics, at 26.

Many years later, Lodge wrote in his autobiography: "At an early age I decided that my main business was with the imponderables, the things that work secretly and have to be apprehended mentally." He spent 19 years as professor of experimental physics at the new Liverpool University College before his academic career reached its peak in 1900 when he was appointed the first principal of Birmingham University College.

He was born in Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent and he achieved world renown for his pioneering work in radio and was the first man to transmit a message by wireless. He also invented electric spark ignition, a massive step forward in the world of internal combustion engines - his ideas were developed by two of his sons who went on to form the Lodge Plug Company.

In 1887, the Royal Society of Arts commissioned Lodge to prepare a series of lectures concerning how to protect buildings from lightning damage. This led to him proving the existence of electromagnetic waves simultaneously with Heinrich Hertz. In the course of his research into lightening conduction, he made important discoveries in the transmission of radio waves.

Hertz died in 1894 and Lodge delivered lectures on their joint work but also transmitted radio signals to show their potential for communication. In the same year Lodge perfected and developed a radio-wave detector invented by Édouard Branly and named it the Coherer. It was one of the most important types of detector developed before electronic tubes.

The Spirit of Radio; evolving ideas in wireless communication

‘With electricity we were wired into a new world, for electricity brought the radio’ - Theodore H White

Until the early 19th Century, radio waves were relatively unknown. James Clerk Maxwell theorised their existence in the 1860s and Oliver Lodge proved that waves could be directly generated from electromagnetic fields. Heinrich Hertz’s experiments from 1886-1888 firmly established this notion.

Guglielmo Marconi proved the feasibility of radio communication. In 1899 Marconi transmitted signals across the English Channel; however the success of his first transatlantic radiotelegraph message in 1901 has been contested.

Lee De Forest's 1906 vacuum tube (triode) allowed weaker signals to travel over greater distances. Similarities between John Fleming’s oscillation valve and De Forest's triode caused years of court disputes. Fleming’s patent was ruled invalid by the United States Supreme Court in 1943.

The period between the late 1920s and the early 1950s is considered the Golden Age of Radio, with radio broadcasting for entertainment increasing. In 1933, Edwin Armstrong’s invention of Frequency Modulated (FM) radio minimised radio interference. The transistor went on to replace the triode and printed circuits reduced the power needed by radio equipment to operate, increasing reliability.

Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) began development in the 1980’s and has grown in popularity ever since. Its ability to receive quality sound without interference at any distance has guaranteed its popularity. Radio listening is still as popular today as it ever was.

Who is the REAL 'father of radio'?

Oliver Lodge claimed Guglielmo Marconi’s British patent of 1897 for Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals contained his non-patented ideas. That year Lodge was granted a patent on the Coherer with which Marconi received wireless signals. Marconi purchased this patent in 1911. Lodge’s extension of the 1897 patent was the basis of Marconi's 'Four Sevens' patent of 1900. Lodge was persuaded to accept £18,000 for his patents and to join the Marconi Company as an advisor.

Nikola Tesla received his US radio patent in 1900 while Marconi's patent application failed due to Tesla's existing technology. However, Marconi's popularity and aristocratic connections obtained him a US patent in 1904. Tesla and Marconi’s 1915 court dispute was ruled in Marconi's favour. He later disputed the American government's use of his patents in World War I. The Court avoided legal action by restoring Tesla's patent over Marconi's in 1943, reinstating Tesla as the inventor of radio. Despite this Marconi did more for commercial radio than anyone else.

Mobile Phone Technology

Mobile phones use radio frequency waves to make and receive calls. The first mobiles were radio phones used in cars in the 1940s. Radio waves enable voice information to be sent through a phone in the form of a code which is received by a base station as a signal. The station sends a signal back to the mobile to indicate the stations available within signal range. This process of one phone establishing a link with another is called a handshake signal. New wireless technology allows mobiles to communicate with computers without using radio waves.

Radiation levels are at their peak in mobile phones when a handshake signal is made. The amount of radiation then drops and is relatively small. Researchers have not found a clear link between mobile phone radiation and long-term harmful effects on health; however research is still being done. It is advised that young children should refrain from excessive use of mobile phones.

Psychic phenomena

For many years, Lodge had been investigating psychic phenomena and published ‘The case for and against psychical belief’ with his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and notable others, including Harry Houdini. This resulted in some criticism from academic quarters. But Lodge, a practising Christian, didn’t alter what he believed to be the truth.

He wrote: "I am as convinced of continued existence on the other side of death as I am of existence here.". It is thought that Lodge's fascination with Spiritualism began with the loss of his son Raymond, who was killed in 1915 during World War 1 and about whom Lodge wrote a poignant book. Lodge died in 1940, aged 89, having deposited a sealed message with the Society for Psychical Research, hoping to send the message from 'the other side' through a medium. But independent observers were not convinced by attempts to contact his spirit. Seven years before his death, Oliver Lodge summed up his feelings on the after-life in his last book, My Philosophy: "The universe seems to me to be a great reservoir of life and mind. The unseen universe is a great reality. This is the region to which we really belong and to which we shall one day return."

He thought he could improve radio communication to contact the dead. Lodge said that he would prove the existence of an afterlife by making public appearances after his death. No such appearances have been reported.

Lodge was at the forefront of the development of radio and undoubtedly ahead of Marconi and he brought a successful law suit against the Italian for making use of his patents. The result of the case was that he became scientific advisor to Marconi's company. Heinrich Hertz, whom Lodge worked with, became the first scientist to discover electro-magnetic waves, but it was Lodge who became the first man to actually transmit a message by a wireless signal, before an audience of the British Association at Oxford in 1894. In 1928 Stoke on Trent, the City of his birth acknowledged his brilliant scientific work and he was made a Freeman of Stoke on Trent. He published many books and was much in demand as a speaker. In fact in 1902, he received a Knighthood from Edward VII and he received medals of recognition from the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Arts.

Since then he has been forgotten and even the house where he lived is nowadays famous for a later occupant, Sir Stanley Matthews.

Exhibition on loan to Staffordshire University Science Centre, by kind permission of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.