Cathode rays (also called an electron beam or e-beam) are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes, i.e. evacuated glass tubes that are equipped with at least two electrodes, a cathode (negative electrode) and an anode (positive electrode) in a configuration known as a diode.
When the cathode is heated, electrons are emitted from the metal. These are attracted to the anode. If the inner glass walls behind the anode are coated with a fluorescent material called a phosphor the incident electrons induce a glow. The presence of cathode rays was first postulated in early studies in vacuum tubes by placing metal shapes between the electrodes, thereby casting a shadow on the phosphorescent coating. This suggested that the cause of the light emission was due to rays emitted by the cathode and hitting the coating. They travel towards the anode in straight lines and continue past it for some distance.
Scientists began traveling from town-to-town delighting audiences by making light glow in glass tubes. They did this by first taking an air-filled glass tube of which they would pump the air out. Next, wires would be attached at the opposite ends of the tube, and then the voltage would be turned up. This would make the tube glow in lovely patterns. In 1857, German physicist and Glass blower Heinrich Geissler sucked even more air out with an improved pump and noticed a fluorescent glow, thus inventing the Geissler tube. While Geissler tubes are intended to cause an enclosed low pressure gas to glow, observers noticed that certain glasses used in the tube envelope (enclosure) would glow, but only at the end connected to the positive side of the power supply. Special tubes were developed for the study of these rays by William Crookes and are called Crookes tubes.
Toward the end of the 19th century, this phenomenon was studied in great detail by physicists, yielding a Nobel Prize, for example, to Philipp von Lenard. It was soon understood that cathode rays consist of the actual carriers of electricity which are now known as electrons. The fact that the cathode emits the rays showed that electrons have negative charge.
Like a wave:
These conflicting properties caused disruptions when trying to classify it as a wave or article. Crookes insisted it was a particle, whilst Hertz maintained it was a wave. Theebate was resolved when an electric field was used to deflect the rays by α (alpha) particles