oliver joseph, sir lodge

Oliver Joseph Lodge


Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge, FRS (June 12,1851 - August 22, 1940), born at Penkhull in Stoke-on-Trent and educated at Adams' Grammar School, was a physicist and writer involved in the development of the wireless telegraph. Lodge, in his Royal Institution lectures ("The Work of Hertz and Some of His Successors") coined the term "coherer." He gained the "syntonic" (or tuning) patent from the United States Patent Office in 1898. He was also credited by Lorentz (1895) with the first published description of the Length contraction hypothesis, in 1893.


Oliver Lodge was the eldest of eight sons and a daughter of Oliver Lodge (1826-1884) - later a Ball Clay merchant at Wolstanton, Staffordshire - and his wife, Grace, née Heath (1826-1879). Sir Oliver's siblings included Sir Richard Lodge (1855-1936), historian; Eleanor Constance Lodge (1869-1936), historian and principal of Westfield College, London; and Alfred Lodge (1854-1937), mathematician.

Lodge obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of London in 1875 and a Doctor of Science in 1877. He was appointed professor of physics and mathematics at University College, Liverpool in 1881. In 1900 Lodge moved from Liverpool back to the Midlands and became the first principal of the new Birmingham University, remaining there until his retirement in 1919, overseeing the start of the move from Edmund Street in the city centre to the present Edgbaston campus. Lodge was awarded the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society in 1898 and was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902. In 1928 he was made Freeman of his native city, Stoke-on-Trent.

Lodge married Mary Fanny Alexander Marshall at St George's church, Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1877. They had twelve children, six boys and six girls: Oliver William Foster (1878 - 1955), Francis Brodie (1880 - 1967), Alec (1881 - 1938), Lionel (1883 - 1948), Noel (1885 - 1962), Violet (1888 - 1924), Raymond (1889 - 1915), Honor (1891 - 1979), Lorna (1892 - 1987), Norah (1894 - 1990), Barbara (1896 - 1983), Rosalynde (1896 - 1983). Four of his sons went into business using Lodge's inventions. Brodie and Alec created the Lodge Plug Company, which manufactured spark plugs for cars and aeroplanes. Lionel and Noel founded a company that produced a machine for cleaning factory smoke. Oliver, the eldest son, became a poet and author.

Lodge is buried at St. Michael’s Church, Wilsford (Lake), Wiltshire.


Lodge is notable for his work on the aether, a now deprecated theory, which had been postulated as the wave-bearing medium filling all space. He transmitted radio signals on August 14, 1894, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University, one year before Marconi but one year after Tesla. Lodge improved Edouard Branly's coherer radio wave detector by adding a "trembler" which dislodged clumped filings, thus restoring the device's sensitivity. Lodge also carried out scientific investigations on lightning, the source of the electromotive force in the voltaic cell, electrolysis, and the application of electricity to the dispersal of fog and smoke.

Lodge also made a major contribution to motoring when he invented electric spark ignition for the internal combustion engine (the Lodge Igniter). Later, two of his sons developed his ideas and in 1903 founded Lodge Bros, which eventually became known as Lodge Plugs Ltd.

Besides inventing the spark plug and wireless, Lodge also invented the moving-coil loudspeaker, the vacuum tube (valve) and the variable tuner.

Lodge was an active member of the Fabian Society and published two Fabian Tracts: Socialism & Individualism (1905) and co-authored Public Service vesus Private Expanditure with Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Ball. They invited him several times to lecture at the London School of Economics.

In 1889 Lodge was appointed President of the Liverpool Physical Society, a position he held until 1893. The society still runs to this day, though under a student body.

Lodge is also remembered for his studies of life after death. He first began to study psychical phenomena (chiefly telepathy) in the late 1880s. After his son, Raymond, was killed in World War I in 1915, Lodge visited several psychics and wrote about the experience in a number of books, including the best-selling "Raymond, or Life and Death" (1916). Altogether, he wrote more than 40 books, about the afterlife, aether, relativity, and electromagnetic theory.

A tribute in The Times

The author of his obituary in The Times wrote:

Always an impressive figure, tall and slender with a pleasing voice and charming manner, he enjoyed the affection and respect of a very large circle…

Lodge’s gift as an expounder of knowledge were of a high order, and few scientific men have been able to set forth abstruse facts in a more lucid or engaging form… Those who heard him on a great occasion, as when he gave his Romanes lecture at Oxford or his British Association presidential address at Birmingham, were charmed by his alluring personality as well as impressed by the orderly development of his thesis. But he was even better in informal debate, and when he rose, the audience, however perplexed or jaded, settled down in a pleased expectation that was never disappointed.

Historical Records

Sir Oliver Lodge's letters and papers were divided after his death. Some were deposited at the University of Birmingham and University of Liverpool and others at the Society for Psychical Research and the University College London. Lodge was long-lived and a prolific letter writer and other letters of his survive in the personal papers of other individuals and several other universities and other institutions. Among the known collections of his papers are the following:

  • The University of Birmingham Special Collections holds over 2000 items of Sir Oliver's correspondence relating to family, co-workers at Birmingham and Liverpool Universities and also from numerous religious, political and literary figures. The collection also includes a number of Lodge's diaries, photographs and newscuttings relating to his scientific research and scripts of his published work. There are also an additional 212 letters of Sir Oliver Lodge which have been acquired over the years (1881-1939).
  • The University of Liverpool holds some notebooks and letters of Oliver Lodge and also has a laboratory named after him, the main administrative centre of the Physics Department where the majority of lecturers and researchers have their offices.
  • University College London Special Collections hold 1991 items of Sir Oliver Lodge's correspondence between 1871 and 1938.
  • The Society for Psychical Research holds 2710 letters written to Oliver Lodge.
  • Devon Records Office holds Lodge's letters to Sir Thomas Acland (1907-1908).
  • The University of Glasgow Library holds Sir Oliver's letters to William MacNeile Dixon (1900-1938).
  • The University of St Andrews has twenty-three letters from Sir Oliver to Wilfred Ward (1896-1908).
  • Trinity College Dublin is custodian of Lodge's correspondence with John Joly.
  • Imperial College, London Archives hold nineteen letters written from Sir Oliver to his fellow scientist, Sylvanus Thompson.
  • The London Science Museum holds an early notebook of Oliver Lodge's dated 1880, correspondence dating from 1894-1913 and a paper on atomic theory.


  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, " Electric Theory of Matter". Harper Magazine. 1904. (Oneill's Electronic Museum)
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, and Paul Tice, "Reason and Belief". Book Tree. February 2000. ISBN 1-58509-226-6
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "The Work of Hertz and Some of His Successors", 1894
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "RELATIVITY, A very elementary Exposition", June 11th. 1925 Paperback. Methuen & Co. LTD. London.
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "Ether", Encyclopedia Britannica, Thirteenth Edition (1926).
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "Modern Scientific Ideas". Benn's Sixpenny Library No. 101, 1927.
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "The Ether of Space". ISBN 1-4021-8302-X (paperback) ISBN 1-4021-1766-3 (hardcover)
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "Ether and Reality". ISBN 0-7661-7865-X
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "Phantom Walls".
  • Lodge, Oliver Joseph, "Past Years: An Autobiography". Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932.

Notes and references

Notable Relatives

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