Sue Young Histories

Oliver Joseph Lodge 1851 – 1940

March 24, 2009

Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge, FRS 1851 – 1940 was a physicist and writer involved in the development of the wireless telegraph.

Oliver Lodge was an ardent believer in psychic phenomena, and his book Phantom Walls was reviewed by the Theosophical Society. In 1927, Oliver Joseph Lodge gave a talk to the International Homeopathic Congress in London in 1911, entitled The Nature of Matter, and its relation to the ether of space, where he gave an explaination of the Etheric Body (Marie R. Hotchener (Ed.), World Theosophy Magazine July 1931-December 1931, (reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 1 Apr 2003). Page 499).

Oliver Lodge also stated that ‘… it is unscientific to assume that what is non manifest is therefore non existent…’ (James Tyler Kent, Julia C. Loos, The Homœopathician: A Journal for Pure Homœopathy, Volume 3, (1913). Page 210) as some things ‘… retain their vigour however diluted…’ (Phillip A. Nicholls, Homeopathy and the medical profession, (Croom Helm, 1988). Page 222).

Oliver Lodge Lodge was an active member of the Fabian Society and a friend of Joseph Marples, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and George Bernard Shaw.

From Oliver Joseph 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 born in 1851 at Penkhull in Stoke on Trent and educated at Adams’ Grammar School. He 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, historian; Eleanor Constance Lodge, 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 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.

After his retirement in 1920, Sir Oliver and Lady Lodge settled in Normanton House, near Lake in Wiltshire, just a few miles from Stonehenge. Lodge and his wife are buried at St. Michael’s Church, Wilsford (Lake), Wiltshire. Their eldest son Oliver and eldest daughter Violet are buried at the same church.

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 versus Private Expenditure with Sidney WebbGeorge 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 mediums 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.