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Oliver Joseph Lodge

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September 1902.

Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851-1940), FRS, was a physicist and writer involved in the development of key patents in wireless telegraphy.

1851 June 12th. Born at Penkhull in Stoke-on-Trent and educated at Adams' Grammar School. He was the eldest of eight sons and one 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.

1875 Lodge obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of London in 1875 and a Doctor of Science in 1877.

1877 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.

1881 He was appointed professor of physics and mathematics at University College, Liverpool in 1881.

Lodge is notable for his defence of the aether theory - a deprecated model postulating a wave-bearing medium filling all space. On 14 August 1894, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University, he transmitted radio signal, one year before Marconi but one year after Tesla. In 1995, the Royal Society recognized this scientific achievement at a special ceremony at Oxford University.

Lodge improved Edouard Branly's "coherer" radio wave detector by adding a "trembler" which dislodged clumped filings, thus restoring the device's sensitivity.

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.

1898 Lodge was awarded the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society

1898, Lodge gained a patent on the moving-coil loudspeaker, utilizing a coil connected to a diaphragm, suspended in a strong magnetic field. His "syntonic" tuner patent allowed the frequency of transmitter and receiver to be "verified with ease and certainty". This was a basic patent in the industry, unusually recognised as such when extended, and purchased and used by the Marconi Company.

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.

1902 Lodge was knighted by King Edward VII

Lodge also made a major contribution to motoring when he patented a form of 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.

In political life, 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 Webb, George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Ball. They invited him several times to lecture at the London School of Economics.

Lodge worked with Alexander Muirhead on the development of wireless telegraphy, selling their patents to Marconi in 1912. 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.

After his retirement in 1920, Sir Oliver and Lady Lodge settled in Normanton House, near Lake in Wiltshire, just a few miles from Stonehenge.

1928 he was made Freeman of his native city, Stoke-on-Trent.

1940 August 22nd. Died

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.

1940 Obituary [1]

AT the age of eighty-nine Sir Oliver Lodge died on August 22nd at his home in Amesbury, Wiltshire.

Oliver Joseph Lodge was born at Penkhull, near Stoke-on-Trent, on June 12th, 1851. In his parentage may readily be traced many of the characteristics which he embodied in later life. Both his grandfathers were clergymen and schoolmasters.

His paternal grandfather, the Rev. Oliver Lodge, was an Irishman, and came of a family renowned for their stature and strength. He had a family of twenty-five, of whom the twenty-third, also named Oliver Lodge, married Grace, the daughter of Joseph Heath, headmaster of Lucton School. The art of exposition, whether from the pulpit or from the schoolmaster's desk, was thus inborn in Oliver Joseph Lodge, the eldest of the seven sons of this marriage. Science, too, was his inheritance. One of his father's brothers was Mathematical Master at Lucton School and later became a London actuary. Another, after following a seafaring life, established a reputation in connection with the salvage of sunken ships. A third was a medical practitioner in London.

His father began his career as an apprentice to his medical brother, but soon drifted into business in London, and, becoming interested in railways, was sent down to Trentham as an assistant cashier on the then newly constructed North Staffordshire Railway. Some time after his marriage and the birth of his eldest son, he left the employment of the railway and set himself up in business as an agent for the sale of blue clay in the Potteries. With his devoted wife as his bookkeeper and with his own great energy and thoroughness he prospered in his business and added to it agencies for other materials used in the district.

Oliver Joseph, in common with his brothers, was on occasion pressed into service in his father's office when the clerical work became too much for his mother to handle by herself. His father looked forward to the day when he would be able to take his eldest son into partnership. In preparation for his future career he was sent in the autumn of 1859 at the age of eight as a boarder to Newport Grammar School in Shropshire, an old-fashioned establishment at which an uncle by marriage was one of the three masters. His schooldays formed one of the most miserable parts of his life. Chief attention was devoted to Latin grammar, the rules of which were enforced with liberal doses of the cane. Young Oliver showed no aptitude towards a classical education; the only subject in which he took an interest was the chapter in the geography book which dealt with the shape of the earth, the phases of the moon, latitude and longitude, and so forth.

At the age of twelve he left Newport Grammar School and continued his education at a country rectory - Combs, in Suffolk - which had been given to his uncle, the Newport schoolmaster. His interest in astronomy had meanwhile been aroused to a pitch of enthusiasm by one of his aunts with whom he had spent a month's holiday, but at Combs he was once again condemned to study the classics.

At the age of fourteen his schooling came to an end. His father, greatly overworked, desired his assistance in his business, and soon young Oliver was travelling round the Potteries and helping his mother with the office work. For seven years he laboured in these uncongenial tasks as a dutiful son. He might eventually have followed in his father's footsteps, but once again his Aunt Anne, who had aroused his interest in astronomy, took a hand in the shaping of his career. In order to get him away from the grind of business for a time she invited him, when he was about sixteen, to spend a winter with her in London. During this brief respite he attended classes on chemistry and geology, and listened to Tyndall lecturing on heat. His interest in physics became absorbing, so much so that in order to take notes of the lectures which he attended he invented a system of shorthand writing of his own.

Returning to his own home, he resumed his duties in his father's business, but his winter in London had determined his career. At Moreton House, Wolstanton, to which the family had now migrated, he snatched time from his business duties to carry out crude electrical experiments in a barn. The Science and Art Department of South Kensington at this time was establishing classes in many towns. To that at the Wedgwood Institute at Burslem young Lodge attached himself, partly as a student and partly as an unpaid assistant. He studied with enthusiasm as many scientific subjects as he could and made up his mind to take the Department's examination in all of them. They totalled eight. He succeeded in getting a First Class in them all, but was too shy to attend the prize giving by the local member of Parliament, at which his ability was highly applauded.

This success led to a second stay in London, this time with the aid of a Government grant of thirty shillings a week, to enable him to attend courses of instruction for teachers at South Kensington. He now studied biology under Hurley and chemistry under Frankland. His thirst for scientific education was not, however, satisfied by the South Kensington courses. He attended evening classes in mathematics, mechanics and physics at King's College. He passed his examinations with high distinction and was offered a post at £200 a year as science master at a school in J ersey. His father, however, disdainful of science as a career and still bent on making his eldest son his partner in his business, bade him return home to resume his former duties.

Still against his father's wishes, he continued his scientific studies. He matriculated at London University, passed, at the second attempt, the first of the two examinations for the B.Sc. degree, tried for a natural science scholarship at Cambridge, was placed proxime accessit and was offered a sizarship which he declined. Then Carey Foster appointed him to take exercise classes in physics and to work in his laboratory at University College, London, at a salary of £50 a year. For three years he lived in a single room lodging in Camden Town, studying hard and existing frugally but his feet were now firmly set on the pathway to a scientific career. In due time he passed the second examination for the B.Sc. degree and in June, 1877, he proceeded to the D.Sc. degree examination, which he passed with ease in his selected subject, electricity.

In 1876, while still continuing his work at University College, he was appointed to teach physics at Bedford College for women-an institution which still flourishes, but which has long since shed those Victorian ideas of propriety, which, among other regulations, required that an elderly lady, who usually brought her knitting with her, should sit in the class room during lectures to act as a chaperon. Later, Lodge undertook to teach chemistry as well as physics at the College. It proved a severe addition to the other work which he was carrying on at the same time, and it was a. great relief to him when in 1881 he was appoint ed Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Liverpool University College, an institution then on the point of being formed. In the summer of that year, in preparation for his new appointment, he made a tour of Continental universities and physical laboratories. During this tour he met, among many others, Dr. Heinrich Hertz - a name then still unknown in the annals of science - and with him formed a lifelong friendship.

At Liverpool he remained until l900, when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain offered to appoint him as Principal of Birmingham University, then on the point of being created by Royal Charter from the former Mason College. He declined the offer in the first instance, for he was deeply attached to his work at Liverpool, and the friends whom he had made in that neighbourhood.

Ultimately, however, be accepted, and in June, 1900, was formally appointed to the post. He stipulated that he should be provided with a research laboratory, should not be immersed in routine work and that he should not be debarred from continuing his investigations in the field of psychic research. These conditions were accepted.

He remained in office at Birmingham until 1919, when he retired to a new-found home in Amesbury, in Wiltshire. There his wife died in 1929, and there he stayed on, as he anticipated, "until the so-called end" came to him also. He was knighted in 1902 on the occasion of the coronation of King Edward VII.

Such was the domestic background of Oliver Lodge's scientific career. It will, we think, always be a little difficult to assign him his true place in the history of science. He excelled as an expositor of scientific theory and discoveries and in the course of his life delivered innumerable lectures of a popular or semi-popular kind, such as the British Association's "lectures to working men." In his capacity for popular exposition we may without serious room for challenge trace the working of his inheritance from his ministerial and schoolmaster forbears. But of his original contributions to scientific discovery it must be recorded that there was an element of what can only be called frustration about nearly all of them. With his immense learning and power of thought there was something within him which prevented him from carrying his investigations to completion and reaping the reward of fame to which they would have entitled him. He fully realised that he possessed this defect. At the close of a Royal Institution lecture on the oscillations of a Leyden jar, and the consequent production of ether waves which he delivered in March, 1889, there came a passage which may here be quoted both as an example of his literary style and as illustrating the state of his own mind. "The present is an epoch of outstanding activity in physical science. Progress is a thing of months and weeks, almost of days. The long line of isolated ripples of past discovery seem blending into a mighty wave, on the crest of which one begins to discern some oncoming magnificent generalisation. The suspense is becoming feverish, at times almost painful. One feels like a boy who has been long strumming on the silent keyboard of a deserted organ, into the chest of which an unseen power begins to blow a vivifying breath. Astonished, he now finds that the touch of a finger elicits a responsive note, and he hesitates half delighted, half affrighted, lest he be deafened by the chords which it would seem he can now summon forth almost at will." In these sentences there stands revealed the soul, not only of a scientist, but of a poet and a visionary.

One feels almost certain that bad he been less of a poet and visionary, Oliver Lodge would have been a greater scientist, but that he would have been happier that way may be strongly doubted. He has himself left it on record that when he was getting near to any result in physics he became afflicted with a kind of excitement which caused him to pause and not pursue the path to its luminous end. He discovered the method of detecting electric waves by means of the coherer, and when Lord Rayleigh heard of it he told him to go ahead, for therein lay his life's work. He had been interested in Maxwell's "ether waves" ever since he had heard of their prophesied existence in the early 'seventies. But he did not follow Rayleigh's adv1ce. He left the work to others, notably to his friend, Heinrich Hertz, and neglected to play his part in the first steps towards the development of wireless communication. Lodge discovered evidence for the existence of Maxwell's waves while making an investigation on lightning conductors. Having done so, he went off on a tour in the Tyrol. Simultaneously and quite independently, Hertz found similar evidence while investigating the laws of the spreading of electric force in space. He applied himself diligently to the further development of the subject with the result that Hertz's and not Lodge's name will always be associated with it.

Again, early in his career at Liverpool, he became interested in the formation of dust clouds in air and in the manner in which dust-free spaces might be created. His discoveries in this direction eventually led to the development of the Lodge-Cottrell process for the deposition of dust and fumes. It was not he, however, but two of his sons who were responsible for the practical development and application of their father's scientific discovery. So, too, the Lodge ignition plug was developed by another pair of his sons from a discovery of their father's which he called the B-spark.

First and foremost Lodge was an expositor of science, almost, one might say, in some instances at least, a champion of causes deemed lost by the majority of his fellow-scientists. His greatest departure from the accepted opinion of his fellows lay in his unshaken faith in the existence of the luminiferous ether, and in his opposition to the Einsteinian theory of relativity. In the early 'ninetie's he carried out his "ether experiment" at Liverpool, in which he sought to determine by optical means whether the ether was dragged round between two rapidly rotating steel plates. After much care in eliminating spurious effects he came to the conclusion reached previously by Michelson in his celebrated experiment that if the ether existed it did not adhere to bodies moving through it. In explanation of the null effect of the Michelson experiment he contended strongly in favour of the FitzGerald-Lorentz contraction and to the last refused to accept Einstein's theory as indisputably established. Note: All that remains of his ether experiment machine is an electrical resistor, on display at the World Museum, Liverpool.

Strangely, while he supported "reality" against relativity, he was from an early age powerfully attracted towards psychical research and firmly believed, like another great scientist, Sir William Crookes, in the existence of psychic phenomena. It may appear difficult to understand how a man completely master of current physical science, with its insistence on experiment and proof, could at the same time become an ardent believer in the occult. Yet so it was with Lodge. He believed in thought transference and the communication of messages from and to the unseen world, and was a leading supporter from 1884 of the Society for Psychical Research, becoming its President in 1901. His belief in spiritualism is, however, we think, to be taken as a proper corollary to his attitude towards life and science generally. There was much of the seer in his composition, and throughout the whole of his career the imponderabilities of science attracted him much more strongly than any practical applications which might be made of scientific discoveries. From the imponderabilities of science to the imponderabilities of the spiritual world was to him but a step, and he took it with a conviction in its justification for which we can at least admire him.

Lodge is also remembered for his studies of life after death. He first began to study psychical phenomena (chiefly telepathy) in the late 1880s, was a member of the Ghost Club and served as president of the London-based Society for Psychical Research from 1901 to 1903. 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.

Lodge's children:

Oliver, the eldest son, became a poet and author.

Brodie and Alec created Lodge Plugs, which manufactured sparking plugs for cars and aeroplanes.

Lionel and Noel founded a company that produced a machine for cleaning factory smoke in 1913, called the Lodge Fume Deposit Company Limited (later changed in 1919 to Lodge Fume Company Limited and later changed in 1922 through agreement with the International Precipitation Corporation of California to Lodge Cottrell Ltd).

Raymond Lodge (1889 - 1915)

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