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Sir Oliver Lodge

... the celebrated scientist was born at Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent - he achieved world fame for his pioneering work in radio and was the first man to transmit a message by wireless. He also invented electric spark ignition. This focus marks the 150th anniversary of Lodge's birth on June 12, 1851.

Lodge, Sir Oliver Joseph (1851-1940), 

British physicist and writer, best known for his contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy. 

Lodge was born on June 12 1851 at 'The Views' Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He was the eldest son of Oliver Lodge and Grace nee Heath. Educated at University College, London. From 1881 to 1890 he was a Professor of Physics at University College in Liverpool. 
He was knighted and made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902. Lodge's original work in physics includes investigations of lightning, the voltaic cell and electrolysis, and electromagnetic waves. He also studied the nature of the ether, a medium permeating all space, and of the ether drift, the supposed relative motion between the ether and any body within it. 
In wireless telegraphy Lodge perfected and named the "coherer" (1894), a radio-wave detector invented by the French physicist Edouard Branly. It was one of the most important types of detector developed before electronic tubes. During his last years Lodge was a firm believer in psychic phenomena. 
His writings include The Ether of Space (1909), Raymond (1916), Making of Man (1924), and My Philosophy (1933).
On August 22 1877 he married Mary Marshall, of Brampton House, Newcastle-under-Lyme and they had six sons and six daughters. Lodge died on 22nd August 1940 at Normanton House near Salisbury. 

1881 Census entry for the Oliver Lodge household:-

Dwelling: 17 Parkhurst Rd
Census Place: Islington, London, Middlesex, England


Marr | Age | Sex

  Birthplace Occupation
Oliver Joseph LODGE M 29 M  Head Penkhull, Staffordshire Dr Of Science Lndn Asst Prof Of Physics ... College Lndn Prof Bedford Clg Lndn
Mary F.A. LODGE M 30 F Wife Camberwell, Surrey  
Infant LODGE 1 m M Son Islington, Middlesex  
Emily GRAHAM  U 58 F Serv Wexford, Ireland Professional Nurse
Mary HART  U 27 F  Serv Shillingstone, Dorset Domestic Servant Cook
Sarah COLLETT  U 18 F  Serv Cambridge  Domestic Servant Housemaid

Sir Oliver Lodge, right, is made a Freeman of Stoke-on-Trent in 1928
Sir Oliver Lodge, right, is made a Freeman of Stoke-on-Trent in 1928

The Views, Penkhull, in 1968. This was later the home of Sir Stanley Matthews
The Views, Penkhull, in 1968. This was later the home of Sir Stanley Matthews
- it is a listed building

Sir Oliver and Lady Lodge in March 1928
Sir Oliver and Lady Lodge in March 1928


Advert for Lodge spark plugs - at Peppers garage, Piccadilly, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

Advert for Lodge spark plugs - at Peppers garage, Piccadilly, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.




"There can be no doubt at all that Sir Oliver Lodge was a scientific genius and arguably the greatest of all the illustrious sons of the Potteries."

Lodge's discoveries in radio and electricity were revolutionary. They turned what was inconceivable in Victorian times into part of everyday life. His ideas have since been incorporated into millions of pieces of equipment working all over the world.
Yet Lodge was more than a brilliant scientist. He was a professor of physics at 30, later the first principal of Birmingham University College, an author of many books, a lecturer who attracted huge audiences, and a much-appreciated broadcaster.

Most controversially, however, he was a long-time researcher into psychic phenomena and a dedicated believer in Spiritualism — an understandable pursuit, given his huge contribution to scientific understanding of the unseen world.

Ahead of Marconi: As a pioneer in the development of radio, Lodge was certainly ahead of the better-known Marconi. Indeed, he brought a successful law suit against the Italian for making use of his patents. As a result of the case, he was appointed scientific adviser to Marconi's company.
Lodge's German friend, Heinrich Hertz, pipped him at the post in being the first scientist to discover electro-magnetic waves. But Lodge was the first man actually to transmit a message by a wireless signal, performing this feat at a meeting of the British Association at Oxford in 1894.

Inventor of the spark plug: He also made a major contribution to motoring when he invented electric spark ignition for the internal combustion engine. Later, two of his sons developed his ideas and founded the Lodge Plug Company.

Education: All these things were achieved, it should be remembered, by someone who in 1865 left school at 14 and initially helped his father in running a business selling clays and glazes to potbanks. However, the youthful Lodge showed early propensities for science, conducting experiments in his bedroom at Wolstanton after the family moved there from his birthplace at 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.

Psychic phenomena: For many years, Lodge had been investigating psychic phenomena with his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This won him a different kind of following and inevitably some criticism from academic quarters. But Lodge, a practising Christian, never wavered from what he believed to be the truth. He wrote at the time: "I am as convinced of continued existence on the other side of death as I am of existence here."
Many people thought that Lodge's obsession with Spiritualism had much to do with the loss of his son Raymond, who was killed in 1915 and about whom Lodge wrote a poignant book. This son, incidentally, was one of a family of 12 children.
Before his own death in 1940, aged 89, Lodge 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."

The tomb of Sir Oliver Lodge's parents in St. Thomas Church Yard, Penkhull
The tomb of Sir Oliver Lodge's parents in St. Thomas Church Yard, Penkhull
more on St. Thomas>>

There are Oliver and Lodge Roads in Penkhull and a Lodge Grove at Porthill.


Sources: The way we were, June 2001, John Abberley; Microsoft Encarta; People of the Potteries; 1881 Census.



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