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British Industrial History

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David Edward Hughes

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1858. Printing telegraph.

David Edward Hughes (1831-1900).

A British-born US scientist and musician, co-inventor of the microphone and teleprinter, including the discoverer of the spark-gap radio and inventor of the crystal radio. He also invented a semiconductor rectifier diode, which he used to invent the crystal radio detector for the world's first radio transmitter and receiver. [1]

1831 May 16th. Born the son of a musically talented family hailing originally from Y Bala (the place of birth was either London or Corwen, Denbighshire) and emigrated to the United States at the age of seven.

He was an experimental physicist, mostly in the areas of electricity and signals.

1877 Invented a microphone

1878 Hughes was accused of copying the invention of the microphone, telephone and heat measure by Thomas Edison. Articles covering this appeared in The Engineer 1878/07/05, The Engineer 1878/07/12 and The Engineer 1878/07/26.

1900 January 22nd. Died aged 68.

1900 Obituary[2]

"...In 1855 Hughes invented and patented the first successful type-printing telegraph, so that the "tape" machine may be said to have originated with him.' After some difficulties and rebuffs tho system was universally adopted, and the inventor received many decorations and a good deal of money.

In the present day little is heard of the microphone, although its principle has been adopted in all successful telephone instruments, but in 1878, when Hughes first brought it to the notice of the scientific world, it attracted a great deal of attention.

He discovered many years ago the principle and mode of action of the "Coherer," on which the Marconi system of wireless telegraphy depends for its success. His researches in magnetism were important, and the results novel. He invented the induction balance; in fact, his work placed him in the front rank us an electrician.

He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1880. That body five years later awarded him a Royal gold medal, and in 1897 he received the Albert medal of the Society of Arts.

In 1886 he filled the chair as president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

1900 Obituary [3]

1900 Obituary [4]

1931 Centenary of his Birth [5]

Born in London on May 16th, 1831, Hughes was taken to Virginia at the age of seven, and twelve years later was appointed Professor of Music at St. Joseph's College at Bardstown, Kentucky.

In 1852 he was devoting his spare time to inventing a printing telegraph instrument.

In 1854 he resigned his teaching appointments in order that he might devote himself entirely to this work, and a year later he had an instrument in successful operation.

When he returned to England in 1875 and settled down in London he was well on the way to making a large fortune out of his invention, and at the age of forty-four, with ample means at his disposal, found leisure for experimental research.

Towards the end of 1877 he invented the microphone, which was described in a paper read by Professor Huxley before the Royal Society on May 8th, 1878. Subsequently he invented an induction measuring balance, which was expected to prove useful in various ways, but, unlike his other two inventions, it was found to have a very limited field of application.

Some eight years before Hertz made known his experiments with electromagnetic waves, Hughes discovered that signals could be transmitted without wires over distances up to two or three hundred yards, and apparently he contemplated reading a paper on his discovery before the Royal Society. Unfortunately, however, the President of that Institution, Mr. Spottiswood, and two honorary secretaries, Professors Huxley and G. Stokes, opposed the idea, and the paper was never produced.

Hughes was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1880 and in 1885 was awarded its gold medal.

In 1886 he became President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

He died on January 22nd, 1900, leaving a large sum of money to hospitals and scientific bodies.

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