March 24th, 1896 – The Inventor of Radio

Alexander Stepanovich Popov was a Russian physicist who is acclaimed in his homeland and eastern European countries as the inventor of radio.

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Popov’s work as a teacher at a Russian naval school led him to explore high frequency electrical phenomena. On May 7th, 1895 he presented a paper on a wireless lightning detector he had built that worked via using a coherer to detect radio noise from lightning strikes. This day is celebrated in the Russian Federation as Radio Day. In a March 24th, 1896 demonstration he used radio waves to transmit a message between different campus buildings in St Petersburg. His work was based on the work of other physicists such as Oliver Lodge and contemporaneous with the work of radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.


Alexander Stepanovich Popov (March 16th, 1859 to January 13th, 1906)

Along with his teaching duties at the naval school Popov pursued related areas of research. Trying to solve a problem with the failure in the electrical wire insulation on steel ships (which turned out to be a problem with electrical resonance) led him to further explore oscillations of high frequency electrical currents. His interest in this area of study (including the new field of “Hertzian” or radio waves) was intensified by his trip in 1893 to the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in the United States where he was able to confer with other researchers in the field.

Popov also read a 1894 article about British physicist Oliver Lodge‘s experiments related to the discovery of radio waves by German physicist Heinrich Hertz 6 years earlier. On June 1st, 1894, after the death of Hertz, British physicist Oliver Lodge gave a memorial lecture on Hertz experiments. He set up a demonstration on the quasi optical nature of Hertzian waves (radio waves) and demonstrated their transmission at distances up to 50 meters. Lodge used a detector called a coherer, a glass tube containing metal filings between two electrodes. When received waves from an antenna were applied to the electrodes, the coherer became conductive allowing the current from a battery to pass through it, with the impulse being picked up by a mirror galvanometer. After receiving a signal the metal filings in the coherer had to be reset by a manually operated vibrator or by the vibrations of a bell placed on the table near by that rang every time a transmission was received. Popov set to work to design a more sensitive radio wave receiver that could be used as a lightning detector, to warn of thunderstorms by detecting the electromagnetic pulses of lightning strikes using a coherer receiver.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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