Sir Oliver Lodge Papers

Scope and Content

The Oliver Lodge Papers contain 30 of Lodge's research notebooks up to 1900 (including some from his student days) and letters from correspondents including Lodge, Davies, Larmor and Fitzgerald. The notebooks include notes taken as a student from lectures by W.K.Clifford and O.M.F.E. Henrici, notes for his own lectures, research notes, graph plottings, and an index of papers for references and for students. With 303ff of manuscript notes and 44 printed items, chiefly examination papers and articles by Lodge in offprint and proof; also one press cutting and 30 letters or postcards from a variety of correspondents and two photographs of the Ether Machine at Liverpool: with Lodge, George Hall and Benjamin Davies.

Administrative / Biographical History

Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) was the first Professor of Physics at the University of Liverpool and a leading scientist of his age, remembered among scientists mainly for his investigations of electrical phenomena. His work on the transmission of electrical waves, building on the work of Clerk-Maxwell, and later on that of Hertz, laid the foundation for the discovery of the wireless telegraphy. He is also remembered as one of the first large-scale public educators, whose very popular lectures, illustrated by experiments, drew crowds of up to a thousand at the height of his career.

Lodge was a typically Victorian gentleman and a Fabian. He left school at fourteen to work in his father's business and studied part-time for an external degree with the University of London. He only began to study higher mathematics at the age of twenty-three when he enrolled for a full-time degree at University College. After graduating in 1875 he became a demonstrator on the staff, was awarded the D.Sc. in July 1877, and had risen to Assistant Professor before he left London for Liverpool in 1881.

Lodge believed that there was a unified theory in physics throughout his career, which spanned the transition from classical nineteenth-century physics to modern physics. He was a natural synthesiser and speculator , who did not at any point pursue a single narrow objective to its ultimate end, but often made vital contributions to the understanding of discoveries made by others. He was also a very clear communicator, popular both with his students and with the public at large for his ability to convey fundamental ideas clearly and transfer his enthusiasm to an audience.

In June 1881, Lodge was appointed to the Lyon Jones Chair of Experimental Physics and Mathematics at University College, Liverpool, where he was very influential in college affairs. He became a close friend of leading Liverpool merchants such as George and Alfred Holt, and especially William Rathbone VI. From the time of his appointment at Liverpool, Lodge gave a weekly lunch time lecture on physics illustrated by experiments, which was initially attended mainly by teachers. The Royal Society recognised his services to science by the conferment of a Fellowship in 1887, and the Rumford medal in 1898.

In 1889, Lodge was invited to form a society to encourage the study of physics in the city. The University Physical Society was very successful at first, but attendance and interest gradually declined until it was maintained only by the efforts of Lodge's department. Lodge himself was nominally involved with the Society for over fifty years: from 1889-1897 as their main organiser and contributor, and from 1898-1908 as the Society's main attraction as a star speaker. Lodge left Liverpool in 1900 to become the first Principle of the University of Birmingham, returning to lecture under other auspices at various times until 1927.

While still at Liverpool in 1894, Lodge demonstrated the transmission of morse signals through three stone walls and over a distance of sixty yards. He believed using smaller waves could produce signals over greater distances but did not pursue this. It was left to Marconi to take out the first patent in space telegraphy in 1896. Such a lack of commercial sense was not untypical. His sons were left to exploit the commercial possibilities of other discoveries such as the use of electical discharges for fume and dust deposition in industry, and the application of the electric spark ignition method to the internal combustion engine.

Lodge's main contributions in the field of physics were the discovery of electromagnetic waves, the development of radio telegraphy and his famous experiment disproving the theory that ether could be dragged along with moving matter. Lodge also contributed to the theoretical discussions on the concept of the electron as it emerged from the work of Larmor, Lorentz, Thomson and others, and to discussions on the Zeeman effect, relativity and ether, radioactivity and astronomy. Lodge's collaborations with other scientists included notably his work with Larmor, acting as expositor and experimenter for theories originating in Larmor's mathematics.

Lodge's later career was prolific, and particularly focussed upon the investigation of psychic phenomena, a line of research he began in Liverpool in 1883. Lodge's research into the supernatural was carried out with the same rigour he applied to his physics experiments, and he believed that he had demonstrated the survival of the human personality after death; following the death of his son at Ypres in 1915, he laid out his views in the book Raymond: or Life and Death (1916) . Of the one hundred or so articles and papers he published between 1920 and his death in 1940, many are concerned with aspects of the "life and mind" issue, spiritualism, psychical research and survival after death. Lodge himself died in 1940.


The Oliver Lodge papers have been arranged into the following sections:

  • Lecture notes taken when a student
  • Practical notebooks used when a student at Hanley and London
  • Research notebooks used at Liverpool and after
  • Teaching lecture notes

Correspondence contained within the notebooks has been indexed.

Access Information

Access is open to bona fide researchers

Acquisition Information

The Lodge Papers were presented to the University of Liverpool Library in 1941  by his executors. Two letters reference number MS.3.27(1-2) were bought from P.M.Pollack Accession Number 108432.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available in the reading room.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created for the archives hub in February 2004.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and licensing rules available on request

Appraisal Information

All of the material deposited with the Lodge Papers has been preserved.


There are no anticipated accruals.

Related Material

At the University of Liverpool:

In the Archive of the University of Liverpool D115 A collection of five photographs of Sir Oliver Lodge.

The Rathbone Papers contains correspondence between Sir Oliver Lodge and William, Emily and Hugh Reynolds Rathbone. The reference numbers for these are as follows: RP IX.6.204, RP IX.6.368-413, RP IX.9.28, RP X.1.218-220, RP XXI.19.1-30, RP XV.1.14. RP XVA.2.141-146 A finding aid for the Rathbone collection is available online.

Held Elsewhere:

Birmingham University Information services Special Collections and Archives hold correspondence and papers of Sir Oliver Lodge.

London University:University College London (UCL) Manuscripts Rooms hold 116 letters to Oliver Lodge from various correspondents.

The Society for Physical Research hold correspondence of Sir Oliver Lodge dating from 1884-1890 .


Lodge, O.Past Years: An Autobiography, Hodder and Stoughton, 1931Kelly, T.For Advancement of Learning: the University of Liverpool 1881-1981 Liverpool University Press, 1981Rowlands, P.Oliver Lodge and the Liverpool Physical Society,Liverpool University Press, 1990Jolly, W.P.Sir Oliver Lodge, Constable London, 1974