88. David Edward Hughes
Groundbreakers (57 votes)
1831 – 1900
Inventor who gave the microphone to the world
A man of diverse gifts and enormous technical vision, David Edward Hughes came up two major inventions and significantly advanced electrical science.
The son of a musically talented family hailing originally from Bala, his parents and older siblings spent much of their time touring the concert halls of Britain. Thus history records Hughes’ place of his birth as London, although one Welsh researcher claims there is evidence to suggest he was in fact born at Corwen in Denbighshire.
When David was seven the family emigrated to America. By the age of nineteen his prodigious musical ability had earned him a college professorship in Kentucky.
Alongside his teaching, Hughes was a keen scientist and mechanic who devised a machine for taking down musical notes as they were played. The notes were registered on a mechanical keyboard that sent them to a printing device. He had accidentally invented a telegraph printer.
The Hughes Printer was patented in 1855. It became standard equipment for many for many of the new telegraph companies then springing up around the world and remained in use until the 1930’s. It was the forerunner of the teleprinter, the telex and in some respects even the computer.
Meanwhile early telephone systems were being hampered by the poor quality of their voice reproduction. Hughes solved the problem after noticing that a loose connection in a battery-driven circuit connected to the mouthpiece would tend to reproduce the sounds made into it.
Hughes’ carbon microphone was the prototype of all the microphones in use today. It was a formidable achievement, but one for which he received not a single penny. Already being more than comfortably off, he declined to take out a patent.
Perhaps this lack of pushiness accounts for the lack of credit he has received for his role in the early days of radio. In 1879 he successfully transmitted signals from over a distance of several hundred metres, predating Marconi’s first experiments by sixteen years. Hughes thought it not worth mentioning until a magazine article of 1899.