Before relating how success attended the efforts to utilise electric waves for the transmission of signals, we cannot without ingratitude pass over in silence the theoretical speculations and the work of pure science which led to the knowledge of these waves. It would therefore be just, without going further back than Faraday, to say how that illustrious physicist drew attention to the part taken by insulating media in electrical phenomena, and to insist also on the admirable memoirs in which for the first time Clerk Maxwell made a solid bridge between those two great chapters of Physics, optics and electricity, which till then had been independent of each other. And no doubt it would be impossible not to evoke the memory of those who, by establishing, on the other hand, the solid and magnificent structure of physical optics, and proving by their immortal works the undulatory nature of light, prepared from the opposite direction the future unity. In the history of the applications of electrical undulations, the names of Young, Fresnel, Fizeau, and Foucault must be inscribed; without these scholars, the assimilation between electrical and luminous phenomena which they discovered and studied would evidently have been impossible.
Since there is an absolute identity of nature between the electric and the luminous waves, we should, in all justice, also consider as precursors those who devised the first luminous telegraphs. Claude Chappe incontestably effected wireless telegraphy, thanks to the luminous ether, and the learned men, such as Colonel Mangin, who perfected optical telegraphy, indirectly suggested certain improvements lately introduced into the present method.
But the physicist whose work should most of all be put in evidence is, without fear of contradiction, Heinrich Hertz. It was he who demonstrated irrefutably, by experiments now classic, that an electric discharge produces an undulatory disturbance in the ether contained in the insulating media in its neighbourhood; it was he who, as a profound theorist, a clever mathematician, and an experimenter of prodigious dexterity, made known the mechanism of the production, and fully elucidated that of the propagation of these electromagnetic waves.
He must naturally himself have thought that his discoveries might be applied to the transmission of signals. It would appear, however, that when interrogated by a Munich engineer named Huber as to the possibility of utilising the waves for transmissions by telephone, he answered in the negative, and dwelt on certain considerations relative to the difference between the periods of sounds and those of electrical vibrations. This answer does not allow us to judge what might have happened, had not a cruel death carried off in 1894, at the age of thirty-five, the great and unfortunate physicist.