David E. Hughes
David Edward Hughes was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 scientist and musician. Hughes was co-inventor of the microphone
A microphone is an acoustic-to-electric transducer or sensor that converts sound into an electrical signal. In 1877, Emile Berliner invented the first microphone used as a telephone voice transmitter...

, a harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

ist and a professor of music.


Hughes was born to Welsh parents in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 in 1831 and emigrated to the United States at the age of seven. He was an experimental physicist, mostly in the areas of electricity and signals. He also invented an improved microphone
A microphone is an acoustic-to-electric transducer or sensor that converts sound into an electrical signal. In 1877, Emile Berliner invented the first microphone used as a telephone voice transmitter...

, which was a modification of Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. In addition, he created the world’s first industrial...

's carbon telephone
Carbon microphone
The carbon microphone, also known as a carbon button microphone or a carbon transmitter, is a sound-to-electrical signal transducer consisting of two metal plates separated by granules of carbon. One plate faces outward and acts as a diaphragm...

 transmitter. He revived the term "microphone" to describe the transmitter's ability to transmit extremely weak sounds to a Bell telephone receiver. He invented the induction balance (later used in metal detector
Metal detector
A metal detector is a device which responds to metal that may not be readily apparent.The simplest form of a metal detector consists of an oscillator producing an alternating current that passes through a coil producing an alternating magnetic field...

s) and in 1879 he transmitted and received radio waves using a detector made of carbon. Despite Hughes' facility as an experimenter, he had little mathematical training. He was a friend of William Henry Preece
William Henry Preece
Sir William Henry Preece was a Welsh electrical engineer and inventor. Preece relied on experiments and physical reasoning in his life's work. Upon his retirement from the Post Office in 1899, Preece was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath .-Biography:Preece was born in Caernarfon ,...


In 1879, years before Heinrich Hertz
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was a German physicist who clarified and expanded the electromagnetic theory of light that had been put forth by Maxwell...

 and sixteen years before Guglielmo Marconi
Guglielmo Marconi
Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor, known as the father of long distance radio transmission and for his development of Marconi's law and a radio telegraph system. Marconi is often credited as the inventor of radio, and indeed he shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Ferdinand...

 had demonstrated the existence of radio waves, Hughes was already transmitting and receiving electromagnetic waves over several hundred metres. At the time his work failed to satisfy colleagues’ demands for scientific method and proofs and so Hughes didn't mention his work until a magazine article was published in 1889. James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell of Glenlair was a Scottish physicist and mathematician. His most prominent achievement was formulating classical electromagnetic theory. This united all previously unrelated observations, experiments and equations of electricity, magnetism and optics into a consistent theory...

's theories were not yet well received and Hughes' transmissions were wrongly assumed to be electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction is the production of an electric current across a conductor moving through a magnetic field. It underlies the operation of generators, transformers, induction motors, electric motors, synchronous motors, and solenoids....

. His achievements went unrecognized for decades. Marconi knew Hughes through Preece and Lodge.

Hughes invented a printing telegraph system in the United States in 1855, and in less than two years, a number of small telegraph companies, including Western Union
Western Union
The Western Union Company is a financial services and communications company based in the United States. Its North American headquarters is in Englewood, Colorado. Up until 2006, Western Union was the best-known U.S...

 in early stages of development, united to form one large corporation — Western Union Telegraph Co. to carry on the business of telegraphy
Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of messages via some form of signalling technology. Telegraphy requires messages to be converted to a code which is known to both sender and receiver...

 on the Hughes system. In Europe, Hughes’ Telegraph System became an international standard.

The first book-length biography of David Hughes, by Ivor Hughes and David Ellis Evans, was published in 2011 by Images From The Past.


Hughes came from a Welsh musical family. At only six years old, he is known to have played the harp to a very high standard. At an early age, Hughes developed such musical ability that he is reported to have attracted attention of Herr Hast, an eminent German pianist in America who procured for him a professorship of music at St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown, Kentucky
Bardstown, Kentucky
As of the census of 2010, there were 11,700 people, 4,712 households, and 2,949 families residing in the city. The population density was . There were 5,113 housing units at an average density of...



He became one of the most highly decorated inventors of his time. Honors included a Grand Gold Medal in 1867 awarded at the Paris Exhibition, the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 gold Medal in 1885, and The Albert Gold Medal, Society of Arts in 1897. For his numerous inventions and discoveries, especially the Printing Telegraph and Microphone, Napoleon III awarded him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour awarding him Commander of the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honour. He also was awarded: the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus
Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus
The Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus is an order of chivalry awarded by the House of Savoy, the heads of which were formerly Kings of Italy...

 (Italy), the Order of the Iron Crown (Austria)
Order of the Iron Crown (Austria)
The Austrian Imperial Order of the Iron Crown , was restablished in 1815 by Emperor Franz I. The Order of the Iron Crown had previously been an order of the Napoleanic Kingdom of Italy.-History:...

 which carried with it the title of Baron (Freiherr
The German titles Freiherr and Freifrau and Freiin are titles of nobility, used preceding a person's given name or, after 1919, before the surname...

), the Order of Saint Anne (Russia), the Noble Order of Saint Michael (Bavaria), Commander of the Imperial Order of the Grand Cross of the Medjidie (Turkey), Commander of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Carlos III (Spain), the Grand Officer’s Star and Collar of the Royal Order of Takovo (Serbia)
Order of the Cross of Takovo
The Order of the Cross of Takovo was instituted in 1865 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which had started in Takovo, Serbia....

, and Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium).
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1880 and won their Royal Medal
Royal Medal
The Royal Medal, also known as The Queen's Medal, is a silver-gilt medal awarded each year by the Royal Society, two for "the most important contributions to the advancement of natural knowledge" and one for "distinguished contributions in the applied sciences" made within the Commonwealth of...

 in 1885.

The Hughes Medal

The Hughes Medal
Hughes Medal
The Hughes Medal is awarded by the Royal Society of London "in recognition of an original discovery in the physical sciences, particularly electricity and magnetism or their applications". Named after David E. Hughes, the medal is awarded with a gift of £1000. The medal was first awarded in 1902 to...

 is awarded by the Royal Society of London in his memory "in recognition of an original discovery in the physical sciences, particularly electricity and magnetism or their applications". It was first awarded in 1902 to J.J.Thompson.


  • David E Hughes, Telegraph (with alphabetic keyboard and printer) issued May 20, 1856
  • David E Hughes, U.S. Patent 22,531 Duplex Telegraph issued January 4, 1859
  • David E Hughes, Printing Telegraph (with type-wheel) issued January 25, 1859

External links

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