The Electrician (London), January 26, 1900, pages 457-458:
DAVID EDWARD HUGHES.
It is with profound sorrow that we have to announce the death, on Monday evening last, of Prof. D. E. Hughes. His death, at the age of 69 years, deprives the world of one of its most accomplished electricians, the electrical profession of one of its most honoured and respected members, and a world-wide circle of admirers of a genial and well-beloved friend. It can truly be recorded that David Hughes lived without making a single enemy, and died mourned by all whose good fortune it has been to come within the cheery circle of his friendship. We mourn his loss not only as a well-esteemed personal friend, but also as a compatriot to whose versatility and genius his native country has been astoundingly blind, while all the countries of the civilised world have showered honours upon his head.
David Edward Hughes was born in London on May 16, 1881. When but seven years of age he emigrated with his parents to the United States, where he developed such musical ability that he attracted the attention of Herr Hast, an eminent German pianist in America, who procured for him at a very early age the professorship of music in the college of Bardstown, Kentucky. Simultaneously with his musical studies Hughes appears to have developed a remarkable fondness for physical science and mechanics, and his studies in these branches of knowledge justified his appointment, at the early age of 19, to the chair of natural philosophy in the same college as that in which he held the professorship of music. Here, in the intervals between his educational duties, Prof. Hughes turned his inventive ability and knowledge of physical science to the development and improvement of electrical instruments, notably those for telegraphic purposes. The first important invention published to the world at this time was his world-renowned type-printing telegraph, an invention which was speedily taken up in the United States as a formidable competitor to the Morse system monopolised by the American Telegraph Co. A patent for this instrument was taken out in the United States in 1855, and in less than two years a number of small telegraph companies, including the Western Union--which was at that time in its early stages of development--had united to form one large corporation, the present Western Union Telegraph Co., to carry on the business of telegraphy on the Hughes system. In that same year Prof. Hughes returned to England for the purpose of introducing the instrument to the then existing Electric Telegraph Co., which controlled the telegraphic business in this country. Failing, however, in this endeavour, Prof. Hughes was compelled to carry his invention across the Channel to France, where it met with a much more enthusiastic reception at the hands of the French Government, who agreed to give the instrument a year of practical trial on the French land lines, and if found satisfactory it was to be finally adopted. Aided by his experience already acquired in America, Prof. Hughes was able to make the experimental trial a thorough and complete success. The instrument was adopted in France, and indeed throughout Europe, and honours showered thickly upon the head of the inventor. Napoleon III created Prof. Hughes a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour; and scarcely more than two years later he received from the King of Italy the Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazare. In 1863 the type-printer came in for recognition in this country at the hands of the United Kingdom Telegraph Co., but it cannot be said that either the English companies or the English Government recognised to so full an extent as has been done abroad the merits of this remarkable invention. In 1883, owing to the success of the instrument in Russia after six months' trial, Prof. Hughes was created a Commander of the Order of St. Anne; and in 1867 he installed his instruments on the Prussian land lines, and in Austria. He received the Order of the Iron Crown from the King of Austria, while the Sultan of Turkey bestowed on him the Grand Cross of the Medjidie. In 1867 the Paris Exhibition awarded him one of the ten gold medals designed to reward the very highest achievements in science at that time. We may add that Prof. Hughes also received the Noble Order of St. Michael for the success of his instruments in Bavaria and Wurtemburg; while later, Switzerland, Belgium, and Spain acknowledged his genius by equally marked honours.
It has been erroneously supposed that the unfortunate failure of the Government of Great Britain adequately to recognise the genius of Prof. Hughes has been connected in some way with the comparatively small part played by his type printing telegraph in this country. That, however, affords no justification for the lamentable procrastination of the Government in this respect. We have repeatedly called attention to the singular meritoriousness of Prof. Hughes' many researches in practical and theoretical science, from the point of view of a national recognition and honour; and although unfortunately it is now too late for Prof. Hughes himself to be gladdened by the receipt of such recognition from his own country, we trust that the nation which has failed to do him justice during his life will perceive a clear call to raise a suitable memorial to him now that he is dead.
With this end in view, we may continue to enumerate the benefactions bestowed by Prof. Hughes upon the world through the medium of his inventions and researches. Quite setting aside his type-printing instrument, he has accomplished far more than would be sufficient to justify a national memorial. Take, for example, his invention of the microphone, an instrument which is the very foundation of our modern system of commercial telephony. True, others before him had succeeded in transmitting sounds electrically over a distance, but it was not until Hughes made a free present to the world of the simple yet marvellously-ingenious carbon microphone, that practical telephony became a possibility. Whether in the invention of the instrument itself, or in the generous presentation of it freely to the world, he claims our admiration and honour.
Space does not here permit us to do more than enumerate some of Prof. Hughes' contributions to electrical science. Our readers are familiar with the long succession of researches he made in the domain of the experimental theory of magnetism. His Papers on this subject were read before many scientific and technical societies, and brought him not only the Fellowship of the Royal Society, but medals and similar honours from numerous lesser institutions. In 1886 he filled the presidential chair of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.
As another example of the fundamental character of Prof. Hughes' researches in regard to modern scientific development, it is not too much to say that he discovered the essential principle of wireless telegraphy. Unfortunately, the discovery was not published at a sufficiently early date, for it was only on May 5th last that the first public announcement of this fact was made, in an article contributed by Prof. Hughes himself to The Electrician. This article abundantly proved his claim to have been the first to transmit actual signals over a considerable distance by means of electrically-generated ether waves; which is, in fact, the basis and essence of wireless telegraphy on the Marconi system.
The compass of a mere biographical sketch in this journal does not admit of bringing out in any degree of prominence the versatility and surpassing genius of Prof. Hughes. But when the history of electrical science, discovery, and invention during the latter half of the nineteenth century shall have been written, the name of Prof. D. E. Hughes will be conspicuous among those whose labours have contributed to form the subject matter of its pages.