Heinrich Hertz - Biography

Heinrich Hertz - TESLA-Institute 


The great German physicist, Heinrich Hertz made possible the development of radio, television, and radar by proving that electricity can be transmitted in electromagnetic waves. He explained and expanded the electromagnetic theory of light that had been put forth by Maxwell. He was the first person who successfully demonstrated the presence of electromagnetic waves, by building an apparatus that produced and detected the VHF/UHF radio waves. His undertakings earned him the honor of having his surname assigned to the international unit of frequency (one cycle per second).



Video: Heinrich Hertz und die elektromagnetischen Welle


Early Life and Career

Born on February 22, 1857 in Hamburg, Germany, Hertz came from a wealthy, educated and incredibly successful family. His father, Gustav Ferdinand Hertz, was a lawyer and later a senator. He developed interest for science and mathematics as a child while studying at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums of Hamburg. He studied sciences and engineering in the German cities of Dresden, Munich and Berlin under two eminent physicists, Gustav R. Kirchhoff and Hermann von Helmholtz.

Hertz earned his PhD from the University of Berlin in 1880 and worked as an assistant to Helmhotz. Though he devoted his thesis to the nature of electromagnetic induction in rotating conductors, his research as Helmholtz’s assistant focused on mechanical hardness and stress, a field in which he wrote a number of influential papers. In 1883, Hertz took up the chance to move up a step on the academic ladder. He moved to the University of Kiel as a Lecturer, where he continued his research on electromagnetism. From 1885 to 1889 he served as a professor of physics at the technical school in Karlsruhe and after 1889 held the same post at the University in Bonn.

During 1886, he married Elizabeth Doll, daughter of his colleague Dr. Max Doll. They had two daughters, Joanna and Mathilde.



When Hertz began conducting experiments at the University of Bonn, he was aware of the revolutionary work that was left behind by British scientist James Clerk Maxwell, who had produced a series of mathematical equations that predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves. This challenged experimentalists to produce and detect electromagnetic radiation using some form of electrical apparatus.

Hertz took up that challenge and in 1887 confirmed Maxwell’s theories about the existence of electromagnetic radiation. He proved that electricity can be transmitted in electromagnetic waves, which travel at the speed of light and possess many other properties of light.

While carrying out his experiment on electromagnetic waves, Hertz also accidentally discovered the photoelectric effect in which light falling on special surfaces can generate electricity.

Apart from the electromagnetic or electric waves (“Hertzian waves”), Hertz also showed that their velocity and length could be measured and that light and heat are electromagnetic waves.


Early Death

During 1892, Hertz was diagnosed with first a head cold and then an allergy. Since then his health remained poor. He died of blood poisoning at the age of 36 in Bonn, Germany on January 1, 1894, and was buried in Ohlsdorf, Hamburg.


Heinrich Hertz - TESLA-Institute