Heinrich Hertz

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was a German physicist who first conclusively proved the existence of electromagnetic waves theorized by James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light. Hertz proved the theory by engineering instruments to transmit and receive radio pulses using experimental procedures that ruled out all other known wireless phenomena. The unit of frequency – cycle per second – was named the “hertz” in his honor

Quick facts

FULL NAME :  Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

FAMOUS AS :  Physicist


BORN ON : 22 February 1857

BIRTHDAY : 22 February


SUN SIGN : Pisces

PLACE OF BIRTH : Hamburg, German

DIED ON : 01 January 1894


Major Works

During his relatively short career as a scientist and theoretical physicist Heinrich Hertz accomplished a lot but it was his research on electromagnetic waves that stands out as the greatest achievement in his career. Prior to Hertz’s research electromagnetic waves had only been a theory propounded by James Clerk Maxell. Those waves were what came to be later known as radio waves.

Early Life and Education

He attended a private school and later received private tuitions before he entered the upper form of Johanneum College in Hamburg in 1874. Before enrolling himself in an engineering college, he worked as an unpaid trainee at a construction firm in Frankfurt am Main after which he started studying engineering in the College of Technology in Dresden in 1876. The same year he even joined the military with a railway regiment in Berlin.

In October 1877 he continued studying engineering in Munich and at the same time attended science lectures at the College of Technology. Exactly after a year he pursued a degree in physics from Friedrich-Wilhelm-University in Berlin. Two years later he received his doctorate and took up the post of academic assistant at the Institute of Physics. By 1883 he qualified as a university teacher at the University of Kiel and started delivering lectures on theoretical physics. Hertz continued teaching as a professor at the technical school of Karlsruhe from 1885 to 1889 and after that was appointed a Professor of Physics at the University of Bonn.


  • Following his post-doctoral research at the University of Berlin under Hermann von Helmholtz, Heinrich Hertz was appointed as lecturer of theoretical physics in the University of Kiel in 1883 and two years later the University of Karlsruhe appointed him as a professor. It was in the same year that he was appointed at the University of Kiel that Hertz started his research on Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory.
  • Following his appointment at the University of Karlsruhe in 1885, Heinrich Hertz’s research on electromagnetic waves went up to a new level and during the next four years he managed to generate electromagnetic waves in the laboratory. Consequently, he successfully proved that both light as well as heat were nothing but electromagnetic radiations. The waves came to be called Hertzian in his honour.
  • In 1886, Heinrich Hertz started working on contact mechanics. His work on contact mechanics went on to inspire future research in the field many years later. He propounded his ideas in two separate papers.
  • The University of Bonn appointed Heinrich Hertz as the professor in physics in the year 1889 and that was where he was employed till the end of his career. It was during his tenure at the University of Bonn that Hertz found that thin metals could be penetrated by cathode rays. It was later developed into the ‘ray effect’. He also wrote the manuscript of the book ‘The Principles of Mechanics Presented in a New Form’ while he was employed at the University.

Personal Life & Legacy

  • Heinrich Hertz got married to Elisabeth Doll who was a lecturer of geometry at the University of Karlsruhe. They couple had two daughters, named Johanna and Mathilde. Mathilde followed in the footsteps of his parents and excelled in academia as a biologist.
  • Heinrich Hertz died on 1 January 1894 in Bonn due to granulomatosis with polyangiitis also known as GPA. Two years prior to his death he had an operation to cure migraine but that had led to complications that culminated in his death, at the age of 36.
  • Hertz, the unit used to denote frequency, has been named in his honour.


At the age of 35 Hertz became very ill, suffering severe migraines. Doctors thought he had an infection. They performed a series of operations, but Hertz continued to deteriorate.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz died aged 36 in Bonn on January 1, 1894 of blood-vessel inflammation resulting from immune system problems – specifically granulomatosis with polyangiitis. He was buried in his hometown of Hamburg, in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery.

Awards & Achievements

The Italian Society of Sciences awarded Heinrich Hertz with the Matteucci Medal, in 1888.
In 1890 the Royal Society awarded Hertz with the Rumford Medal.

Quotes and Sayings by Heinrich Hertz

Outside our consciousness there lies the cold and alien world of actual things.
For a proper understanding of ourselves and of the world, it is of the highest importance that this borderland should be thoroughly explored.
The question as to the nature of force will not have been answered; but our minds, no longer vexed, will cease to ask illegitimate questions.

Some Unknown Facts About Heinrich Hertz

  • Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was born in Hamburg, Germany and was the son of a prosperous barrister.
  • He attended the Gelhrtenschule des Johanneums grammer school where he showed a gift for languages, learning Latin, Sanskrit, and Arabic.
  • In 1880 he received a PhD cum laude from the University of Berlin, and in 1883 he took a position as lecturer in theoretical physics at the University of Kiel.
  • From 1885 to 1889 while he was professor of physics at the Karlsruhe Polytechnic, he produced electromagnetic waves and measured their length and velocity.
  • His experiments proved the behavior of the electromagnetic waves predicted by James Maxwell, and he built an apparatus to measure the velocity of the electromagnetic waves.
  • He proved Maxwell’s theory that light and heat are electromagnetic radiations.
  • From 1886 to 1894 he held the post of Professor of Physics and Director of the Physics Institute in Bonn, where he continued his research on electricity in rarefied gases.
  • Between 1886 and 1889 Hertz published two papers on contact mechanics that would prove extremely important to the field of electrodynamics.
  • In 1887 he published his paper, “On Electromagnetic Effects Produced by Electrical Disturbances in Insulators.”
  • Hertz discovered the photoelectric effect which states that a charged object loses its charge faster when exposed to ultraviolet light.
  • He did not realize the importance and practical implications of his experiments and did not foresee their eventual use in wireless communications.
  • In 1930 the hertz (Hz) was established as the name for frequency replacing the previous “cycles per second.”

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