COMMUNICATIONS PIONEERS: Heinrich Hertz

We owe him a lot. His experiments in electricity led to everything from AC power to computer speeds to radio stations. However, Heinrich Hertz is also remembered as the inventor of the parabolic antenna, in other words, the satellite dish.

Surprisingly, the dish has been around since 1888, about 75 years longer than the communications satellite. (That should permanently settle any chicken-or-the-egg questions.) The antenna was invented to try to understand and confirm the existence of radio waves, which it did. The antenna concentrated as much energy as possible on a single spot, just as a dish does today.

The dish-shaped antenna was used throughout the history of recording technology to help improve the gain of weak signals. Radar antennas used the dish-shaped antenna during the 1940s and 1950s, and still do to this day. Radar antennas are traditionally hidden behind a dome to keep the moving parts cleaner as they do rotate.

In 1962, signals from the first communications satellite, Telstar, were picked up by a large dish, just as satellite signals are today.

For giving us the dish that so many of us use for TV signals, we honor Heinrich Hertz.