Who Was The First To Use Radar To Detect Distant Objects?
Answer: Alexander Popov
The history of radar usage is a long and twisting one. The raw science behind radar was discovered all the way back in the 19th century by Heinrich Hertz. Although he demonstrated in his lab that radio waves could be reflected off solid objects, he didn’t continue with the research in a meaningful way.
Later, in 1895, Alexander Popov developed a radar-based device that was used to detect lighting strikes–it was the first time radar was put into application detecting things at a distance.
Popov was also the first to observe that you could use radar to detect ships out at sea when he noticed he could detect ships passing between his apparatus and the distant lightning strikes he was recording. While he wrote of how his lighting strike detector could be used for detecting ships and such, he didn’t pursue the topic.
The relative non-pursuit of radar for civilian and military application would continue for nearly half a century. In 1917, Nikola Tesla outlined research on how radar could be used to detect ships and their speed. In 1922, A. Hoyt Taylor pitched the idea of a 60 MHz radar system to the Navy arguing that it would be excellent for detecting ships in foggy and poor weather conditions. The Navy remained uninterested until, years later, they wanted to apply the technology to tracking aircraft.
Around the world research on radar continued in a fragmented and halting fashion until the 1930s when research by Robert M. Page, at the Naval Research Laboratory, demonstrated the first modern pulse-based radar system. By the time World War II was underway, most of the world’s super powers like the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union had independently developed radar-based defense systems.
While modern systems keep civilian air planes safe and detect enemy vessels at sea, they all can trace their family tree back to the designs of Russian scientist that really just wanted those pesky merchant ships to get out of the way so he could go back to tracking storm heads and lighting strikes.
Image by ChrisM70