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British Industrial History

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Arthur Edwin Kennelly

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Arthur Edwin Kennelly (1861–1939), electrical engineer

1861 Born on 17 December at Colaba, India, the only son of David Joseph Kennelly and Kathrine (or Cathrine) Heycock.

1873 educated at University College School, London and at other schools.

Entered the London office of the Society of Telegraph Engineers (later the Institution of Electrical Engineers) as an office boy

Studied electrophysics in his spare time,

1876 appointed a telegraph operator in the Eastern Telegraph Cable Co in London. For the next ten years he was engaged in submarine cable work, latterly as chief electrician.

1887 Went to USA to join Thomas A. Edison as principal assistant in his electrical laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey

1894 Joined a firm of consulting electrical engineers.

1902 appointed to the chair of electrical engineering at Harvard University

1903 married Julia Grice; they had two children.

1913 also appointed professor of electrical communications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where for many years he directed electrical engineering research

1924 retired from MIT

1930 Retired from Harvard.

1939 Died in Boston


Kennelly's most important contributions lay in the interpretation and explanation of electrical phenomena. He postulated an ionized layer in the upper atmosphere that enabled radio transmissions to be received by reflection, as subsequently verified by Sir Edward Appleton. A similar explanation was proposed independently by Oliver Heaviside; the layer was named after both men, the Kennelly—Heaviside layer.

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Sources of Information

  • Biography, ODNB