A diaphote is described as an instrument designed for transmitting pictures by telegraph. On February 10, 1880, an article ran in the Daily Times of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania describing a remarkable invention recently demonstrated by a local inventor, Dr. H.E. Licks, that made it possible to transmit images by telegraph lines. He called it a "diaphote," from the Greek dia meaning "through" and photos meaning "light".
special Saturday meeting of the Monacacy Scientific Club the club
listened to a paper presented by Dr. H. E. Licks of Old South
Bethlehem on the diaphote which he had invented after nearly three
years work and which was, as of the time of the meeting, nearly
perfected. Present at the meeting were many scientists of Eastern
Pennsylvania, Prof. M. E. Kannich of the polytechnic school at
Pittsburg, and Col. A. D. A. Biatic of the Brazilian corps of
engineers, who was in the US making purchases of iron and steel.
Dr. Licks was introduced he remarked that a few experiments with the
diaphote left him convinced that it would ultimately cause it to rank
with the telephone, the phonograph and the electric light as one of
the most remarkable inventions of the nineteenth century.
Licks told of how the idea of the invention was first suggested to his mind
about three years ago after reading accounts of some of the early
experiments with Bell's telephone and later improvements by Edison. He
reasoned that if the human voice could be transmitted thousands of
miles away, why couldn't light be transmitted in some similar way in
such a way that one could see an image? So, after much work and
experimentation, on that evening he was prepared to exhibit to the
club an instrument called the diaphote.
explained, just as sound waves strike a diaphragm causing it to
vibrate and generate electricity which is sent along a wire and
causes corresponding vibrations in another distant diaphragm which
are heard as sound, in the diaphote waves of light can be
waves strike a specially constructed mirror joined by several wires
with another mirror and the image of an object in the first modifies
electric currents in the wires. These currents pass to a receiving
instrument and there produce a secondary image. The intermediate wire, as
in the telephone, may be hundreds of miles long, but his diaphote
plates were so delicate and powerful that the second image was almost
as distinct as the original. Dr. Licks felt confident that after the
removal of a few obstacles of a merely mechanical nature the most
complex forms could be reproduced with excellent shades and color.
diaphote consisted of essentially four parts: a mirror,
transmission wires, a battery and the reproducing “speculum”.
Licks gave a detailed account of the experiments he
had conducted to determine the proper composition and arrangement of
the mirror and speculum, complete with the scientific peculiarities
of the various chemical compounds used. He also explained how the
mirrors were constructed as well as the construction of the device.
instrument worked when waves of light from an object were conducted
through an ordinary camera, so that they fell on parts of the mirror
when the electric circuit was closed. The light and accompanying heat
produced momentary chemical changes in chemicals on the mirror, which
in turn modified the electric current. The distant contraption
responded in a similar manner, thus reproducing the image which could be observed on a
second camera or even projected on a
the close of the presentation a demonstration was given. Three
people took the mirror of the diaphote to a room in the lower part of
the building and connecting wires were laid through the halls and
stairways to the speculum on the Dr. Lick's platform. In succession
various objects were held before the mirror. They had to be
illuminated by the light of a burning magnesium tape because the rays
from gas lights were said to be deficient in actinic power (relating
to or denoting light able to cause photochemical reactions, as in
photography, through having a significant short wavelength or
the objects were shown, the audience saw them projected on a screen
considerably magnified. An apple, a penknife and a silver dollar were
the first objects shown. On the silver dollar it was possible to
make out the outlines of the goddess of liberty and the date 1878 was
watch was held in front of the mirror for five minutes and the audience could plainly perceive the motion of the
minute hand on the screen, but not the movement of the second hand.
However, a Prof. Kannich looked into the camera thought that it was
quite perceptible. An ink bottle, a flower and a part of a theater
handbill were also shown and when the head of a kitten appeared on
the screen the club let loose a hearty applause.
the close of the experiments the scientists extended their
congratulations to Dr. Licks, and the president made a few remarks on
the probable scientific and industrial applications of the diaphote
in the future. It was believed that with the telephone and the
diaphote it may yet be possible for people to hear and see each other
as if face to face.
also had potential for railroad signal men or the
central office to see hundreds of miles of railroad track all at
once, thus lessening the possibility of an accident. Newspapers in
England could be printed in New York a few hours after their
appearance in London.
Licks claimed he was soon to lecture before the American Society of
Arts and would be making definite arrangements for the manufacture as soon as
the seven patents he had applied for were issued. Word of Licks'
invention soon appeared in other newspapers.
whole things was a hoax. But, the question is, how did Dr. H.E.
Licks pull off such a remarkable stunt? He didn't. It was the
newspaper article itself that was the hoax.
Merriman (March 27, 1848 – June 7, 1925) was an American civil
engineer, born at Southington, Connecticut. Merriman graduated from
Yale's Sheffield Scientific School in 1871 and was assistant in the
United States Corps of Engineers in 1872-73 and instructor in civil
engineering at Sheffield from 1875 to 1878. He was professor of civil
engineering in Lehigh University from 1878 to 1907 and thereafter a
consulting civil and hydraulic engineer. From 1880 to 1885 he was
also assistant on the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. His
researches in hydraulics, bridges, strength of materials, and pure
mathematics are important. He published many books that were widely
used as textbooks. He was also editor in chief of the American Civil
Engineers' Pocket Book published in 1911.
1917 he published Recreations in Mathematics in 1917 under the
pseudonym H. E. Licks, which included the story "The Diaphote
Hoax", a republication of the detailed newspaper report from
February 10, 1880. The name "Dr. H. E. Licks" was a play
on the word “helix.” Other names appearing in the article were also a play on words:
"Prof. M. E. Kannick" (mechanic), "Col. A. D. A.
Biatic" (adiabatic) and "Prof. L. M. Niscate"