In our search to find the best and brightest in mass media for the new Smithsonian exhibit, I think it would be a tragedy to forget Robert Hooke. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Who is Robert Hooke?’ He was a physicist in the 1600’s. He studied at Wadham College, worked for the Royal Society, and was a great observer. He built and used telescopes to observe outer space. He used microscopes to study cells. Two of the many other things he investigated, observed, and experimented with were light refraction and sound waves. The sound wave studies are the reason I believe he belongs in this exhibit.
Sound waves being transmitted from one place to another is the foundation on which mass media has been built. If not for Robert Hooke, and his experiments and inventions, we may not be where we are today. One of these inventions was the tin can telephone. Yes, the tin can telephone! Robert Hooke invented one as early as 1667. This device was made by attaching a wire or string to two receiving devices (pipes, cups, cans). The string was pulled tight so when the people on either end talked into it, it vibrated the bottom of the cup, sent the vibration over the string, vibrated the bottom of the receiving cup, and allowed the other person to hear what the sender had said. I bet you thought this was just a children’s toy, didn’t you?
Later, new inventions using electromagnetic currents replaced these tin can telephones. The phone patented by Alexander Graham Bell used electricity to transmit sound waves. These inventions led to the inventions of microphones, cassette tapes, and CDs. These inventions led to even more until you get to our modern world with all of the electronics we cannot live without.
So, as you can clearly see, Robert Hooke belongs in this exhibit. He, some could argue, started the mass media we know today, with his simple tin cup telephone that enabled sound to travel mechanically from one place to another.