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British Industrial History

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Arthur West Heaviside

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Arthur West Heaviside (1844–1923)

Born (presumably) at 55 King Street, Camden Town, London, son of Thomas Heaviside (1813–1896), a wood-engraver from Stockton-on-Tees, and his wife, Rachel Elizabeth (1818–1894), the daughter of John Hook West of Taunton.

Charles Wheatstone had married Rachel's sister in 1847 - through him, Arthur and his brother Oliver Heaviside were drawn into work on telegraphy.

Went to Newcastle to work in the telegraph business - presumably one of the companies which later became the Great Northern Telegraph Co.

1885 Arthur West Heaviside and William Henry Preece experimented with parallel telegraph lines and an unwired telephone receiver, discovering radio induction (later identified with the effects of crosstalk).

1887 Oliver helped his brother Arthur, an engineer in the Post Office telegraph system, to write a paper on the new "bridge system" of telephony.

1923 Obituary [1]

ARTHUR WEST HEAVISIDE, I.S.O., who was born on the 30th June, 1844, was one of the early members of the Institution, having been elected a Member in 1877.

With the passing of " A.W.H." the last of the old pre-Post Office Telegraphs veterans has gone ; but at a ripe old age, surviving many of the next generation of Post Office district chiefs. So far as history goes back, his first association with telegraphy was in the Universal Private Telegraph Co., which he joined at Newcastle on the 1st January, 1861.

At the transfer he was District Superintendent; but his later record shows that he must have had other experience, and tradition has it that he was trained by his uncle, Sir Charles Wheatstone. At the transfer of the telegraphs to the Post Office in January 1870 he was placed in charge of the North-East (North) District with headquarters at Newcastle, from which he retired on the 1st September, 1904, so that throughout his career he was stationed at one place.

From the first he appears to have been an enthusiastic experimenter. Amongst the Engineering Department records there is a drawing which shows a row of about 20 A.B.C. indicators ranged above a peg-switch with bars crossing horizontally and vertically, and an A.B.C. communicator. It is probably dated 1880, the writer's first year in the Post Office - and represents the Newcastle private-wire switch by which the city merchants were enabled to intercommunicate. How long it had taken Heaviside to build up the system before the need for a larger "Umschaiter switch" forced him to "confess," and what sort of a "row" there was when he did confess, the writer was too young to be permitted to know ! but he ventures to think that that device was the precursor of the telephone exchange. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to hold that the existence of the private-wire Wheatstone A.B.C. system was actually a factor in retarding the development of the telephone in this country. The telephone then was not what the telephone is now, and the expert A.B.C. operators could do wonders in speed on their instruments.

Heaviside went among the Newcastle merchants and manufacturers, taking note of what would be most likely to meet (or create) their needs. Later on he began systematically to convert his " switch " to a " telephone exchange," and therein developed all sorts of " gadgets." How he enjoyed the fights with Headquarters about them ! How often when he was foiled by higher authority he consoled himself with the thought that " all things will come to him that will wait " - and later on saw to it that they came! His system provided secrecy, so that no third party, not even the operator, could be in circuit once two people were put through. To the writer was assigned the task of designing the first multiple switch in England and it had to meet this requirement for Newcastle. Then Heaviside was pioneer of underground wires for telephones, so that open wires practically did not exist for telephone subscribers at Newcastle from very early days.

He had a wider outlook, however, and was one of the most active of the founders of the Newcastle Electricity Supply Co. and acted as their consulting engineer. Also he was the first Chairman of the Newcastle Local Section (now North-Eastern Centre) of the Institution in 1900-01. In 1881 he presented a paper to the Institution on induction between telegraph and telephone wires. On the moors of Northumberland he supervised all Preece's earlier investigations of inductive wireless telegraphy. In fact, wherever there was a chance of getting in touch with the latest developments of electrical science or of getting in front of them Heaviside jumped at it.

He had robust health and was fond of outdoor life. He assisted in the formation of the Tyneside Volunteer Submarine Engineers ; and one may assume that he was one of their most active members. He was held in universal esteem and respect by every member of his staff, as a keen, just business man and a gentleman.

After his retirement he contributed a paper to the Institution of Post Office Electrical Engineers, and he was recalled to the Post Office for about a year to assist on the Post Office valuation staff of the National Telephone Co.'s system. After that only a few of his old colleagues kept in touch with him. During the war he went to Torquay, and this year he returned to London apparently still his old self but somewhat feeble.

He passed away on the 22nd September, 1923.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1923 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries