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British Industrial History

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Charles Wheatstone

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Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) was a developer of telegraphy and physicist who popularized the Wheatstone bridge, a device that accurately measured electrical resistance and became widely used in laboratories.

1802 Born on 6 February in Barnwood, Gloucester, the second of four children of William Wheatstone (1775–1854), shoemaker, and his wife, Beatta.

1806 The family moved to London, where Wheatstone attended school.

1816 At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to an uncle, who manufactured musical instruments. Wheatstone disliked business, but was fascinated by the physics of sound, and studied the working of musical instruments. He wanted to know what distinguished sounds of the same pitch but different timbre, and how sounds were transmitted through solid rods and stretched wires.

1823 His uncle died and Wheatstone, together with his younger brother William, took over the business. He contributed a paper to "Thomson's Annals of Philosophy", describing his early experiments with sound.

1834 Wheatstone was appointed professor of experimental philosophy at King's College, London. He used a revolving mirror in an experiment to measure the speed of electricity in a conductor. The same revolving mirror, by his suggestion, was later used in measurements of the speed of light.

1837 With William Fothergill Cooke he patented an early telegraph and devoted much of his time to submarine telegraphy. He devised a method of combining several armatures on one shaft so as to generate a continuous current

1840 With Cooke he patented an A. B. C. telegraph

1841 Charles Wheatstone 35, Professor of Experimental Philosophy, William Wheatstone 35, musical instrument maker, and Sophia Ann Wheatstone 40, lived in Hanover Sq, London[1]

1843 He brought to notice the Wheatstone bridge, a device invented by British mathematician Samuel Christie.

1844 Telegraphy experiments were made in Swansea Bay, with the assistance of J. D. Llewellyn. Wheatstone also had a share in the development of the electric generator.

1844 Patented the concertina

1845 Wheatstone and Cooke's most important invention, an electric telegraph using only one magnetic needle instead of several, was recognized by patent. John Lewis Ricardo recognised the value of this invention, bought the patent and established the Electric Telegraph Co[2].

1855 He was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.

1858 Wheatstone patented the automatic telegraph system - the message was first transposed into perforations in a paper tape, and then transmitted and received at high-speed.

1862 July: he was created DCL by the University of Oxford.

1861 - 1866 Wheatstone was a director and shareholder of Universal Private Telegraph Co[3].

1864 He was made LLD by the University of Cambridge. He also had in the region of thirty-four distinctions or diplomas bestowed upon him by various governments, universities, and learned societies.

1867 He described to the Royal Society a method of making dynamos self-exciting. He used a shunt circuit; the use of a series circuit for the same purpose by Werner Siemens was described at the same meeting. Wheatstone was also inventor of a system of electro-magnetic clocks for indicating time at any number of different places united on a circuit.

1868 He was knighted at the end of January.

1873 He became a foreign associate of the Académie des Sciences.

1875 Sir Charles Wheatstone died of bronchitis on 19 October, at the Hôtel du Louvre in Paris. He was buried on 27 October in Kensal Green Cemetery. He was seventy-three.

His own inventions include the concertina, and the stereoscope - a device for observing pictures in three dimensions. It still used in viewing X-rays and aerial photographs. He initiated the use of electromagnets in electric generators and invented the Playfair cipher, which is based on substituting different pairs of letters for paired letters in the message.


1875 Obituary [4]



1877 Obituary [5]



1875 Obituary [6]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1841 census
  2. The Times, 8 April 1868
  3. National Archives [1]
  4. The Engineer 1875/10/29 page 306.
  5. 1877 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  6. Engineering 1875 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index