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British Industrial History

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Edward Orange Wildman Whitehouse

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Professor E. O. W. Whitehouse (1816-1890), of 23 Buckland Crescent, St.John's Wood[1], surgeon and electrical engineer. Worked on the trans-atlantic cable.

1816 born in Liverpool on 1 October, the youngest child of a merchant.

Trained as a surgeon. He qualified MRCS in 1840

Established a practice in Brighton

1851 Recorded in census as William Whitehouse[2]

Early 1850s: Whitehouse turned his attention to electric telegraphy. Encouraged by John Watkins Brett, he began to investigate the problem of retardation of the signals as they passed along underground lines.

1855 Presented a paper to the British Association reporting experiments on a cable Brett had lent him showed retardation to be less of a problem than had been feared. At the same meeting, however, William Thomson showed theoretically that retardation on a cable would increase with the square of its length. This led to ongoing argument between the two.

He met Charles Tilston Bright, with "the result being that we continued our researches thereafter conjointly until the beginning of the Atlantic line, when we had to divide our labours, he (Whitehouse) becoming the Electrician, and I (Bright) the Engineer of the Company."

1856 Appointed electrician projector of the Atlantic Telegraph Co. Thomson was elected a director of the company soon afterwards; he and Whitehouse made up their differences.

1857 Ill health kept Whitehouse from accompanying the first attempts to lay the cable in August or the renewed efforts the following summer; the cable was finally completed from Valentia in Ireland to Trinity Bay in Newfoundland on 5 August 1858. However, Whitehouse's apparatus seemed to make retardation worse - even brief messages took hours to transmit. The board of the Atlantic Telegraph Company dismissed Whitehouse on 17 August and put Thomson in charge but the cable had been badly damaged by the huge currents from Whitehouse's induction coils and it never recovered.

1861 a joint committee of the Atlantic Telegraph Company and the British Board of Trade concluded that, while hasty manufacture and rough handling had weakened the cable, it was Whitehouse's inappropriate apparatus that finally killed it.

Whitehouse consulted on an 1861 Mediterranean cable but played no role in the successful Atlantic cables of 1865–6 or the subsequent growth of a global cable network.

Later invented several meteorological instruments

1870 Joined the Inst of Civil Engineers, proposed by Latimer Clark and seconded by C. W. Siemens amongst others[3]

1871 helped found the Society of Telegraph Engineers.

1876 Whitehouse was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

1881 Recorded in census as Wildman Whitehouse (William was deleted)[4]

1890 Died at Brighton on 26 January.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1859/09/10
  2. 1851 census
  3. Civil Engineer Records
  4. 1881 census
  • Biography of Wildman Whitehouse, ODNB