Sturgeon, William

SUBJECT AREA: Electricity
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b. 22 May 1783 Whittington, Lancashire, England
d. 4 December 1850 Prestwich, Manchester, England
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English inventor and lecturer, discoverer of the electromagnet, and inventor of the first electric motor put to practical use.
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After leaving an apprenticeship as a shoemaker, Sturgeon enlisted in the militia. Self-educated during service as a private in the Royal Artillery, he began to construct scientific apparatus. When he left the army in 1820 Sturgeon became an industrious writer, contributing papers to the Philosophical Magazine. In 1823 he was appointed Lecturer in Natural Science at the East India Company's Military College in Addiscombe. His invention in 1823 of an electromagnet with a horseshoe-shaped, soft iron core provided a much more concentrated magnetic field than previously obtained. An electric motor he designed in 1832 embodied his invention of the first metallic commutator. This was used to rotate a meat-roasting jack. Over an extended period he conducted researches into atmospheric electricity and also introduced the practice of amalgamating zinc in primary cells to prevent local action.
Sturgeon became Lecturer at the Adelaide Gallery, London, in 1832, an appointment of short duration, terminating when the gallery closed. In 1836 he established a monthly publication, The Annals of Electricity, Magnetism and Chemistry; and Guardian of Experimental Science, the first journal in England to be devoted to the subject. It was to this journal that James Prescot Joule contributed the results of his own researches in electromagnetism. Due to lack of financial support the publication ceased in 1843 after ten volumes had been issued. At the age of 57 Sturgeon became Superintendent of the Victoria Gallery of Practical Science in Manchester; after this gallery closed, the last five years of his life were spent in considerable poverty.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Society of Arts Silver Medal 1825.
Bibliography
1836, Annals of Electricity 1:75–8 (describes his motor).
All his published papers were collected in Scientific Researches, Experimental and Theoretical in Electricity, Magnetism and Electro-Chemistry, 1850, Bury; 1852, London.
Further Reading
J.P.Joule, 1857, biography, in Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society 14, Manchester: 53–8.
Biography, 1895, Electrician 35:632–5 (includes a list of Sturgeon's published work). P.Dunsheath, 1957, A History of Electrical Engineering, London: Faber \& Faber.
GW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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