Wheatstone, Sir Charles

SUBJECT AREA: Telecommunications
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b. 1802 near Gloucester, England
d. 19 October 1875 Paris, France
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English physicist, pioneer of electric telegraphy.
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Wheatstone's family moved to London when he was 4 years old. He was educated at various schools in London and excelled in physics and mathematics. He qualified for a French prize but forfeited it because he was too shy to recite a speech in French at the prize-giving.
An uncle, also called Charles Wheatstone, has a musical instrument manufacturing business where young Charles went to work. He was fascinated by the science of music, but did not enjoy business life. After the uncle's death, Charles and his brother William took over the business. Charles developed and patented the concertina, which the firm assembled from parts made by "outworkers". He devoted much of his time to studying the physics of sound and mechanism of sound transmission through solids. He sent speech and music over considerable distances through solid rods and stretched wires, and envisaged communication at a distance. He concluded, however, that electrical methods were more promising.
In 1834 Wheatstone was appointed Professor of Experimental Philosophy—a part-time posi-tion—in the new King's College, London, which gave him some research facilities. He conducted experiments with a telegraph system using several miles of wire in the college corridors. Jointly with William Fothergill Cooke, in 1837 he obtained the first patent for a practical electric telegraph, and much of the remainder of his life was devoted to its improvement. In 1843 he gave a paper to the Royal Society surveying the state of electrical measurements and drew attention to a bridge circuit known ever since as the "Wheatstone bridge", although he clearly attributed it to S.H.Christie. Wheatstone devised the "ABC" telegraph, for use on private lines by anyone who could read, and a high-speed automatic telegraph which was adopted by the Post Office and used for many years. He also worked on the French and Belgian telegraph systems; he died when taken ill on a business visit to Paris.
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Further Reading
B.Bowers, 1975, Sir Charles Wheatstone FRS, London: HMSO.
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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