Born near Gloucester, England in 1802, Charles Wheatstone became an apprentice in his uncle's musical instrument workshop after his completing his formal schooling. However, the young apprentice showed little interest or skill in producing or selling musical instruments. He preferred instead to study electricity, and was particularly fascinated with a book detailing Alessandro Volta's research. He began enthusiastically performing Volta's experiments, and with his brother’s assistance, created his own electric battery.
In 1823, Mr. Wheatstone was introduced to the text New Experiments in Sound, which excited him to the possibilities that existed between sound and light. He conducted sound experiments, learning everything he could about its transmission. Soon, he was amazing London onlookers with an experiment involving a lyre, which he suspended from the ceiling, and used as a transmitter of sound for various musical instruments. To astounded crowds, Mr. Wheatstone boldly announced he could employ this technique to transmit sounds over a long distance, declaring that sound could pass through metal rods at 200 miles per second. Such rods, Mr. Wheatstone explained, could be a telegraph between London and Edinburgh, and referred to his system as a telephone.
After being named Professor of Experimental Philosophy at King's College in London, Professor Wheatstone continued is research. However, by 1835, he concentrated solely on the telegraph. He presented his impressive research in the treatise "Contributions to the Physiology of Vision," which won him a fellowship at the Royal Society in 1836. The next year, Professor Wheatstone had a fateful encounter with William Fothergill Cooke, then a young army officer at home on leave. The two men became partners with Mr. Cooke handling the business end of their arrangement, which freed Professor Wheatstone to focus exclusively on research. Also in 1837, the partners patented Wheatstone’s five-needle telegraph invention. In 1841, the electric telegraph was introduced to a skeptical public that regarded it more as an entertaining oddity than as an instrument of mass communication. Years' later, the partners were honored with honored with the Royal Society's Albert Medal for their collective efforts in the creation of the electric telegraph, but they had long been estranged because Mr. Cooke received more public recognition for the invention than did his scientific colleague.
Professor Wheatstone also invented the reflecting telescope initially by placing two vertical mirrors at a 45-degree angle, which could reflect right and left rays into the eyes. Two perspective drawings were then made to correspond with the object image for each eye, and with the use of the mirrors, created a perfect illusion. He later simplified his telescope by replacing the mirrors with prisms fitted with magnifying lenses. The telescope, however, was still large and extremely cumbersome. However, Sir David Brewster (inventor of the refracting stereoscope) had already invented a lenticular stereoscope that was smaller and more portable than Professor Wheatstone’s creation. Among Professor Wheatstone’s other inventions were a magnetic clock and an automatic transmitter.
For his inventions, Professor Wheatstone received many accolades, including serving as a juror at Paris's 1855 Universal Exhibition, at which time he became a Knight of the Legion of Honor for the electric telegraph. He also received a knighthood in 1868 for his automatic transmitter. In addition, he was a member of the French Imperial Institute of Sciences and named as an honorary member of several European scientific academies. Sir Charles Wheatstone died in Paris at the age of 73, leaving behind an impressive body of work that revolutionized electronic communication.
1868 Authorship of the Practical Electrical Telegraph of Great Britain (London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co.), pp. xvii, xxxi.
1877 The Photographic News, Vol. XXI (London: Piper and Carter), p. 208.
1892 Eminent Persons Biographies, Vol. I (London: Macmillan & Co.), pp. 308-310.
1917 Masters of Space (New York: Harper & Brothers), pp. 45-54.
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