King's College London
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Professor Sir Charles Wheatstone

Background and sound transmission

The acouryptophone or 'enchanted lyre'The acouryptophone or 'enchanted lyre'In 1816, at the age of fourteen, Charles Wheatstone was placed with his uncle Charles, a musical instrument maker based in the Strand, and he eventually inherited the family firm in 1823.

Considering his background and this introduction to a musical environment from an early age, it is unsurprising that Wheatstone’s first experiments sought to investigate the qualities and transmission of sound.

One of the earliest was in 1822 when Wheatstone set up the acouryptophone or ‘enchanted lyre’ at the Wheatstone and Co music shop.

This involved the suspension of a lyre from soundboards of a piano in the room above. When someone in the room above played the piano the lyre in the room below began to make music ‘as if by magic’.

This experiment brought Wheatstone to the attention of the Danish scientist Christian Örsted (1777-1851) who encouraged him to write a paper on sound, eventually leading to his first paper, published in 1823: ‘New Experiments in Sound’ in Annals of Philosophy.

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