King's College London
Online Exhibitions
Professor Sir Charles Wheatstone

Biography

Wheatstone (centre) with Faraday and Huxley, Brewster and TyndallWheatstone (centre) with Faraday and Huxley, Brewster and TyndallWheatstone was born in 1802 near Gloucester, the son of a shoemaker. Following his family's relocation to London, he was apprenticed in his uncle's musical instrument manufacturing company.

Although he did not take to the business, it did spark his interest in discovery and invention. Wheatstone expanded his studies across a range of subjects, from sound and light to magnetism and electricity.

His appointment at King’s College London as Professor of Experimental Philosophy in 1834 provided the opportunity to undertake more serious research, beginning with an experiment on behalf of the Royal Society to measure the speed of electricity by means of an electrical circuit laid in the College basement.

As well as work on the development of the telegraph, co-patenting one of the earliest designs in 1837, and on laying the first ever underwater telegraph cable in 1844, Wheatstone is also well-known for the Wheatstone Bridge - a device for measuring electrical resistance, and is credited with the co-design of the first modern dynamo, the invention of the science of 3D (he coined the term ‘stereoscopy’ and invented the stereoscope) and with the development of the linear induction motor – the forerunner of modern maglev trains now in use in Germany and China.

Wheatstone found giving lectures rather difficult and even turned for help to his friend, Michael Faraday, who delivered a lecture on his behalf. By the mid 1840s, Wheatstone had ceased lecturing and had concentrated entirely on research and on his extensive business and consultancy interests in the railway and telecommunications industries. He was knighted in 1868 and died in 1875.

Wheatstone was highly regarded by the College that commemorated him in the renaming of the College’s physics labs – the earliest of their kind in the country, and in the naming of the Wheatstone Chair of Physics.

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