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Wheatstone, Sir Charles

telegraph physics musical invented

(1802–75) British physicist: a contributor to cable telegraphy.

Wheatstone was privately educated and started work in the family tradition as a maker of wood-wind and other musical instruments. In 1834 he was appointed professor of experimental physics at King’s College, London. His science was self-taught.

Much of Wheatstone’s early work was (understandably) concerned with acoustics and the theory of resonance of columns of air, and led to his London appointment. This gave him a wider interest in physics, particularly optics and electricity. He was a prolific inventor, patenting the concertina and other musical devices, and in 1838 invented a stereoscope in which two pictures of slightly differing angles of perspective could be combined to give an impression of three-dimensional solidity. In 1837 he collaborated with W F Cooke (1806–79) on a commercial electric telegraph project, which was a great success, with thousands of miles of telegraph lines being constructed. The telegraph used a cell to provide current and a electromagnet in the recorder. Wheatstone was responsible for several related inventions, such as the printing telegraph and the single-needle telegraph. He popularized (but did not invent) the Wheatstone bridge, a device invented by S Christie (1784–1865) and utilizing law for comparing resistance.

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