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WHEATSTONE, Sir Charles (1802-1875)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0100 KCLCA Wheatstone
Held at: King's College London College Archives
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Full title: WHEATSTONE, Sir Charles (1802-1875)
Date(s): 1757-1992
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 18 boxes (0.18 cubic metres)
Name of creator(s): Wheatstone | Sir | Charles | 1802-1875 | Knight | Professor of Experimental Philosophy
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born Gloucester, 1802; moved to London, 1806; school in Vere Street, London, 1813; placed with uncle Charles, musical instrument maker, Strand, London, 1816; worked under father, William, musical instrument maker, 1818-1823; early demonstrations of experiments into acoustics and the transmission of sound, 1821; first paper published on 'New experiments in sound', in Annals of philosophy, 1823; inherited musical instrument business belonging to uncle, Charles, 1823; relocated business to Conduit Street, London, 1829; invented kaleidophone, 1826-1827; Michael Faraday delivers first lecture on sound on behalf of Wheatstone, Royal Institution, London, 1828; Wheatstone announces invention of concertina, 1830; invents stereoscope, 1830-1832; experiments to measure velocity of electricity, 1830-1837; Professor of Experimental Philosophy, King's College London, 1834-1875; work on electricity generation, [1834-1850]; lectures on sound at King's College London, 1836; Fellow of Royal Society, 1836; invents constant cell battery, [1836]; first patent on electric telegraph with William Fothergill Cooke, 1837; first public demonstration of stereoscope, Royal Society, 1838; installs five needle telegraph, Paddington to West Drayton, London, 1838-1839; work on improvements to electric telegraph, [1840-1845]; high point of work on polarisation of light, [1840-1870]; 'Wheatstone Bridge' invented, 1843; conducts earliest submarine telegraph cable experiment in Swansea Bay, 1844; invents iron core galvanometer, 1845; assists work of parliamentary Select Committee on Ordnance concerning electrical detonation devices, 1855; perfects first practical ABC telegraph, 1858; establishes Universal Private Telegraph Company, 1861; with Carl Wilhelm Siemens invents self-excited generator, 1867; knighted, 1868; died 1875. Publications: The scientific papers of Sir Charles Wheatstone (London, 1879).


Scope and content/abstract:

Experimental notes, working papers, correspondence and lecture summaries compiled by Charles Wheatstone, 1836-1875, and photographs collected by him in that period. Notably including papers relating to the development and testing of the telegraph, [1836-1960]; descriptions of experiments and test results concerning the measurement of electromotive forces and electrical potential, [1840-1875]; experimental observations on the nature of magnetism, electricity and thermodynamics, including electromagnet design, batteries and dynamos, [1834-1855]; working papers relating to optics including experiments into refraction, colouration of compounds and polarisation, [1850-1875]; drafts of lectures on sound and musical instruments prepared by Wheatstone, [1832-1837]; material relating to the management of the Wheatstone collection of scientific instruments and library, 1890-1992; biographical material relating to the life of Wheatstone, the invention of the telegraph and Wheatstone's musical instrument manufacturing business, with unrelated newspapers, 1757-1975; stereoscopic photographs and glass negatives taken by Roger Fenton, Samuel Buckle, Jules Duboscq and others, featuring landscapes, still lifes, panoramic scenes of cities including Paris and Moscow and the interior and exterior of the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, Sydenham, 1851, and especially the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1855, [1850-1901]; artefacts on loan from Department of Physics, King's College London, including telegraph apparatus, a nail fiddle and other prototype musical instruments, [1834-1875]; exhibition of scientific and musical instruments, [1834-1875].

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, French

System of arrangement:

Broadly chronological within a thematic framework.

Conditions governing access:

Open, subject to signature of reader's undertaking form. Some fragile photographs remain closed.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Director of Archive Services.

Finding aids:

Summary guide entry and detailed catalogue online and in hard copy in King's College Archives reading room.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Wheatstone bequeathed his books and scientific instruments to King's College London in 1875. Most of the scientific instruments, housed in the George III Museum, King's College London, were subsequently transferred to the Science Museum, South Kensington, in 1926, though some examples were retained by the Department of Physics and gradually transferred to the Science Museum, 1955-1963; some electrical and physical apparatus was transferred to the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, US, in 1964; while a number of items were loaned to the Archaeology Department, Queen's University of Belfast, in 1968; some items from the Physics Department were sold at auction at Christies in 1987 and1992; some few examples of apparatus remain on permanent exhibition display or are stored in the College Archives. The photographic collection was purchased to support Wheatstone's work in stereoscopy. Wheatstone's book and pamphlet collection is housed in Library Special Collections, King's College London, to be distinguished from scientific literature physically housed in the sometime Wheatstone Library which was named after him. Wheatstone's personal papers were transferred from the Department of Physics, King's College London, via the College Library in 1970; most recently, papers relating to the transfer and sale of artefacts and recent exhibitions were deposited by Professor Ronald Burge in 2000.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Department of Physics, King's College London.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The books and pamphlet collection belonging to Charles Wheatstone in King's College London Library Special Collections comprises off-prints of scientific society proceedings, exhibition catalogues and books relating to magnetism, electricity, optics, sound and the electric telegraph; the Department of Physics, King's College London, maintains a small permanent exhibition of scientific and musical instruments formerly belonging to Charles Wheatstone that includes a brass solar chronometer, concertina, kaleidophone, rheostat, induction generator, two telegraph transmitters, silver microscope, samples of sections of early telegraphic cables and an example of Wheatstone's stereoscope, installed with twin aspects of the interior of the Transept, Palais d'Industrie, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1855.

Science Museum Library, London: papers and drawings, [1832-1870]; King George III Museum Collection, Science Museum, London, see John Anthony Chaldecott, Handbook of the King George III collection of scientific instruments (London, 1951), KCLCA K/MUS 26/1-2, photographic catalogue of artefacts in the King George III collection, Science Museum, London; British Library Department of Manuscripts: letters to Charles Babbage, 1839-1843; Ref: Add MSS 37,191-37,201; Institution of Electrical Engineers Archives, London: correspondence with William Fothergill and Sir Francis Ronalds, 1837-1848, Ref: Sc MSS 1.3, 1.4, 7; Royal Institution of Great Britain: letters; Royal Society: papers. Biography: Brian Bowers, Sir Charles Wheatstone (London, 1975).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Brian Bowers, Sir Charles Wheatstone (London, 1975); Dictionary of national biography, Fossey John Cobb Hearnshaw, The centenary history of King's College, London, 1828-1928 (London, 1929); College Calendars, British Library OPAC. Entry compiled by Geoff Browell.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
24 October 2000

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