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William Sturgeon Sturgeon, William (1783-1850)

William Sturgeon invented the electro-magnet, which was essential to the development of the telegraph and the telephone.

Born in the north of England, he had little schooling and worked as an apprentice shoemaker. He soon gave this up and joined the army, moving to the Royal Artillery after two years. He made the most of the opportunities for improvement there, and taught himself Greek, Latin and Maths.

He was fascinated by a savage thunderstorm and wondered how lightning was formed, leading him into a lifelong study of electricity.

Tiring of army life, Sturgeon left to become a teacher. He specialised in lecturing on electro-magnetism, and his findings were published in several scientific magazines. In 1840 he became the Superintendent of the Royal Victoria Gallery of Practical Science in Manchester.

He carried on lecturing successfully; people liked his clear and easy-to-understand presentations. But starved of funds, the gallery shut down. Sturgeon couldn't find another job and, despite receiving a small pension, he died penniless.

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The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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