Skip to main content
A B C D(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) E F G H I(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) J(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) K L M N O P Q(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) R S T U(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) V W X(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) Y(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) Z
   

Wheatstone, Sir Charles Wheatstone, Sir Charles (1802-1875)

Charles Wheatstone was a musical instrument maker who also made major improvements to the telegraph.

He began his career inventing new musical instruments and novelties, one of which, 'The Enchanted Lyre', appeared to play itself whilst suspended in mid-air.

In 1834 he was awarded a professorship at King's College, London, where he began experimenting with electrical currents. His work led him many developments, including the stereoscope - to view photographs in 3-D.

The Wheatstone bridge is an electrical instrument for the precise comparison of resistances. Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) never claimed to have invented it, but he did more than anyone else to invent uses for it. The first description of the bridge was by Samuel Hunter Christie (1784-1865) in 1833. Christie also showed that conductivity of wires varies directly with their diameter and inversely to their length.

Wheatstone perceived the idea of transmitting music across London, which led him to think about the telegraph. Clumsy and difficult to operate, the telegraph needed improvements and together with William Cooke, Wheatstone invented the five-needle telegraph system in 1837. This is rightly regarded as being the world's first viable electric telegraph.

Wheatstone never focused on any one area but always worked on a range of projects including typewriters, electromagnetic clocks, pitch measuring devices, and his other major invention - the concertina. He also invented significant further high-speed and alphabetic electric telegraph systems.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

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.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...