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WHEATSTONE, Sir Charles (1802-1875)Identity statement

Reference code(s)
GB0100 KCLCA Wheatstone
WHEATSTONE, Sir Charles (1802-1875)
Level of description
Collection (fonds)
Extent and medium of the unit of description (quantity, bulk, or size)
18 boxes (0.18 cubic metres)


Name of creator(s)

Wheatstone, Sir, Charles, 1802-1875, Knight, Professor of Experimental Philosophy

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).

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 or transfer

Department of Physics, King's College London.

Content & structure

Scope and content

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 from Department of Physics, King's College London, including demonstration equipment, telegraph apparatus, a nail fiddle and other prototype musical instruments, [1834-1875]; exhibition of scientific and musical instruments, [1834-1875].

System of arrangement

Broadly chronological within a thematic framework.

Conditions of access & use

Conditions governing access

Open, subject to signature of Reader's undertaking form, and appropriate provision of two forms of identification, to include one photographic ID.

Please note: 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.

Language/scripts of material

English, French

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Some photographs, glass negatives and artefacts in fragile condition.

Finding aids

Summary guide entry and detailed catalogue online and in hard copy.

Allied materials

Existence and location of originals

King's College London College Archives

Related units of description

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.

Description control

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. Revised by Frances Pattman.Ā 

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.

This catalogue is made available under the Open Data Commons Attribution License. This catalogue may be updated from time to time in order to reflect additional material and/or new understandings of the material.

Date(s) of descriptions

24 October 2000; revised 2014


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  • Biographies
  • Catalogues
  • Civil law
  • Electrical industry
  • Electrochemistry
  • Electromagnetism
  • Equipment
  • Exhibitions
  • Experiments
  • Industry
  • Information/library administration
  • Intellectual property
  • Laboratory equipment
  • Law
  • Legal systems
  • Literary forms and genres
  • Literature
  • Magnetism
  • Microscopes
  • Museums
  • Music
  • Musical instruments
  • Newspaper press
  • Optics
  • Patents
  • Performing arts
  • Photographs
  • Physical chemistry
  • Physics education
  • Power industry
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  • Press cuttings
  • Prose
  • Research work
  • Science education
  • Science museums
  • Scientific equipment
  • Secondary documents
  • Specialized museums
  • Telecommunications equipment
  • Visual materials

Personal names

  • Buckle, Samuel, fl 1850-1880, Photographer
  • Duboscq, Jules, 1817-1886, Photographer
  • Fenton, Roger, 1819-1869, Photographer
  • Wheatstone, Sir, Charles, 1802-1875, Knight, Physicist

Corporate names

  • King's College London College Archives
  • King's College London, Department of Physics


  • Cairo, Urban, Egypt, North Africa
  • City of Westminster, London, England
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Hyde Park, Westminster, London, England
  • Moscow, Russian Federation, Eastern Europe
  • Nimes, France
  • Paris, France
  • Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

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