Messrs. Cooke and Wheatstone’s electric telegraph

(From the Railway Times)

As the Electric Telegraph has recently attracted a considerable share of public attention, our friends, Messrs. Cooke and Wheatstone, have been put to some inconvenience, by a misunderstanding which has prevailed respecting their relative positions in connection with the invention. The following short statement of the facts has, therefore, at their request, been drawn up by us, the undersigned, Sir M. Isambard Brunel, Engineer of the Thames Tunnel, and Professor Daniell, of King’s College, as a document which either party may at pleasure make publicly known.

In March, 1836, Mr. Cooke* while engaged at Heidelberg in scientific pursuits, witnessed for the first time, one of those well known experiments on electricity considered as a possible means of communicating intelligence, which have been tried and exhibited from time to time, during many years, by various philosophers. Struck with the vast importance of an instantaneous mode of communication to the railways then extending themselves over Great Britain, as well as to Government and general purposes, and impressed with a strong conviction that so great an object might be practically attained by means of electricity, Mr. Cooke immediately directed his attention to the adaptation of  electricity to a practical system of telegraphing; and giving up the profession in which he was engaged, he from that hour devoted himself exclusively to the realization of that object. He came to England in April 1836, to perfect his plans and instruments.

In February, 1837, while engaged in completing a set of instruments for an intended experimental application of his telegraph to a tunnel on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, he became acquainted through the introduction of Dr. Roget, with Professor Wheatstone who had for several years given much attention to the subject of transmitting intelligence by electricity and had made several discoveries of the highest importance connected with this subject. Among these were his well-known determination of the velocity of electricity when passing through a metal wire; his experiments, in which the deflection of magnetic needles, the decomposition of water, and other voltaic and magneto-electric effects, were produced through greater lengths of wire than had ever been experimented upon; and his original method of converting a few wires into a considerable number of circuits, so that they might transmit the greatest number of signals, which can be transmitted by a given number of wires by the deflection of magnetic needles.

In May 1837, Messrs. Cooke and Wheatstone took out a joint English patent on a footing of equality, for their existing inventions. The terms of their partnership, which were more exactly defined and confirmed in November, 1837, by a partnership deed, vested in Mr. Cooke, as the originator of the undertaking, the exclusive management of the invention in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Colonies, with the exclusive engineering department, as between themselves, and all the benefits arising from the laying down of the lines, and the manufacture of the instruments. As partners standing on a perfect equality, Messrs. Cooke and Wheatstone were to divide equally all proceeds arising from the granting of licenses, or from sale of the patent rights, a percentage being first payable to Mr. Cooke, as manager. Professor Wheatstone retained an equal voice with Mr. Cooke in selecting and modifying the forms of the telegraphic instruments, and both parties pledged themselves to impart to each other, for their equal and mutual benefit, all improvements, of whatever kind, which they might become possessed of, connected with the giving of signals or the sounding of alarms by means of electricity. Since the formation of the partnership, the undertaking has rapidly progressed, under the constant and equally successful exertion of the parties in their distinct departments, until it has attained the character of a simple and practical system, worked out scientifically on the sure basis of actual experience.

Whilst Mr. Cooke is entitled to stand alone, as the gentleman to whom this country is indebted for having practically introduced and carried out the electric telegraph as a useful undertaking, promising to be a work of national importance; and Professor Wheatstone is acknowledged as the scientific man, whose profound and successful researches had already prepared the public to receive it as a project capable of practical application; it is to the united labours of two gentlemen so well qualified for mutual assistance, that we much attribute the rapid progress which this important invention has made during the five years since they have been associated.


M. I. Brunel.
J. F. Daniell.

London, 27th April, 1841.

London 27th April, 1841.

Gentlemen—We cordially acknowledge the correctness of the facts stated in the above document, and beg to express our grateful sense of the very friendly and gratifying manner in which you have recorded your opinion of our joint labours, and of the value of our invention. We are, Gentlemen, with feelings of the highest esteem, your obedient servants.


Wm. F. Cooke.
C. Wheatstone.

Sir M. Isambard Brunel and
F. Daniell, Esq., Professor, &c.

* Son of Dr. Cooke, of Bury St. Edmund’s.

Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 19 May 1841
Text reproduced with kind permission of the British Newspaper Archive.