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Francis Ronalds

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Sir Francis Ronalds (1788–1873), inventor and meteorologist, "Father of the telegraph"

1788 born on 21 February, probably in London, son of Francis Ronalds (1761–1806), merchant, and his wife, Jane (nee Field) (1766–1852),

1793 joined the family firm, Field and Ronalds, wholesale cheesemongers in Upper Thames Street, London

1806 Took charge of the firm with his mother after his father died.

By 1814, with the encouragement of Jean André de Luc, Ronalds began practical experiments in transmission of electricity in the garden of his house, later known as Kelmscott House, in Upper Mall, Hammersmith. He built two wooden structures parallel to each other about 20 yards apart, between which he strung insulated wire in a continuous length of 8 miles. He succeeded in proving that, in dry weather, the transmission of electric signals across distances was practically instantaneous.

He then built an electrical telegraph apparatus with a single underground line of 525 ft threaded through thick glass tubes coated with pitch. At each end of the wire a clockwork mechanism turned a brass dial, which was fixed on the seconds axis of a clock and had an aperture through which figures, letters, and signs could be seen. The sender kept the wire continuously charged by means of a frictional electric machine. Reception of the signal was by means of an electroscope.

1816 Ronalds wrote to the Admiralty about his telegraph, stressing its rapidity, accuracy, and practicality. The secretary of the Admiralty, John Barrow, replied that "telegraphs of any kind are now wholly unnecessary", and that nothing other than the semaphore system then in use would be adopted.

1823 Ronalds published a small pamphlet describing his experiments "Description of an Electric Telegraph and of some other Electrical Apparatus". He devised an ingenious telegraphic code to economize time and discharges, and suggested methods by which faults in the wire could be located. He suggested many possible uses for the electric telegraph, including communication from London to the king at Brighton or the fleet at Portsmouth, and "electrical conversazione offices" communicating with each other throughout the kingdom; he also pointed out that, unlike the semaphore, his system would function at all hours and in all weathers. However, he never applied for a patent.

It is understood that Charles Wheatstone, as a boy, had seen Ronalds's experiments.

1825 Ronalds invented and patented a device for sketching from nature.

1830s Ronalds was invited to exhibit some of his inventions at the Polytechnic Institute in London. They included a new fore-bed for carriages, a new sundial, perspective instruments, and a fire alarm.

1843 Ronalds was appointed first honorary director and superintendent of the Kew Observatory, a post which he held for the next nine years

1844 Elected FRS

Experimented with using photography for automatic registration of the readings from meteorological instruments, helped by photographer, Mr Collen, on the chemical aspects of the process. His invention was used elsewhere, especially for recording small variations in forces.

1852 Retired from Kew and was awarded a civil-list pension of £75 per year for his "important discoveries in electricity and meteorology".

1855 several of his meteorological and electrical instruments were exhibited in the 1855 Paris Exhibition.

1863 Settled in Battle, Sussex.

1866 Ronalds made an unsuccessful application to the prime minister for official recognition as a pioneer in the invention of the telegraph.

1870 Subsequently, a memorial on Ronalds's behalf was presented to Gladstone, who was by then prime minister, and this achieved the desired recognition. Ronalds was knighted on 31 March.

1873 Died at his home in Battle

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Sir Francis Ronalds, ODNB