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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Wildman Whitehouse’s Induction Coils
by Allan Green

Introduction:Edward O.W. Whitehouse, “Wildman Whitehouse” as he generally styled himself, was a surgeon by profession and an electrical experimenter by avocation. In 1856 he was appointed chief electrician to the Atlantic Telegraph Company and was responsible for the testing of the 1857/58 cables, and for the design and operation of the equipment which would transmit the telegraph signals between Ireland and Newfoundland.

While there were other factors, the historical record generally reports that Whitehouse’s insistence on using high voltage induction coils was ultimately responsible for the failure of the cable. Allan Green researched Whitehouse's life and work, and discovered in the stores of the Science Museum, London, an induction coil from the 1850s which is similar to those used by Whitehouse on the cable.

I'm sorry to report that Allan Green died in October 2022. He was a good friend and a very well-regarded researcher into cable history, always generous with his time and knowledge, and will be sadly missed. However, this research continues, and if any site visitor has further information on Whitehouse's large induction coils, please contact me via the Atlantic Cable website.

--Bill Burns

1850s Induction Coil - Science Museum, London

Induction coil at the Science Museum, London
Image copyright © 2009 Allan Green

This coil, in the collection of the Science Museum, London, is presently in storage and was examined by Allan Green in August 2008.

The Museum has on file an old display card for the coil which indicates that it was lent by John Watkins Brett in 1862. The card notes that “The coil was used for working the first Atlantic telegraph cable in 1857.”

While this coil is similar in construction to those used by Whitehouse, its size (45" in length) does not correspond to the reported “5 foot coils” which Whitehouse used on the Atlantic cable, and none of the documentation relating to this coil mentions Whitehouse by name.

See also Steven Roberts’ article on Whitehouse’s telegraph patents, which includes some details of his large induction coils.

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Last revised: 3 June, 2010

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Research Material Needed

The Atlantic Cable website is non-commercial, and its mission is to make available on line as much information as possible.

You can help - if you have cable material, old or new, please contact me. Cable samples, instruments, documents, brochures, souvenir books, photographs, family stories, all are valuable to researchers and historians.

If you have any cable-related items that you could photograph, copy, scan, loan, or sell, please email me: [email protected]

—Bill Burns, publisher and webmaster: