William Fothergill Cooke


William Fothergill Cooke : biography

4 May 1806 – 25 June 1879

This question of priority was submitted to the arbitration of the famous engineer, Marc Isambard Brunel, on the part of Cooke, and Professor John Frederic Daniell, of King’s College, the inventor of the Daniell cell or battery – on behalf of Wheatstone.

Ultimately in the spring of 1841, the Cooke and Wheatstone arbitration process came to a close. A statement dated 27 April 1841 prepared by M I. Brunel and J. F. Daniell, Esq. known as "The Award" was issued.

The arbitration awarded Cooke the credit of having introduced the telegraph as a useful undertaking which promised to be of national importance, and to Wheatstone; that his researches prepared the public to receive it. The arbitration published a conclusion citing: "….it is to the united labours of two gentlemen so well qualified for mutual assistance that we must attribute the rapid progress which this important invention has made during five years since they have been associated."

The decision, however vague, succinctly pronounced the needle telegraph a joint production. Many historical accounts over the past 170 years show that the telegraph had mainly been invented by Wheatstone. It would be better to more formidably refine this by saying that Wheatstone’s grounded scientific guidance oversaw and assured that Cooke’s basic finalized designs for the telegraph were fully workable; that they were based on sound scientific principals before they became chiefly introduced by Cooke into society through his concerted and precise business acumen.

Following the arbitration decree, an arrangement was agreed to between Wheatstone and Cooke by which several patents were assigned to Cooke, with the reservation of a mileage royalty provided to Wheatstone.

First Perfected Commercial Electric Telegraph System (1840)

The success of this telegraph demonstration caused Isambard Kingdom Brunel of the London and Blackwall Railway, to commence upon having Cooke install the world’s first perfected commercial electronic telegraph communications system at the inauguration of the London and Blackwall Railway begun the first week of July 1840, and later, finally on Stephenson’s London and Birmingham Railway. By this time, Stephenson finally saw the value of the telegraph.

Before a parliamentary committee on railways in 1840, Wheatstone stated that he had, with Cooke, obtained a new patent for a telegraphic arrangement; the new apparatus required only a single pair of wires. Yet, the telegraph was still too costly for general purposes. In 1840, for the London and Blackwall Railway installation, however, Cooke and Wheatstone succeeded in producing the single needle apparatus, which they patented, and from that time the electric telegraph became a practical instrument, soon adopted on all of the railway lines throughout the country. Another main aspect of the primary design also brought forth during the London and Blackwall Railway installation, was that of what became widely known as the "five dial" telegraph system.

Cooke’s contribution to the Telegraph

Reading the later published record of the arbitration proceedings, which was released in two volumes beginning in 1854, it can be seen that the invention and introduction of the "alarum" or sounding alarm designs by Cooke was firmly asserted to by Cooke throughout the arbitration process. This was a direct rebut to claims made by Wheatstone himself claiming having invented the "alarum." Cooke claimed in the arbitration records that he began working on his "alarum" early-on, on 17 March 1836, just after seeing Shilling’s telegraph principles in action during the demonstration at Heidelberg given by Professor Georg Wilhelm Munke and reading Mrs. Somerville’s book "Connection of the Physical Sciences." The discussion of Cooke’s "alarum" was paramount to the arbitration proceedings.

Cooke was very truthful in this regard. The assertiveness on Wm. F. Cooke’s part is further substantiated today by the presence of several detailed and suitably marked drawings executed by Cooke spanning several years found in the pages of Cooke’s manuscript journal / Codex Lipack. Numerous Cooke drawings and journal annotations show that actual "alarum" instruments were ordered to be made in multiples by Frederick Kerby for Cooke; designated for installation on the Cooke and Wheatstone systems of telegraphy beginning with direct reference to the Great Western Railway installations, and possibly earlier.