A Brief Look at Electrical Scientists: Sir Charles Tilston Bright
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

In the scientific world, when working on an experiment, it may take years or even decades before a breakthrough is discovered. While that may discourage some people, it does not discourage everyone. In the next series of posts, we’ll be looking at an engineer, a chemist and an inventor who didn’t stop working, which allowed for their investigations to have conclusions.

Sir Charles Tilston Bright
Sir Charles Tilston Bright had many accomplishments before he died in 1888. Being a part of a family that was held in high distinction by the government in the 1800s was beneficial for Bright; as a child, he attended the Merchant Taylors School. Bright exceled in some subjects and didn’t do so well in others. After this formal education Bright and his brothers were set to attend Oxford University, but could not because of their father having lost some money. That’s when Bright and his brother Edward began working for the Electric Telegraph Company, a decision that would impact the lives of countless people across the globe.

Bright first worked on the telegraph instruments in a railway-signaling box when he began at the Electric Telegraph Company. Electricity was intriguing to Bright, so almost immediately after starting in the trade, Bright and his brother began to tinker with and improve on some aspects of telegraphs.

In 1851, Bright moved onto the British Telegraph Company and Edward began to work at Magnetic Telegraph Company (do you think the two chatted by telegraph?). While the two were many miles apart, they were still working on improvements for telegraphs. During his time at the British Telegraph Company, Bright had a superintendent position overseeing the configuration of telegraphs on the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway along with helping outfit numerous telegraph offices for the company.

These jobs weren’t enough for Bright, and in 1852, he resigned from British Telegraph Company to join his brother at Magnetic Telegraph Company. Here, Bright and Edward laid telegraph lines in London, Manchester and Liverpool and they laid the deep water cables of six-wire between Port Patrick in Scotland and Donaghadee in Ireland. In that same year, the Bright brothers took out a patent covering 24 different inventions relating to telegraphs. The inventions included a porcelain insulator for fixing aerial telegraph wires mounted on posts; a brass tape device for the protection of insulated conductors for submarine cables; and a translator for re-transmitting electric currents of either kind in both directions on a single wire.

With these impressive ideas under his belt, it’s no wonder Bright opted to help organize the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1856 — the company that would soon lay the first transatlantic cable. Joining forces with Cyrus West Field and John Watkins Brett, allowed Bright the opportunity to link England and America via submarine cable. The men began their journey in August of 1857 and had three unsuccessful attempts.

Going back to the drawing board, the men tried changing the materials of the cable, as well as its depth within the ocean. Again, the men tried in June of 1858, but yet were not successful. Having revised the schematics yet again, Bright, Field, Brett and a team of men tried one more time. In August of 1858 the seemingly impossible was completed: the team of men had officially laid the first transatlantic cable from Trinity Bay, Newfoundland to Valentia, Ireland. Charles Bright was just 26 years old.

As an engineer, Charles Tilston Bright encountered many ups and downs throughout his career. While his biggest accomplishment, the laying of the transatlantic cable, took many tries before it succeeded, Bright never gave up. It may have taken a year or so for small amounts of progress, but the persistence Bright had allowed for a (successful!) conclusion to his trials with telegraphs and cables in the form of the transatlantic cable.

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