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William Duddell

AKA William du Bois Duddell

Born: 1872
Birthplace: London, England
Died: 4-Nov-1917
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Physicist, Engineer, Inventor

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Electronic music

Physicist William Duddell invented electronic music in 1899, quite by accident, when he was trying to quiet the constant sizzling sound made by carbon arc lights. A predecessor to Thomas Edison's light bulb, arc lights created a constant spark between two carbon nodes, but also made an annoying noise. Duddell was unable to eliminate the sound, but his experiments showed that by improving control of the electric current, he could control the tones generated. Manipulating the oscillations by wiring the arc lights to a keyboard, he invented what may have been the first electronic musical instrument, colloquially dubbed the "singing arc". He used the singing arc as a novelty in his lectures, but never patented the device.

Essentially self-taught, Duddell apprenticed in his teens at an early electronics shop. He taught at City and Guilds Institute, and had several other important inventions, including a moving coil oscillograph (for observation and recording oscillating audio frequency waveforms), a thermo-galvanometer (for measuring extremely low currents), and a magnetic standard (for calibrating ballistic galvanometers). He spent the last three years of his life engaged in secret research for the U.S. government, and died at the age of 45. He is the namesake of the Duddell Medal, awarded by England's Institute of Physics for contributions to the advancement of knowledge through physics.

    Teacher: Electrical Engineering, City and Guilds Institute (1893-1901)

    Hughes Medal 1912
    Royal Society 1912
    Institution of Engineering and Technology President (1912-13)


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