George Edward Dering
Man on a Wire
Born into a wealthy British family in 1831, George Edward Dering could trace his roots to Edward III. Like many in the Victorian era – an age obsessed with scientific wonders – he became interested in the sciences while still a child.
Dering’s tutor at the Rugby School was Henry Highton, a notable inventor of telegraphic devices. This may have cemented his determination to pursue a life of research and experimentation. He blossomed early: before reaching his 21st birthday, Dering displayed inventions at the Great Exhibition in London, and saw a telegraph of his design installed by the Bank of England.
His research interests were wide-ranging, but always rooted in the practical. Dering held numerous patents in telegraphy, electricity, battery technology, wire insulation, and metal refining. At Lockleys, his family estate in Hertfordshire, he installed a forge where he manufactured his patented connectors for railway track systems.
Land holdings provided Dering with a sizeable income, and he invested heavily in scientific books. Booksellers were instructed to obtain, and ship to Lockleys, every publication available on electricity, magnetism, animal magnetism, aeronautics, and other topics that interested him. He accumulated books in such numbers that thousands were still in their shipping cartons, unopened, when Dering died in 1911. His entire library now resides at MIT, as the Vail Collection.
An extremely secretive person, Dering gained notoriety when he paid to have a public road rerouted in order to protect his privacy at Lockleys. His insistence on solitude won him a reputation as an eccentric – an impression reinforced by the fact that, in the only known photograph of Dering, he is perched on a tightrope.
Upon his death, the popular press had a field day reporting on the “Hermit’s Treasure House” and the “Strange Career of an Eccentric Squire.” But the Institution of Electrical Engineers, of which he was a member, marked his passing in more measured terms, hailing George Edward Dering as “one of the pioneers of telegraphy.”
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