The History of Communication Technology


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By Shaun Antonio,

The telegraph was the first from of communication that could be sent from a great distance and was a landmark in human history. For the first time man could communicate with another from a great distance changing everything from how wars were fought to how people dated and fell in love. It’s creation, along with the steam engine, was one of the key inventions to the industrial age. Letters took hours, day, and even months to arrive at their destination making most information irrelevant. However, with the advent of the telegraph, messages were transmitted instantaneously, and as it became ever more efficient the telegraph was able to relay more complex messages farther and farther till it connected people from around the world by pressing a few buttons.

A morse key

The first electrical telegraph was invented by Samuel Soemmering in 1809 using gold wires in water sending messages around two thousand feet away that could be read by determining how much gas was released. Although very crude, it was a vast improvement on earlier methods of telegraphy. In Greek it can be broken down into two words: tele and grapheintele. Tele meaning far and graphein to write, so telegraphy basically means a written message sent from a far. The simple forms of optical telegraphy were mostly smoke and light beacons, and although they were sufficient to relay simple messages they were heavily reliant on the weather.

From 1792 through 1846 Napoleon Bonaparte used the semaphore network, which was invented by Claude Chappe. This form of telegraphy could send more complex messages then smoke or light messages, as well as not expending fuel. Although being more efficient it still relied on good weather. Chappe’s semaphore network required operating towers every 20 miles and could relay about two words per minute. However this network was very expensive, due to the amount of towers that needed to be created and operated, so it was never used commercially.

A late-model British Telecom "Puma" telex machine, circa 1980s

The first electrical telegraph would not come into the light until April 9, 1839 when Sir William Fothergill Cooke’s invention was used in the Great Western Railway in Great Britan, which ran for thirteen miles, from Paddington station to West Drayton. Cooke along with John Lewis Ricardo created the Electric Telegraph Company in 1846, which was the worlds first telegraph company which lasted until 1855 when it merged with the International Telegraph Company to become the Electric and International Telegraph Company. Then again in 1868 it was bought by the British General Post Office. The first fax machine, aslo called a facsimile machine, was invented by a Scotish inventor named Alexander Bain in 1843. This frirst fax machine was able to send images through wires, similarly to the way that we still use fax machines today. American’s Samuel F. B. Morse with his assistant Alfred Vail in 1837 created the Morse Code which sent signals in Morse that were translated into alphabetic letters. In July 18, 1866 the first transatlantic telegraph cables were succesfully completed. There were Three previous attempts which failed in 1857, 1858, 1865. Later in 1870 Britan and India were connected, followed shortly by Australia being connected to the main land. This allowed Australia to receive news from around the world almost instantaniously for the first time including the news paper Oxford University Press. In 1870 Thomas Edison invented the first full duplex two-way telegraph. This system allows both people communicating to speak simulnaiously, where as previous communication devices only allowed one to speak at a time. These previous devices were one way radios, Edison’s new invention revolutionized communication creating the phonograph. In 1876 the telephone was patneted by Alexander Graham Bell, marking the end of the telegraphs reign over communication. Through the 1880 and up until the end of the century the telegraph remained an important part of communication. By 1902 the entire world was connected by telegraphs, both by the atlantic and the pacific circomventing the planet. As technology of the telephone and the creation of the internet telegrams have seen a study decline falling from 211,971,000 messages handled in 1870 to 69,679,000 messages handled in 1920. Since then with the advent of the telephone and the internet telegraphs had been rendered usless, usually being sent as a novelty rather then a message.


Messages Handeled
Messages Handeled

Messages Handled by the Telegraph Network: 1870-1970

For messages to be relayed across great distances there had to be a complex and long system of wires. To construct these telegraph lines surveyers had to go out and decide what the best route was for the lines, these surviers had to knowledgable and most of the times involved engeniers to over see the survaliance. Once the best route was picked ( keeping in mind peoples homes, as well as distance, and other factors) posted were placed in the ground about every two hundered feet apart. Then galvanized wire (a wire that has been coated in zinc) were strung across the poles, with a mile of wire weighing as much as 375 many of the poles had to be reinforced and charred as to reduce decay.

The Industrial Revolution is considered by some to be the pivotal point in history for modern western society. The Industrial Revolution relied on the increased speed and efficiency of business, which gave rise to two inventions the railroad and the telegraph. These inventions went hand and hand with each other, the railroads needed a way to coordinate with each other and the telegram was there to give them exactly what they needed.

Although both of these inventions times have come and gone their impact remains. This revolution, thanks partly to the telegraph, set up the world powers that are still around today, created tensions between countries that would spark a world war, and created a world that would become reliant on oil which is a major issue of today.