Before the time of the internet, or transatlantic cables, communication was much slower than it is today. Sending a message across the country would take weeks by train instead of the seconds it takes now to pick up the phone. Society had reached a point where the need for a faster form of communication became painfully obvious. New, faster forms of communication were needed. And from this need spawned the two inventions that would revolutionize the way we communicate over long distances forever.
Contrary to popular belief, the first instances of the telegraph were not the electrical components that made dots and dashes to form a sentence. Instead, the first instances of the telegraph were optical, and had been used hundreds of years before Samuel Morse had come along. For example, the Romans built 3, 197 watchtowers along the coastlines and used fires and smoke signals to warn of pirates or enemy ships. (Headrick, 2000) Many other cultures had their own forms of optical communication. Of the Scots, Geoffrey Wilson wrote: “An Act of the Scottish parliament in 1455 laid down that on the approach of English invaders one bale or faggot could be set ablaze.
Two on fire would signify that the English were ‘coming indeed’ and four that they were ‘in great force.’ ” (Headrick, 2002, p. 123) While these forms of one-way prearranged signals worked, they lacked organization and there was no way to transmit a message back. That is until Claude Chappe. In 1790, Claude Chappe tried several methods of having a form of communications that worked over long distances.
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(Headrick, 2002) Most methods failed, until he finally came upon the ‘T.’ The ‘T’ consisted of “a post topped by a thirteen-foot-long board called a r’egulateur, at both ends of which were six-foot boards, or indicateurs; all three could be moved with the aid of ropes and pulleys.” (Headrick, 2002, p. 124) The ways in which the r’egulateur and the indicateurs moved allowed for a maximum of 45, 050 words and phrases. (Headrick, 2002) This system of optical telegraph worked remarkably well. “A signal could travel the 225 kilometres between Paris and Toulon in twelve minutes.” (Headrick, 2002, p. 125) Optical forms of communication managed to work its way across the ocean to the United States, but it wasn’t until 1840, and it was replaced 5 years later by a faster form of communication.
The electrical telegraph. (Headrick, 2002) Samuel Morse’s electrical telegraph spread like wildfire across the United States. In the beginning of 1846 the only working like was Morse’s Experimental line which ran the 40 miles between Baltimore and Washington, by 1848, there was approximately 2, 000 miles of wire and by 1850 there was almost 12, 000 miles of wire operated by twenty different companies. (Standage, 1999) Lawrence Turn bell makes reference to the telegraph’s popularity “how important the telegraph has become in the transmission of business communications. It is every day coming more into use, and every day adding to its power to be useful.” (Standage, 1999, p. 132) Another example that showed the telegraphs popularity, came in October of 1861, when the transcontinental telegraph line was completed.
(Standage, 1999) This transcontinental line allowed messages to be sent from California is the Eastern United States in far less time than it would take to send a message via the old Pony Express mail delivery service. (Standage, 1999) The electric telegraph had such a profound affect on everyone that one British writer remarked: “The confidence in the efficiency of telegraphic communication has now become so complete, that the most important commercial transactions daily transpire by its means between correspondents several hundred miles apart.” (Standage, 1999, p. 133) The United States wasn’t the only country to utilize the electric telegraph. The British did too, and much like the Americans, The British also ran the majority of their telegraph lines along the railroad tracks.
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They also used the telegraph for much of the same things as the Americans did. (Standage, 1999) The telegraph was the wave of the future for many countries. But the telegraphs time to shine would soon come to a close as a man named Alexander Graham Bell, who was only trying to improve the telegraph came up with a revolutionary invention that we still use today. (Fischer, 1992) The first telephone was constructed in March of 1876, and by mid-1878, about 10, 000 “Bell instruments” were in use throughout much of the United States. (Fischer, 1992) It’s not hard to see why Bell’s telephone was so popular.
It gave people the ability to communicate with someone hundreds of miles away almost as easily as if they were living next door. “Between 1880 and 1893 the number of telephones in the United States grew from about 60, 000-roughly one per thousand people to about 260, 000-or one per 250 people.” (Fischer, 1992, p. 150) There is no question about whether the telegraph or the telephone are revolutionary inventions. The question is why were they invented? Did society express a need for a faster form of communication? Or were they simply invented first, and revolutionary later? It seems painstakingly obvious that the reason that the telegraph and the telephone were invented is because an urgent need for a faster form of communication was expressed. Claude Chappe, Samuel Morse, and Alexander Graham Bell recognized this outcry and sought out to rectify the problem. End Notes Fischer, S.
The Telephone Takes Command. The University of California Press. Headrick, Daniel (2000).
The Optical Telegraph. Oxford University Press, Inc.
Standage, Tom (1999).
Telegraphy – The Victorian Internet. Walker & Company.