Electrical Telegraph

The next big innovation in the history of telephony that we are going to talk about is the electrical telegraph.  The first working telegraph was produced by Francis Ronalds, an English Inventor in 1816.  At his home he set up a completely underground system in a 175 yard trench he built.  The lines were connected at both ends to revolving dials that had the letters of the alphabet marked on the dials.  The electric current from one end would make the dial go to the corresponding letter on the other dial.  Later in 1816 he brought his idea to the “Admirality” and they said that his idea was “wholly unnecessary”.( Ronalds, B.F. (2016). “Sir Francis Ronalds and the Electric Telegraph”. Int. J. for the History of Engineering & Technologydoi:10.1080/17581206.2015.1119481)  They did not see the future uses of this invention like Francis Ronalds did.telecomms


Baron Schilling von Canstatt used Ronalds’ ideas to make his own telegraph in 1832.  His telegraph consisted of a keyboard with 16 black and white keys, very much like a piano.  Both ends of his telegraph contained 8 wires.  When the operator pressed a key, the key at the other location would be moved, so you could tell what they were trying to convey.  In October of 1832 he successfully managed a transmission between two telegraphs in different rooms in his apartment.  The British government wanted to buy Schilling’s design but he decided to sell it to Nicholas I of Russia.
In 1833 Carl Fredrich Gauss with other physicists in the town of Gottingen installed a 3,900 ft wire above the town’s roofs.  Originally they used the telegraph to coordinate time but eventually they came up with their own alphabet.  The alphabet was encoded in a binary code which was transmitted by positive or negative voltage pulses which were generated by means of moving an induction coil up and down over a permanent magnet and connecting the coil with the transmission wires by means of the commutator.dial_of_ronalds_electric_telegraph

The first telegram in the United States was sent by Samuel Morse on January 11th 1838, across 2 miles near Morristown New Jersey. Morse’s assistant Alfred Vail developed an instrument that was called the register for recording the received messages. It embossed dots and dashes on a moving paper tape by a stylus which was operated by an electromagnet.  Morse and Vail developed the Morse code signaling alphabet.  Morse Code is a method of transmitting text information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment.

We think that Samuel Morse would be happy to know that his Morse Code that was invented for use on a telegraph is still being used today in nautical situations or when someone is stranded and needs to send out an “SOS” It is also used by people with physical or mental disabilities that cannot communicate effectively so they can use Morse Code to communicate by blinking.  The telegraph was an important step in the history of telephony because it broadened people’s minds on what was possible in regards to communication.  It opened up avenues of communication that were not there before.



“From the creation of the first practical telegraph systems in the 1830s until the invention of the telephone in the 1870s the telegraph was the only available method of sending messages at high speed over long distances.  It continued to be widely used until well into the 20th century, and its impact on the Victorian world was every bit as significant as the internet has been in more recent times (Wheen, A. (2011). Dot-Dash to Dot.Com: How Modern Telecommunications Evolved from the Telegraph to the Internet. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.springer.com/us/book/9781441967596)

Do you think that the telegraph had as much impact at the time as the internet has had on things now?  At the time was the telegraph as important as the internet is to people now?  Are there any lasting impacts that the telegraph has produced?  Could this have been invented without the mechanical acoustic devices?  We would love to hear your thoughts!


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