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Page history last edited by Kate M. Fisher 11 years, 9 months ago






 The Telegraph is a system of communication employing an electrical apparatus to transmit and receive signals in accordance with a code of electrical pulses. Originally the term telegraphy referred to any form of communication over long distances in which messages were transmitted by signs or sounds. (1)  Telegraph, from the Greek words tele =which means "far", and graphein which means "write", is the sending of long-distance, written messages without physical transport of that message. (4)



The first known idea or works to come close to the telegraph idea was accomplished by Jean-Antoine Nollet, a French Scientist. He took two-hundred monks and put them in a circle about a mile wide, and had each monk hold onto a iron wire, then Jean-Antoine sent electricity threw the iron line and watched the men, and observed how they reacted to the small shock. Every one of the monks reacted at the same time to the shock thus showing the speed of electricity. This experiment took place in 1746. (3) In 1753, an anonymous writer suggested a telegraph that had one line for each letter of the alphabet. The writer suggested having the message be sent to an electrostatic machine to decode the message. This idea was tested in Europe, but it was never adequate enough to be used or mass produced. (3) In 1800, Alessandro Volta invented the Voltaic Pile, that allowed a constant, low voltage amount of current to be administered. This was used to test the ramifications of different voltage levels. From 1800 to 1825, a lot of different inventions came into existence. These assisted in the creation of the first well-rounded telegraph that worked at long distances. In 1825, William Sturgeon invented the electromagnet which was a single winding cord of uninsulated wire on a piece of varnished iron, which increased magnetic force produced by electric current. (3) Three years later, Joseph Henry took the same idea of the electromagnet and instead of one uninsulated wire, he used many insulated wires which made the electromagnet much more powerful. (3)

The first commercial electrical telegraph was made by William Fothergill Cooke as an alarm system, in 1837. William tried it between Euston and Camden Town in London and it worked correctly. Then it was used with the Great Western Railway Company from Paddington Station to West Drayton, which was a distance of thirteen miles. The telegraph was also a key component of law enforcement. John Tawell was caught and put in jail by a telegraph sent to Paddington. It stated to look out for a man fitting his description, stated what train he got on, and where he was headed. (3)

After seeing how well it worked overseas, a new telegraph was developed in the United States by David Alter in 1836, and was patented and developed by Samuel Morse in 1837. The first telegraph was installed between Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1845 (2) with the first message being, “Why don’t you write, you rascals?” (3)



Samuel Morse


 Morse’s telegraph could be transmitted about 20 miles away, but beyond that distance got too weak to tell what the message truly was. Morse and associates got back to work and developed a relay apparatus   located 20 miles away from the signal, that would transmit the signal an additional 20 miles. A couple of years later, Morse figured out that he could send dots and dashes by sound. He discarded all ideas and plans he originally had, and ran with his new idea. (1)

Samuel Morse and his group of associates got a small, private amount of money to start building more telegraphs. They also decided to place a line between New York and Philadelphia. This is the same time that Western Union started putting money into the telegraph system, and put many lines next to railroad stations. (2)

The first Morse telegraph printed a code on a piece of paper. In the United States an operator would listen to the message and decode it, and write it down. The traditional operator could decode typically 40 to 50 words per minute. By 1914, an automatic telegraph decoder was capable of decoding twice as fast as an operator. (2)

The telegraph can be seen going hand and hand with the railroad, because telegraphs were used a lot with railroad companies, to make sure they could send a train from the railroad station down the tracks with the knowledge that there wasn’t another train coming. This served as a big safety feature for the railroad companies. (5) The first trains dispatched by telegraph started in 1851. (2)

Implications of the Telegraph


Implications of the telegraph would be that you had to know how to decode the message. You also couldn’t send objects threw the telegraph. A large amount of people thought that you could send anything you wanted through the telegraph. Another implication is that instead of going and talking to someone directly; you had to send a message, then wait to get one back, and then subsequently send one back, etc. The telephone took the place of the telegraph, as it was much easier to use a telephone over a telegraph. (5)



[1] "Telegraph" Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007, 31 March,2008. <


> 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

[2] Bellis Mary, "The History of the Telegraph and Telegraphy" 29 March,2008. <



[3] "Electrical Telegraph" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 29 March,2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 April 2008, at 18:51. <



[4] "Telegraph" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 31 March,2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 April 2008, at 09:21. <



[5] Standage Tom. "Telegraphy-The Victorian Internet." Communications in History: Technology, Culture, Society. 5th ed. Ed. David Crowley and Paul Heyer. Boston: Pearson, 2007.


Original Author: Derek Garrels

Additional Writing and Editting: Kate M. Fisher

Comments (4)

Kate M. Fisher said

at 3:46 pm on Sep 15, 2008

If I'm not mistaken, e-mail is a form of telegraphy. I think that this would be a good tie in to this article on the telegraph. It would help bring it up to a more modern day perspective. I think all the historical information sounds really good. I think there could maybe be though more elaboration to the history and past uses of the telegraph.

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:57 pm on Sep 15, 2008

I talk about the telegraph in my TransportationTransmission article if it's any help.
-- ChadChumley (2008-03-27 11:55:05)

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:58 pm on Sep 15, 2008


Note the format for citing a wikipedia article as in my entry

[1] "General Semantics" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 01 April, 2008 10:55 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Feb. 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_semantics>∞.

First date is the date you accessed the article. Second date is latest update of the article, found on the bottom left of the page.
-- AdmiN (2008-04-04 15:56:43)

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:58 pm on Sep 15, 2008

You could talk more about the effects the telegraph had on communication at the time and how it may have changed society.
-- KathyRodine (2008-04-09 14:24:30)

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