The History of the Telegraph: --..... .........----.-.-.-- ---..-. -..... -..-...--..-..-.--.....

Technology has come a long way since the early days of long distance communication. Today we carry around pocket-sized telephones, but in the past telecommunication technology was not so available. In the 1800’s messages had to be decoded using special symbols and language. Being able to send a message through a telegraph machine was not an easy task. Once the electric telegraph was developed by transmitting information quickly over long distances it became the only way to communicate.

Early forms of long distance communication

Today when you think of telecommunications you think of telephones or the internet, but the true nature of communicating is the passing of information from one person to another in any way that can be used. Long before telephones and cell phones were developed, people used a variety of ways to communicate. If you needed to get a hold of someone long distance individuals would use light flashes with a heliograph, shoot flames into the air or use smoke signals. Citizens would hear of family news and emergencies by messenger or hand written letters. Families would hear of sickness or tragedies days later after it was too late to do anything about it. At this time telecommunications were so simplistic comparing to the technology of today.

The Electric Telegraph

In the 1800’s the electric telegraph machine was introduced to replace the archaic forms of long distance communication. Through the use of electricity one could transmit a message to someone far away. At this time electricity was still known as a novelty. An early version of the telegraph called the electrochemical telegraph was created by a German man named Samuel Sommering. This was quite a complicated machine that used bubbles and corresponding letters. Then in 1833 Carl Gauss and Wilhelm Weber created a telegraph that was able to send messages as far as one kilometer. In America similar versions were attempted but none took off. It wasn't until 1837 when Samuel Morse developed a new version of the telegraph.

Samuel Morse

Samuel Morse studied math and science and anything related to electricity. It wasn’t until a tragedy struck that lead him to realize the importance of making communication faster. One day a messenger came to his door and informed him that his wife was ill; by the time he got to her she had already passed away. After this devastating misfortune Morse was inspired to develop a telegraph system that would allow people to communicate long distance much quicker. Morse learned about electromagnets and used this knowledge to create the Morse code to communicate within his new machine.

Morse Code

Morse code was unlike any other telegraph communication system. This machine consisted of dots and dashes that corresponded to the alphabet. It was fairly simple to use, each dot or dash would be associated to a letter in the alphabet. Morse code was so easy to use it could be duplicated in print, light flashes or audio. When used with lights, a long flash would mean a dash and a short flash would mean a dot. Similarly in audio tone, long tones would mean a dash and short tones would mean a dot. Morse code became so popular that it became the main way to communicate around the world.

Rise and decline of the telegraph system

During World War II the telegraph system was used extensively with the troops and their leaders as a way to communicate inconspicuously over long distances. Post offices also used the telegraph system as a way to receive and deliver messages to their citizens. Back then all long distance communication depended upon the telegraph machine. It wasn’t until 1877 that a new device was developed that would rival the telegraph and change the way people would communicate; the telephone. When telephones started to be accessible to the public, the need for telegrams began to decline and eventually phased put completely.