History of the Telegraph

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The electric telegraph is a now outdated communication system that was used to transmit electric signals over wires from location to location that translated into a message by people at stations.

The non-electric telegraph was invented by Claude Chappe in 1794. This system was visual and used a semaphore, an alphabet based on flag language, and depended on a line of sight for communication. This “optical telegraph” was replaced by the electric telegraph, eventually.

In 1809, a crude telegraph was invented in Bavaria by Samuel Soemmering. He used 35 wires with gold electrodes in water and at the receiving end 2000 feet the message was read by the amount of gas caused by electrolysis. In 1828, the first telegraph in the USA. was invented by Harrison Dyar who sent electrical sparks through chemically treated paper tape to burn dots and dashes.


In 1825, British inventor William Sturgeon (1783-1850) revealed an invention that laid the foundations for an immense leap in electronic communications: the electromagnet. William displayed the power of his electromagnet by lifting nine pounds with a seven-ounce piece of iron wrapped with wires through which the current of a single cell battery was sent. However, the true power of the electromagnet was its role in the creation of countless inventions to come. Read on to find out more.

The Three Telegraphs

In 1830, an American named Joseph Henry showed the potential of William Sturgeon's electromagnet for long distance communication by sending an electronic current over one mile of wire to activate an electromagnet which caused a bell to strike.

In 1837, the British physicists, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented the ...

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Telephone Rivals the Telegraph

Until 1877, all rapid long-distance communication depended upon the telegraph. A slower and more tedious form of long distance communication was posting letters. It was that very year that a rival technology developed, this device would (again) change the face of communication -- the telephone. By 1879, patent litigation between Western Union and the infant telephone system was ended in an agreement that largely separated the two services.

As the telephone was a faster and less tedious way of sending information, more people, who formerly used telegraphs, began to use it instead. Telegraph companies were losing business, and fast, to the object you and I can’t live without. The telephone’s gaining popularity was eventually going to end the use of the device that changed the world before, its predecessor, the telegraph.

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