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This article is about general methods of telegraphy. For electrical telegraphy, see electric telegraph.
"Telegraph" and "Telegram" redirect here. For other uses, see Telegraph (disambiguation) and Telegram (disambiguation).

Telegraphy (from Greek: tele τῆλε "at a distance", and graphein γράφειν "to write") is the long-distance transmission of textual (as opposed to verbal or audio) messages without the physical exchange of an object bearing the message. Thus semaphore is a method of telegraphy whereas pigeon post is not.

Telegraphy requires that the method used for encoding the message be known to both sender and receiver. Such methods are designed according to the limits of the signalling medium used. The use of smoke signals, beacons, reflected light signals, and flag semaphore signals are early examples. In the 19th century, the harnessing of electricity brought about the means to transmit signals via electrical telegraph. The advent of radio in the early 1900s brought about radiotelegraphy and other forms of wireless telegraphy. In the Internet age, telegraphic means developed greatly in sophistication and ease of use, with natural language interfaces that hide the underlying code, allowing such technologies as electronic mail and instant messaging.

Early history

Telegraphy systems operated in Europe from as early as 1792 in the form of semaphore lines, or optical telegraphs, that sent messages to a distant observer through line-of-sight signals. In 1837, American artist-turned-inventor Samuel F. B. Morse conducted the first successful experiment with an electrical recording telegraph.

The first UK public telegraph carrier, the Electric Telegraph Company, originated in 1846.[1]


The word "telegraph" was first coined by the French inventor of the Semaphore line, Claude Chappe, who also coined the word "semaphore".[2]

A 'telegraph' is a device for transmitting and receiving messages over long distances, i.e., for telegraphy. The word "telegraph" alone now generally refers to an electrical telegraph. Wireless telegraphy is also known as "CW", for continuous wave (a carrier modulated by on-off keying), as opposed to the earlier radio technique of using a spark gap.

Morse argued that the term telegraph can strictly be applied only to systems that transmit and record messages at a distance. This is to be distinguished from semaphore which merely transmits messages. Smoke signals, for instance, are to be considered semaphore, not telegraph. According to Morse, telegraph dates only from 1832 when the first electric telegraph was invented by Pavel Schilling.[3]

A telegraph message sent by an electrical telegraph operator or telegrapher using Morse code (or a printing telegraph operator using plain text) was known as a telegram. A cablegram (see cablegram) was a message sent by a submarine telegraph cable,[4] often shortened to a cable or a wire. Later, a Telex was a message sent by a Telex network, a switched network of teleprinters similar to a telephone network.

Before long distance telephone services were readily available or affordable, telegram services were very popular and the only way to convey information speedily over very long distances. Telegrams were often used to confirm business dealings and were commonly used to create binding legal documents for business dealings.[5] In addition to full-rate telegrams which were transmitted immediately, most telegraph companies offered reduced-rate telegrams with delayed delivery: day letters (delayed delivery the same day) and night letters (delivery the following morning).[6]

A wire picture or wire photo was a newspaper picture that was sent from a remote location by a facsimile telegraph. The teleostereograph machine, a forerunner to the modern electronic fax, was developed by AT&T's Bell Labs in the 1920s. However, the first commercial use of image facsimile telegraph devices dates back to the time of Samuel F. B. Morse's invention in the 1800s. Morse and his partner Alfred Vail also invented morse code.

A diplomatic telegram, also known as a diplomatic cable, is the term given to a confidential communication between a diplomatic mission and the foreign ministry of its parent country.[7][8] These continue to be called telegrams or cables regardless of the method used for transmission.

Optical telegraph

Main articles: Semaphore line (visual telegraphy using signal arms or shutters), flag semaphore (using hand-held flags), signal lamp (visual naval communications) and heliograph (visual communications using reflected sunlight)

The first telegraphs came in the form of optical telegraph including the use of smoke signals, beacons or reflected light, which have existed since ancient times. A semaphore network invented by Claude Chappe operated in France from 1792 through 1846.[9] It helped Napoleon enough to be widely imitated in Europe and the U.S. In the Peninsular War (1807–1814), several similar telegraphs had been used in the Lines of Torres Vedras, by the Anglo-Portuguese army. The Prussian system was put into effect in the 1830s. The last commercial semaphore link ceased operation in Sweden in 1880.

Semaphores were able to convey information more precisely than smoke signals and beacons and consumed no fuel. Messages could be sent at much greater speed than post riders and could serve entire regions. However, like beacons, smoke and reflected light signals they were highly dependent on good weather and daylight to work (practical electrical lighting was not available until about 1880). They required operators and towers every 30 km (20 mi), and could accommodate only about two words per minute. This was useful to governments, but too expensive for most commercial uses other than commodity price information. Electric telegraphs were to reduce the cost of sending a message thirtyfold compared to semaphores, and could be used non-stop, 24 hours per day, independent of the weather or daylight.

Elevated locations where optical telegraphs were placed for maximum visibility were renamed to Telegraph Hill, such as Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, and Telegraph Hill in the PNC Bank Arts Center in New Jersey.

Electrical telegraphs

Main article: Electrical telegraph

The earliest instance of sending an electrical signal across a conductive wire to be registered at a remote location was patented in London in 1750 by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had adapted a British Royal Society research project to develop a commercial blasting cap. This invention consisted of a paper tube full of black powder, with wires leading in both sides and wadding sealing up the ends. The two wires came close but did not touch, so a specific current response (an electric spark discharge between the two wires) would be registered chemically at the remote end, thus firing the cap.[10]

One very early experiment in electrical telegraphy was an electrochemical telegraph created by the German physician, anatomist and inventor Samuel Thomas von Sömmering in 1809, based on an earlier, less robust design of 1804 by Spanish polymath and scientist Francisco Salva Campillo.[11] Both their designs employed multiple wires (up to 35) in order to visually represent most Latin letters and numerals. Thus, messages could be conveyed electrically up to a few kilometers (in von Sömmering's design), with each of the telegraph receiver's wires immersed in a separate glass tube of acid. As an electric current was applied by the sender representing each digit of a message, it would at the recipient's end electrolyse the acid in its corresponding tube, releasing a stream of hydrogen bubbles next to its associated letter or numeral. The telegraph receiver's operator would visually observe the bubbles and could then record the transmitted message, albeit at a very low baud rate.[11]

One of the earliest electromagnetic telegraph designs was created by Pavel Schilling in 1832.[12]

Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber built and first used for regular communication the electromagnetic telegraph in 1833 in Göttingen, connecting Göttingen Observatory and the Institute of Physics, covering a distance of about 1 km.[13] The setup consisted of a coil which could be moved up and down over the end of two magnetic steel bars. The resulting induction current was transmitted through two wires to the receiver, consisting of a galvanometer. The direction of the current could be reversed by commuting the two wires in a special switch. Therefore, Gauss and Weber chose to encode the alphabet in a binary code, using positive current and negative as the two states.

A replica commissioned by Weber for the 1873 World Fair based on his original designs is on display in the collection of historical instruments in the Department of Physics at University of Göttingen. There are two versions of the first message sent by Gauss and Weber: the more official one is based on a note in Gauss's own handwriting stating that "Wissen vor meinen – Sein vor scheinen" ("knowing before opining, being before seeming") was the first message sent over the electromagnetic telegraph. The more anecdotal version told in Göttingen observatory is that the first message was sent to notify Weber that the observatory's servant was on the way to the institute of physics, and just read "Michelmann kommt" ("Michelmann is on his way"), possibly as a test who would arrive first.

In 1836 an American scientist, Dr. David Alter, invented the first known American electric telegraph, in Elderton, Pennsylvania, one year before the Cooke and Wheatstone and the Morse telegraphs. Alter demonstrated it to witnesses but never developed the idea into a practical system.[14]

The first commercial electrical telegraph was co-developed by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone, and entered use on the Great Western Railway in Britain. It ran for 13 miles (21 km) from Paddington station to West Drayton and came into operation on 9 July 1839.[15] It was patented in the United Kingdom in 1837, and was first successfully demonstrated by Cooke and Wheatstone on 25 July 1837 between Euston and Camden Town in London.[16] For more details, see Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph.

Edward Davy demonstrated his telegraph system in Regent's Park in 1837 and was granted a patent on 4 July 1838. He also developed an electric relay.[17]

In 1843 Scottish inventor Alexander Bain invented a device that could be considered the first facsimile machine. He called his invention a "recording telegraph". Bain's telegraph was able to transmit images by electrical wires. In 1855 an Italian abbot, Giovanni Caselli, also created an electric telegraph that could transmit images. Caselli called his invention "Pantelegraph". Pantelegraph was successfully tested and approved for a telegraph line between Paris and Lyon.

Morse telegraph

An electrical telegraph was independently developed and patented in the United States in 1837 by Samuel Morse. His assistant, Alfred Vail, developed the Morse code signalling alphabet with Morse. The first telegram in the United States was sent by Morse on 11 January 1838, across two miles (3 km) of wire at Speedwell Ironworks near Morristown, New Jersey. On 24 May 1844, he sent the message "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT" from the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol in Washington to the old Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore. This message (quoting Numbers 23:23) was chosen by Annie Ellsworth of Lafayette, Indiana,[18] the daughter of Patent Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. The message was all capital letters because the original Morse code alphabet had no question mark or lower case.

The Morse/Vail telegraph was quickly deployed in the following two decades; the overland telegraph connected the west coast of the continent to the east coast by 24 October 1861, bringing an end to the Pony Express.

Oceanic telegraph cables

The first commercially successful transatlantic telegraph cable was successfully completed on 18 July 1866. The lasting connections were achieved by the ship SS Great Eastern, captained by Sir James Anderson.[19] Earlier transatlantic submarine cables installations were attempted in 1857, 1858 and 1865. The 1857 cable only operated intermittently for a few days or weeks before it failed. The study of underwater telegraph cables accelerated interest in mathematical analysis of very long transmission lines. The telegraph lines from Britain to India were connected in 1870 (those several companies combined to form the Eastern Telegraph Company in 1872).

Australia was first linked to the rest of the world in October 1872 by a submarine telegraph cable at Darwin.[20] This brought news reportage from the rest of the world.[21]

Further advancements in telegraph technology occurred in the early 1870s, when U.S. Patent 480,567 on 9 August 1892.

The telegraph across the Pacific was completed in 1902, finally encircling the world.

Wireless telegraphy

Main article: Wireless telegraphy

Scientists and inventors showed the usefulness of wireless telegraphy, radiotelegraphy, or radio, beginning in the 1890s. Alexander Stepanovich Popov demonstrated to the public his wireless radio receiver, which was also used as a lightning detector,[23] on 7 May 1895. He proudly demonstrated his wireless receiver before a group of reporters on a stormy August evening in 1895. It was attached to a long 30-foot pole that he held aloft to maximize the signal. When asked by one of the reporters if it was a good idea to hold this metal rod in the middle of a storm he replied that all was well. After being struck (and nearly killed) by a bolt of lightning he proudly announced to the world that his invention also served as a "lightning detector".

Albert Turpain sent and received his first radio signal, using Morse code, in France, up to 25 meters in 1895.[24]

Guglielmo Marconi sent and received his first radio signal in Italy up to 6 kilometres in 1896. On 13 May 1897, Marconi, assisted by George Kemp, a Cardiff Post Office engineer, transmitted the first wireless signals over water to Lavernock (near Penarth in Wales) from Flat Holm.[25] Having failed to interest the Italian government, the 22-year-old inventor brought his telegraphy system to Britain and met William Preece, a Welshman, who was a major figure in the field and Chief Engineer of the General Post Office. A pair of masts about 34 metres (112 ft) high were erected, at Lavernock Point and on Flat Holm. The receiving mast at Lavernock Point was a 30-metre (98 ft) high pole topped with a cylindrical cap of zinc connected to a detector with insulated copper wire. At Flat Holm the sending equipment included a Ruhmkorff coil with an eight-cell battery. The first trial on 11 and 12 May failed but on the 13th the mast at Lavernock was extended to 50 metres (164 ft) and the signals, in Morse code, were received clearly. The message sent was "ARE YOU READY"; the Morse slip signed by Marconi and Kemp is now in the National Museum of Wales.

In 1898 Popov accomplished successful experiments of wireless communication between a naval base and a battleship.

In 1900 the crew of the Russian coast defense ship General-Admiral Graf Apraksin as well as stranded Finnish fishermen were saved in the Gulf of Finland because of exchange of distress telegrams between two radiostations, located at Hogland island and inside a Russian naval base in Kotka. Both stations of wireless telegraphy were built under Popov's instructions.

In 1901, Marconi radiotelegraphed the letter "S" across the Atlantic Ocean from his station in Poldhu, Cornwall to St. John's, Newfoundland.

Radiotelegraphy proved effective for rescue work in sea disasters by enabling effective communication between ships and from ship to shore.

American physicist Theodore Case and his assistant Earl Sponible developed the Thallofide tube in 1914 as a means for ship-to-ship communication that converted sound signals to infrared light. The light was then picked up by another ship and converted back to sound. Case and Sponable's system was first tested by the United States Navy off the shores of New Jersey in 1917. The Navy hired Thomas Edison to attend and evaluate Case and Sponible's system. The test was a success, and the U.S. Navy used the top secret system during and after World War I. Case and Spponible would later apply this technology to create optical sound systems for motion pictures[26]

Telegraphic improvements

A continuing goal in telegraphy has been to reduce the cost per message by reducing hand-work, or increasing the sending rate. There were many experiments with moving pointers, and various electrical encodings. However, most systems were too complicated and unreliable. A successful expedient to increase the sending rate was the development of telegraphese.

Other research[specify] focused on the multiplexing of telegraph connections. By passing several simultaneous connections through an existing copper wire, capacity could be upgraded without the laying of new cable, a process which remained very costly. Several technologies were developed like Frequency-division multiplexing. Long submarine communications cables became possible in segments with vacuum tube amplifiers between them.

With the invention of the teletypewriter, telegraphic encoding became fully automated. Early teletypewriters used the ITA-1 Baudot code, a five-bit code. This yielded only thirty-two codes, so it was over-defined into two "shifts", "letters" and "figures". An explicit, unshared shift code prefaced each set of letters and figures.

The airline industry remains one of the last users of teletypewriters and in a few situations still sends messages over the SITA or AFTN networks. For example, the British Airways operations computer system (FICO) as of 2004 still uses teletypewriters to communicate with other airline computer systems. The same goes for Programmed Airline Reservation System (PARS) and IPARS that use a similar shifted six-bit Teletype code, because it requires only eight bits per character, saving bandwidth and money. A teletypewriter message is often much smaller than the equivalent EDIFACT or XML message. In recent years as airlines have had access to improved bandwidth in remote locations, IATA standard XML is replacing Teletypewriter data as well as EDI.

The first electrical telegraph developed a standard signalling system for telecommunications. The "mark" state was defined as the powered state of the wire. In this way, it was immediately apparent when the line itself failed. The moving pointer telegraphs started the pointer's motion with a "start bit" that pulled the line to the unpowered "space" state. In early Telex machines, the start bit triggered a wheeled commutator run by a motor with a precise speed (later, digital electronics). The commutator distributed the bits from the line to a series of relays that would "capture" the bits. A "stop bit" was then sent at the powered "mark state" to assure that the commutator would have time to stop, and be ready for the next character. The stop bit triggered the printing mechanism. Stop bits initially lasted 1.42 baud times (later extended to two as signalling rates increased), in order to give the mechanism time to finish and stop vibrating. Hence an ITA-2 Murray code symbol took 1 start, 5 data, and 1.42 stop (total 7.42) baud times to transmit.[27]


Main article: Telex

By 1935, message routing was the last great barrier to full automation. Large telegraphy providers began to develop systems that used telephone-like rotary dialling to connect teletypewriters. These machines were called "Telex" (TELegraph EXchange). Telex machines first performed rotary-telephone-style pulse dialling for circuit switching, and then sent data by Baudot code. This "type A" Telex routing functionally automated message routing.

The first wide-coverage Telex network was implemented in Germany during the 1930s as a network used to communicate within the government.

At the rate of 45.45 (±0.5%) baud — considered speedy at the time — up to 25 telex channels could share a single long-distance telephone channel by using voice frequency telegraphy multiplexing, making telex the least expensive method of reliable long-distance communication.

Canada-wide automatic teleprinter exchange service was introduced by CPR Telegraphs and CN Telegraph in July 1957 (the two companies, operated by rivals Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway, would join to form CNCP Telecommunications in 1967). This service supplemented the existing international Telex service that was put in place in November 1956. Canadian Telex customers could connect with nineteen European countries in addition to eighteen Latin American, African, and trans-Pacific countries.[28] The major exchanges were located in Montreal (01), Toronto (02), and Winnipeg (03).[29]

In 1958, Western Union started to build a Telex network in the United States.[30] This Telex network started as a satellite exchange located in New York City and expanded to a nationwide network. Western Union chose Siemens & Halske AG,[31] now Siemens AG, and ITT[32] to supply the exchange equipment, provisioned the exchange trunks via the Western Union national microwave system and leased the exchange to customer site facilities from the local telephone company. Teleprinter equipment was originally provided by Siemens & Halske AG[33] and later by Teletype Corporation.[34] Initial direct International Telex service was offered by Western Union, via W.U. International, in the summer of 1960 with limited service to London and Paris.[35]

In 1962, the major exchanges were located in New York City (1), Chicago (2), San Francisco (3), Kansas City (4) and Atlanta (5).[36] The Telex network expanded by adding the final parent exchanges cities of Los Angeles (6), Dallas (7), Philadelphia (8) and Boston (9) starting in 1966.

The Telex numbering plan, usually a six-digit number in the United States, was based on the major exchange where the customer's Telex machine terminated.[37] For example, all Telex customers that terminated in the New York City exchange were assigned a Telex number that started with a first digit "1". Further, all Chicago based customers had Telex numbers that started with a first digit of "2". This numbering plan was maintained by Western Union as the Telex exchanges proliferated to smaller cities in the United States. The Western Union Telex network was built on three levels of exchanges.[38] The highest level was made up of the nine exchange cities previously mentioned. Each of these cities had the dual capability of terminating both Telex customer lines and setting up trunk connections to multiple distant Telex exchanges. The second level of exchanges, located in large cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Miami, Newark, Pittsburgh and Seattle, were similar to the highest level of exchanges in capability of terminating Telex customer lines and setting up trunk connections. However, these second level exchanges had a smaller customer line capacity and only had trunk circuits to regional cities. The third level of exchanges, located in small to medium sized cities, could terminate Telex customer lines and had a single trunk group running to its parent exchange.

Loop signaling was offered in two different configurations for Western Union Telex in the United States. The first option, sometimes called local or loop service, provided a 60 milliampere loop circuit from the exchange to the customer teleprinter. The second option, sometimes called long distance or polar was used when a 60 milliampere connection could not be achieved, provided a ground return polar circuit using 35 milliamperes on separate send and receive wires. By the 1970s, and under pressure from the Bell operating companies wanting to modernize their cable plant and lower the adjacent circuit noise that these Telex circuits sometimes caused, Western Union migrated customers to a third option called F1F2. This F1F2 option replaced the DC voltage of the local and long distance options with modems at the exchange and subscriber ends of the Telex circuit.

Western Union offered connections from Telex to the AT&T TeletypeWriter eXchange (TWX) system in May 1966 via its New York Information Services Computer Center.[39] These connections were limited to those TWX machines that were equipped with automatic answerback capability per CCITT standard.

Telex grew around the world very rapidly. Long before automatic telephony was available, most countries, even in central Africa and Asia, had at least a few high-frequency (shortwave) Telex links. Often these radio links were first established by government postal and telegraph services (PTTs). The most common radio standard, CCITT R.44 had error-corrected retransmitting time-division multiplexing of radio channels. Most impoverished PTTs operated their Telex-on-radio (TOR) channels non-stop, to get the maximum value from them.

The cost of TOR equipment has continued to fall. Although initially specialised equipment was required, many amateur radio operators now operate TOR (also known as RTTY) with special software and inexpensive hardware to adapt computer sound cards to short-wave radios.[40]

Operation and applications

Telex messages are routed by addressing them to a Telex address, e.g., "14910 ERIC S", where 14910 is the subscriber number, ERIC is an abbreviation for the subscriber's name (in this case Telefonaktiebolaget L.M. Ericsson in Sweden) and S is the country code. Solutions also exist for the automatic routing of messages to different Telex terminals within a subscriber organization, by using different terminal identities, e.g., "+T148".

A major advantage of Telex is that the receipt of the message by the recipient could be confirmed with a high degree of certainty by the "answerback". At the beginning of the message, the sender would transmit a WRU (Who aRe yoU) code, and the recipient machine would automatically initiate a response which was usually encoded in a rotating drum with pegs, much like a music box. The position of the pegs sent an unambiguous identifying code to the sender, so the sender could verify connection to the correct recipient. The WRU code would also be sent at the end of the message, so a correct response would confirm that the connection had remained unbroken during the message transmission. This gave Telex a major advantage over less verifiable forms of communications such as telephone and fax.

The usual method of operation was that the message would be prepared off-line, using paper tape. All common Telex machines incorporated a 5-hole paper-tape punch and reader. Once the paper tape had been prepared, the message could be transmitted in minimum time. Telex billing was always by connected duration, so minimizing the connected time saved money. However, it was also possible to connect in "real time", where the sender and the recipient could both type on the keyboard and these characters would be immediately printed on the distant machine.

Telex could also be used as a rudimentary but functional carrier of information from one IT system to another, in effect a primitive forerunner of Electronic Data Interchange. The sending IT system would create an output (e.g., an inventory list) on paper tape using a mutually agreed format. The tape would be sent by Telex and collected on a corresponding paper tape by the receiver and this tape could then be read into the receiving IT system.

One use of Telex circuits, in use until the wide-scale adoption of x.400 and Internet email, was to facilitate a message handling system, allowing local email systems to exchange messages with other email and Telex systems via a central routing operation, or switch. One of the largest such switches was operated by Royal Dutch Shell as recently as 1994, permitting the exchange of messages between a number of IBM Officevision, Digital Equipment Corporation All-In-One and Microsoft Mail systems. In addition to permitting email to be sent to Telex addresses, formal coding conventions adopted in the composition of Telex messages enabled automatic routing of Telexes to email recipients.

TeletypeWriter eXchange

The TeletypeWriter eXchange (TWX) was developed by the Bell System in the United States and originally ran at 45.45 baud or 60 words per minute, using five level Baudot code. Bell later developed a second generation of TWX called "four row" that ran at 110 baud, using eight level ASCII code. The Bell System offered both "3-row" Baudot and "4-row" ASCII TWX service up to the late 1970s.

TWX used the public switched telephone network. In addition to having separate Area Codes (510, 610, 710, 810, and 910) for the TWX service, the TWX lines were also set up with a special Class of Service to prevent connections to and from POTS to TWX and vice versa.

The code/speed conversion between "3-row" Baudot and "4-row" ASCII TWX service was accomplished using a special Bell "10A/B board" via a live operator. A TWX customer would place a call to the 10A/B board operator for Baudot – ASCII calls, ASCII – Baudot calls and also TWX Conference calls. The code / speed conversion was done by a Western Electric unit that provided this capability. There were multiple code / speed conversion units at each operator position.

Western Union purchased the TWX system from AT&T in January 1969.[41] The TWX system and the special area codes (510, 610, 710, 810, and 910) continued right up to 1981 when Western Union completed the conversion to the Western Union Telex II system. Any remaining "3-row" Baudot customers were converted to Western Union Telex service during the period 1979 to 1981.

The modem for this service was the Bell 101 dataset, which is the direct ancestor of the Bell 103 modem that launched computer time-sharing. The 101 was revolutionary, because it ran on ordinary unconditioned telephone subscriber lines, allowing the Bell System to run TWX along with POTS on a single public switched telephone network.

International Record Carriers

Bell's original consent agreement limited it to international dial telephony. The Western Union Telegraph Company had given up its international telegraphic operation in a 1939 bid to monopolize U.S. telegraphy by taking over ITT's PTT business. The result was a de-emphasis on Telex in the U.S. and a "cat's cradle" of international Telex and telegraphy companies. The Federal Communications Commission referred to these companies as "International Record Carriers" (IRCs).

  • Western Union Telegraph Company developed a subsidiary named Western Union Cable System. This company later was renamed as Western Union International (WUI) when it was spun off by Western Union as an independent company. WUI was purchased by MCI Communications (MCI) in 1983 and operated as a subsidiary of MCI International.
  • ITT's "World Communications" division (later known as ITT World Communications) was amalgamated from many smaller companies, several of which were organized under the American Cable and Radio Corporation: Federal Telegraph, "All American Cables and Radio", "Globe Wireless", and the common carrier division of Mackay Marine. ITT World Communications was purchased by Western Union in 1987.
  • RCA Communications (later known as RCA Global Communications) had specialized in global radiotelegraphic connections. In 1986 it was purchased by MCI International.
  • Before World War I, the Tropical Radiotelegraph Company (later known as Tropical Radio Telecommunications, or TRT) put radio telegraphs on ships for its owner, the United Fruit Company (UFC), to enable them to deliver bananas to the best-paying markets. Communications expanded to UFC's plantations, and were eventually provided to local governments. TRT eventually became the national carrier for many small Central American nations.
  • The French Telegraph Cable Company (later known as FTC Communications, or just FTCC), which was owned by French investors, had always been in the U.S. It laid undersea cable from the U.S. to France. It was formed by Monsieur Puyer-Quartier. International telegrams routed via FTCC were routed using the telegraphic routing ID "PQ", which are the initials of the founder of the company.
  • Firestone Rubber developed its own IRC, the "Trans-Liberia Radiotelegraph Company". It operated shortwave from Akron, Ohio, to the rubber plantations in Liberia. TL is still based in Akron.

Bell Telex users had to select which IRC to use, and then append the necessary routing digits. The IRCs converted between TWX and Western Union Telegraph Co. standards.

Arrival of the Internet

Main article: History of the Internet. See also: E-mail and ARPANET

Around 1965, DARPA commissioned a study of decentralized switching systems. Some of the ideas developed in this study provided inspiration for the development of the ARPANET packet switching research network, which later grew to become the public Internet.

As the PSTN became a digital network, T-carrier "synchronous" networks became commonplace in the U.S. A T1 line has a "frame" of 193 bits that repeats 8000 times per second. The first bit, called the "sync" bit, alternates between 1 and 0 to identify the start of the frames. The rest of the frame provides 8 bits for each of 24 separate voice or data channels. Customarily, a T-1 link is sent over a balanced twisted pair, isolated with transformers to prevent current flow. Europeans adopted a similar system (E-1) of 32 channels (with one channel for frame synchronisation).

Later, SONET and SDH were adapted to combine carrier channels into groups that could be sent over optic fiber. The capacity of an optic fiber is often extended with wavelength division multiplexing, rather than rerigging new fibre. Rigging several fibres in the same structures as the first fibre is usually easy and inexpensive, and many fibre installations include unused spare "dark fibre", "dark wavelengths", and unused parts of the SONET frame, so-called "virtual channels".

In 2002, the Internet was used by Kevin Warwick at the University of Reading to communicate neural signals, in purely electronic form, telegraphically between the nervous systems of two humans,[42] potentially opening up a new form of communication combining the Internet and telegraphy.

In 2006, a well-defined communication channel used for telegraphy was established by the SONET standard OC-768, which sent about 40 gigabits per second.

The theoretical maximum capacity of an optic fiber is more than 1012 bits (one terabit or one trillion bits) per second. In 2006, no existing encoding system approached this theoretical limit, even with wavelength division multiplexing.

Since the Internet operates over any digital transmission medium, further evolution of telegraphic technology will be effectively concealed from users.

E-mail displaces telegraphy

Main article: E-mail

E-mail was first invented for CTSS and similar time sharing systems of the era in the mid-1960s.[43] At first, e-mail was possible only between different accounts on the same computer (typically a mainframe). ARPANET allowed different computers to be connected to allow e-mails to be relayed from computer to computer, with the first ARPANET e-mail being sent in 1971.[44] Multics also pioneered instant messaging between computer users in the mid-1970s. With the growth of the Internet, e-mail began to be possible between any two computers with access to the Internet. This led to the development of a form of communication that is a hybrid between a telegram and an email, namely the Edigram. Such communications could be sent on a round-the-clock basis, and were characterized as being short, concise and lacking any superfluous terms.

Various private networks like UUNET (founded 1987), the Well (1985), and GEnie (1985) had e-mail from the 1970s, but subscriptions were quite expensive for an individual, US$25 to US$50 per month, just for e-mail. Internet use was then largely limited to government, academia and other government contractors until the net was opened to commercial use in the 1980s.

By the early 1990s, modems made e-mail a viable alternative to Telex systems in a business environment. But individual e-mail accounts were not widely available until local Internet service providers were in place, although demand grew rapidly, as e-mail was seen as the Internet's killer app. It allowed anyone to email anyone, whereas previously, different system had been walled off from each other, such that America Online subscribers could only email other America Online subscribers, Compuserve subscribers could only email other Compuserve subscribers, etc. The broad user base created by the demand for e-mail smoothed the way for the rapid acceptance of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. Fax machines were another technology that helped displace the telegram.

On Monday, 12 July 1999, a final telegram was sent from the National Liberty Ship Memorial, the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, in San Francisco Bay to President Bill Clinton in the White House. Officials of Globe Wireless reported that "The message was 95 words, and it took six or eight minutes to copy it." They then transmitted the message to the White House via e-mail. That event was also used to mark the final commercial U.S. ship-to-shore telegraph message transmitted from North America by Globe Wireless, a company founded in 1911. Sent from its wireless station at Half Moon Bay, California, the sign-off message was a repeat of Samuel F. B. Morse's message 155 years earlier, "What hath God wrought?"[45]

Worldwide status of telegram services

  • In Australia, Australia Post closed its telegram service on 7 March 2011. In the Victorian town of Beechworth, visitors can send telegrams to family members or friends from the Beechworth Telegraph Station.[46]
  • In Bahrain, Batelco still offers telegram services. They are thought to be more formal than an email or a fax, but less so than a letter. So should a death or anything of importance occur, telegrams would be sent.
  • In Belgium, Belgacom still offers telegram services within the country and internationally.[47]
  • In MTS Allstream.
  • In France, France Télécom still offers a telegram service,[48] although not transmitted by telegraph any more.
  • In Germany, Deutsche Post delivers telegrams the next day as ordinary mail. Deutsche Post discontinued service to foreign countries on 31 December 2000.[49][50] A private firm,, offers delivery in Germany and service to a number of foreign countries.[51]
  • In Hungary, Magyar Posta still offers telegram services.[52]
  • In India, state-owned BSNL discontinued telegram services from 15 July 2013.[53][54]
  • In Ireland, Eircom – the country's largest telecommunication company and former PTT – formally discontinued telegram service on 30 July 2002.[55]
  • In Israel, the Israel Postal Company still offers telegram services. Telegrams may be sent via the internet or by a telephone operator. Illustrated telegrams are available for special occasions.[56]
  • In Japan, NTT provides a telegram (denpou) service used mainly for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.[57] Local offices offer telegrams printed on special decorated paper and envelopes.
  • In Lithuania, telegram service was closed by the only provider Teo LT on 15 October 2007.[58]
  • In Malaysia, Telekom Malaysia has ceased its telegram service effective 1 July 2012.[59]
  • In Mexico, telegrams are still used as a low-cost service for people who cannot afford or do not have access to e-mail.[60]
  • In Nepal, Nepal Telecom closed its telegram service on 1 January 2009.[61]
  • In the Netherlands, the telegram service was sold by KPN to the Swiss-based company Unitel Telegram Services in 2001.
  • In New Zealand, New Zealand Post closed its telegram service in 1999. It later reinstated the service in 2003 for use only by business customers, primarily for debt collection or other important business notices.
  • In Pakistan, the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd ceased telegram services on January 27, 2006. This was in response to Western Union when they ended its telegram services.[62]
  • In the Philippines, telegraph services nationwide ceased on September 20, 2013 at 5PM. The last telegram was sent on the same day at 3:15 PM. [63]
  • In Russia, Central Telegraph still offers telegram service. "Regular" or "Urgent" telegrams can be sent to any address in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. So called "Stylish" telegrams printed on an artistic postcard are also available.
  • In Slovenia, Pošta Slovenije d.o.o. (Slovenian Post) provides a telegram service still commonly used for special occasions such as births, anniversaries, condolences, graduations, etc. It is considered more formal than email or SMS. Telegrams are usually printed in a typewriter font on greeting or condolences cards delivered in a specific yellow envelope. It is also possible to send gifts (e.g. chocolates, wine, plush toys, flowers) together with a message. The telegrams can be sent from local post offices, over the phone or online to addresess in Slovenia only.[64]
  • In Sweden, TeliaSonera still delivers telegrams as nostalgic novelty items, rather than a primary means of communication.
  • In Switzerland, Unitel Telegram Services took over telegram services from the national PTTs. Telegrams can still be sent to and from most countries.
  • In the United Kingdom, the international telegram service formerly provided by British Telecom was sold in 2003 to an independent company, Telegrams Online,[65] which promotes the use of telegrams as a retro greeting card or invitation.
  • In the United States, Western Union closed its telegram service on 27 January 2006.[66] Western Union's telegram service was acquired by iTelegram, an independent company.[67] Telegrams are also offered by other companies such as OpenText[68] and American Telegram.[69]

Social implications

Prior to the electrical telegraph, nearly all information was limited to traveling at the speed of a human or animal. The telegraph freed communication from the constraints of space and time and truly affected how people lived their lives.[70] In 1870, 9,158,000 messages were handled by the telegraph network in the United States but by 1900 the number had risen to 63,168,000.[71] These numbers indicate the increased frequency of use and the degree of which Americans were quickly accepting the telegraph. The telegraph isolated the message (information) from the physical movement of objects or the process.[72]

Telegraphy facilitated the growth of organizations "in the railroads, consolidated financial and commodity markets, and reduced information costs within and between firms."[71] This immense growth in the business sectors influenced society to embrace the use of telegrams.

Worldwide telegraphy changed the gathering of information for news reporting. Messages and information would now travel far and wide, and the telegraph demanded a language "stripped of the local, the regional; and colloquial," to better facilitate a worldwide media language.[72] Media language had to be standardized, which led to the gradual disappearance of different forms of speech and styles of journalism and storytelling.

Names of periodicals

The word telegraph still appears in the names of numerous periodicals in various countries, a legacy of the long period when telegraphy was a major means for newspapers to obtain news information (see Telegraph (disambiguation)).

See also


Further reading

  • Dargan, J., The Railway Telegraph, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, March, 1985 pp. 49–71
  • John, Richard R. Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Harvard University Press; 2010) 520 pages; traces the evolution of the country's telegraph and telephone networks.
  • Kieve, Jeffrey L.  — The Electric Telegraph: a Social and Economic History David and Charles (1973) ISBN 0-7153-5883-9
  • Pichler, Franz, Magneto-Electric Dial Telegraphs: Contributions of Wheatstone, Stoehrer and Siemens, The AWA Review (vol. 26, 2013)
  • Ross, Nelson E. HOW TO WRITE TELEGRAMS PROPERLY The Telegraph Office (1928)
  • Standage, Tom — The Victorian Internet Berkley Trade, (1998) ISBN 0-425-17169-8
  • Wheen, Andrew;— DOT-DASH TO DOT.COM: How Modern Telecommunications Evolved from the Telegraph to the Internet (Springer, 2011) ISBN 978-1-4419-6759-6
  • Wilson, Geoffrey, The Old Telegraphs, Phillimore & Co Ltd 1976 ISBN 0-900592-79-6

External links

  • The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum The biggest Telegraph station in the world, now a museum
  • History of the U.S. Telegraphic Industry from Economic
  • Distant Writing — The History of the Telegraph Companies in Britain between 1838 and 1868
  • Royal Engineers Museum — Telegraph Services
  • Anglo-American Telegraph Company, Ltd. Records, 1866–1947 Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Western Union Telegraph Company Records, 1820–1995 Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Early telegraphy and fax engineering, still operable in a German computer museum
  • "Telegram Falls Silent Stop Era Ends Stop", The New York Times, February 6, 2006
  • International Facilities of the American Carriers - an overview of the U.S. international cable network in 1950
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