The Telegraph


When populations began to spread over continents, the ability to send messages easily and quickly became a necessity.  By today’s definition the telegraph is an “outdated communication system that transmitted electric signals over wires from location to location that translated into a message” ( However back in its day the telegraph was a fantastic invention that allowed people to send textual messages without the act of physically exchanging an object, like a letter, that contained a message, making it the first text message if you will.

            Although history gives credit to Samuel Morse for inventing the telegraph, there were many prototypes that predated his advancements. Technically the first successful system that sent a message over a distance of land without using an object containing the message itself was in 1794 by Claude Chappe in France. His system was visual based and required the recipient to be within sight of the object. Chappe used a flag based alphabet to send messages, making this the first optical telegraph. Next in 1809 was the crude telegraph, invented by Samuel Soemmering in Bavaria. According to history “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” ( While this telegraph was successful, it carried a high rate of mistakes and was very confusing for recipients. The first working electronic telegraph was invented f Francis Ronalds of England in 1823.

            Samuel Morse did not patent the telegraph apparatus in the Unite States until 1837. After receiving the patent from the government, Morse and his assistant Alfred Vail continued to attempt sending messages over a 2-mile range. It was here that Vail created Morse code while signaling to his boss. The first telegram in the United States was sent on the 11 of January 1838 in Morristown, New Jersey. It wasn’t until 1844 that Morse and his assistant perfected their invention enough to take it to the Capital in Washington to show off with a message stating “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT” (Wikipedia). After proving to the members of the government that Morse could send message across land within a few seconds, his invention and a new mass communication industry took off.

            Government funds were given to Morse to expand his telegraph lines while small telegraph companies started to pop up all over the country. Soon enough there would be lines reaching from coast to coast connecting people that had thousands of miles between them. This would be the first time that people in state governments could connect with those in the capital, the first time that families who did not live together could send quick messages, the first time that the United States participated in the mass communication that was the future.

            The telegraph had many implications for its time, it created communication companies, lead to new inventions and innovations, connected people spread through continents, but also eventually connected the world, making quick communication a global phenomena. The telegraph allowed America to fulfill manifest destiny. It resulted in many other inventions such as teleprinters, oceanic telegraph cables, recordings, wireless telegraphy, the Internet, emails, and cell phones. Without that first successful telegraph, communication on the massive level that we Americas and the rest of the world have access to everyday would not be around. World








About caitlineichlin

History major at California State University San Marcos and aspiring high school history teacher.
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