A Brief History of the Telegraph

By National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

The telegraph has its roots in the laboratories of the early 19th century. It is the first practical application of studies by electromagnetism masters. Let's take a look at some of the objects on display in the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan to discover the historical period spanning from Samuel Morse to today.

Pila di VoltaNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

The Voltaic Pile

This was the first instrument in history to produce electricity.

From that moment on, scientists no longer had to settle for uncontrollable electrical discharges produced during thunderstorms or the very short ones obtained through cumbersome machines.

As a result, the current's magnetic effects were uncovered, opening up a new scientific era dominated by studies on electromagnetism and its countless uses.

Scientists around the world were able to build the first practical-application electrical instruments during the 19th century based on these studies.

Nobili's large astatic galvanometer (1826/1826) by Leopoldo NobiliMuseo Galileo - Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza

The Astatic Galvanometer of Leopoldo Nobili, invented in 1825 by the Tuscan physicist, is an instrument capable of detecting and measuring the amount of electric current in a circuit.

LIFE Photo Collection

André Marie Ampère

William Thomas Henley's needle telegraph represents one of the first Italian telegraph systems used in the then Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This instrument, together with Nobili’s galvanometer, was based on the phenomenon discovered by Danish Hans Cristian Oersted in 1820 and successively studied and formalized by French André Marie Ampère: in the presence of an electric current, a magnetic needle deviates its position. The first long-distance communication systems worked by exploiting this property: the deviation of the magnetic needle, influenced by the current produced in the transmitting station, indicated the letters of the transmitted message in the receiver.

Telegrafo elettrico di Samuel MorseNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

The electrical telegraph

The Museum has reconstructed the prototype of the electrical telegraph that was invented and built in 1835 by Samuel Morse, a professor of design at the University of New York. With this prototype, assembled using one of his painting frames and other makeshift materials, Morse carried out the first electrical communication experiments in front of friends and acquaintances.

LIFE Photo Collection

Samuel Morse

In 1843 the American government financed the construction of the first telegraphic communication line, inaugurated a year later between Washington and Baltimore. The first message in history was transmitted on May 24, 1844 at 8:45 a.m. Morse in Washington telegraphed to Vail in Baltimore, "What Hath God Wrought."

Stazione telegrafica MorseNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

In Italy the Morse system became the official national system from 1861.

The management of the lines and the telegraph offices was assigned to the State, under the direction of the Ministry of Public Works.

In 1889, the Ministry of Post and Telegraphs was established. From 1845, after Morse’s invention and the transformations brought about by Vail, the telegraph became widespread throughout Europe.

Many countries undertook to improve and readjust the devices, proposing different telegraph models for Morse reception.

Keyboard telegraph Hughes typeNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

The telegraph exhibited in the Museum of Science in Milan, invented in 1855 by David Hughes, replaced the key used to beat the sequences of dots and dashes with a keyboard with 28 keys (very similar to that of a piano), one for each letter of the alphabet.

The operator then did not have to learn Morse code and the message was received directly printed in plain text, that is, in letters of the alphabet.

The Pantelegraph

The Pantelegraph is the forefather of the fax machine: it was the first instrument in history to allow the transmission of images. Developed in 1855 by the Sienese abbot, Giovanni Caselli, this system was capable of reproducing any sign (characters, lines, or line images) at a distance.

Pantelegrafo di Giovanni CaselliNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

Pantelegrafo di Giovanni CaselliNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

Wheatstone Charles 1802-1875LIFE Photo Collection

Charles Wheatstone

To make transmission quicker, the English scientist Charles Wheatstone proposed recording the message to be sent by telegraph using strips of paper manually punched by the operators. The holes were then read by special automatic devices and the messages were transmitted at high speed.

19 Teletype Machines At State Dept. For Rusk Textpiece (1962) by John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

The teleprinter looks like a typewriter but is actually a very sophisticated telecommunications system.

Invented at the beginning of the 20th century by Sterling Morton and Charles Krum, this machine became widespread in commercial offices and then replaced the classic telegraphic systems in post offices, especially in the busiest sections.

It was the most widely used system of teleprinting until the arrival of the fax in the 1980s. Even today, the telegram is the only type of message internationally recognized as being original.

Credits: Story

Exhibition by
Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia
Leonardo da Vinci

Via San Vittore 21
Milano

www.museoscienza.org

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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