Telecommunications The Early Years

Throughout time the main forms of communication required that one person be within visual sight of the other in order to be able to successfully communicate. Either that or be within visual or audible range of the means of communication, as in semaphore (physically signalling between ships), or smoke, or drum signals. Then during the 1830s and 1840s telecommunications was born in the form of the telegraph.

The definition of telecommunication, is the means of communicating over great distances, which means that semaphore, drum and smoke signals do not come under the heading of telecommunication, but Telegraphy, telephony and electronic mail do come under the telecommunications heading.

Telegraphy and telephony requires the use of metal wires in order to transmit messages between sender and recipient. During the 19th century, thanks to the invention of the telegraph, these metal cables were laid along the ocean beds, connecting the continents of the world and thus allowing international telecommunications (first one completed on the 27th of July, 1876 linking the USA with Great Britain).

Wireless telecommunications – The 20th century brought the advent of long distance communication without the need for physical connectivity. The first versions were created by Guglielmo Marconi, and manifested themselves in the form of the wireless radio, for which Marconi won a Nobel prize. This was achieved back in 1909.

Other intrepid contributors – Besides Marconi, there were a number of others making headway in the field of wireless communications, they include, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Morse, Lee de Forest, Joseph Henry, Nikola Tesla, Edwin Armstrong, and John Logie Baird.

Earliest form of telecommunications – A Frenchman by the name of Claude Chappe back in 1792, came up with a communication system that allowed rapid (rapid for the time) transmission of a message by setting up a series of towers that were about 6 miles apart. From these towers operators could receive messages from one tower then transmit those messages to the next tower. The transmission of messages was done by semaphore. Semaphore is achieved by the use of moving arms that dependent on the position of the arms would have different meanings. Chappe’s communication system lasted up until 1880, when it was forced out of existence by the far superior telegraph system.

The telegraph – In 1839 one Sir William Fothergil Cooke and one Sir Charles Wheatstone built the first commercial electrical wire based telegraph system. This was actually an improvement on the existing electromagnetic telegraph system.

Morse steps on to the scene – Not only were communication system to use Samuel Morse’s means of coding messages, but Morse himself, in 1837, created a much simpler telegraph system to that already in existence, that which was created by Wheatstone and Cooke (see above).

International telephone link took a long time coming – Although there was a cable connection Great Britain with the United States of America laid back in middle part of the 19th century, it was not good enough to be used for transmitting telephone signals. It had been originally set-up for communications via telegraphy between the then President of the USA, James Buchanan, and Great Britain’s Queen Victoria. The original cable failed fairly quickly and had to be replaced, but was of no use for the telephone system. It was not until 1956 before telephone telecommunications was successfully set-up between the USA and Britain.