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Media and communications

Early history of telecommunications

Semaphore tower and codeSemaphore tower and code The telephone, so important to our daily lives today, did not even exist until less than 150 years ago. The very first machine for sending messages was not electrical at all, but a tower with great mechanical arms fixed on top of it. The arms could be moved into different positions, each standing for a different word or number. Series of towers were built within sight of one another between two places, their operators relaying a message from one tower to the next. This system, invented by French inventor Claude Chappe (1763–1805), was called a semaphore telegraph and it first appeared in France in 1792.


Cooke and Wheatstone's electric telegraphCooke and Wheatstone's electric telegraph

Invention of the telegraph

The first telecommunications device was the telegraph. Messages travelled along wires from a sending device to a receiving device as pulses of electricity, using some sort of code that both the sender and receiver understood. Practical telegraph systems were developed in the first half of the 19th century and were first used for railway signalling. The most successful system was the Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph that came into operation on the Great Western Railway in England in 1839.

Both the words "semaphore" and "telegraph" were invented by Claude Chappe.

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