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A short history of instant communication: Telegraph, Telephone, Internet

Updated on September 25, 2012

Nowadays, a letter in the mail from a relative or friend that lives far away may come as a big surprise . Or it may not come at all. However, that was not the case just few decades ago, not speaking about few centuries ago.

Lately, the communication technology has developed with an almost instant speed. From a letter that took months to cross the ocean, to a face to face instant video conference have been only 168 years.

Everything started, sadly, with the death of a loved one.

Samuel Morse is credited with the invention of the telegraph
Samuel Morse is credited with the invention of the telegraph | Source

Telegraph definition

A communications system in which a message in the form of short, rapid electric impulses is sent, either by wire or radio, to a receiving station. Morse code is often used to encode messages in a form that is easily transmitted through electric impulses.

TheFreeDictionary @

Telegraph - the beginning of instant communication

The telegraph was invented because the death of Samuel Morse’s wife, while giving birth to their third child. In 1825, Morse, then a painter, was in Washington, painting. While he was working on the portrait of marquise De Lafayette, he received a message from his father telling him that his wife have fallen ill. Those days, the messages were sent by land or water, carried in boats or by horse rides. It took days to reach someone in a nearby state.
As he received the message about his wife, Morse hurried home, in New Haven, Connecticut. But he arrived too late. His wife was already dead and buried at the age of 25.

Although he had a successful career as a painter, Samuel Morse decided to find a way to faster communicate important messages. That involved the use of science knowledge and skills, that he acquired while studying at Yale, and were already applied on earlier works.

At the time, the researches on electricity and electromagnetism were already making important progresses and discoveries. There were also other men involved in projects about long distance communication and building rudimentar telegraphs. Morse just need it to apply them in a creative way, which he brilliantly did.

In 1930s, Morse invented the electric telegraph that linked two distant places by a wire charged with electricity. It took him more than ten years to perfect his patent and overcome the biggest challenge: reaching far away. By fast switching the current on and off, a code pulse was generated. The message lay in the code that was invented by Samuel Morse and is called The Morse Code.

In 1943 the Congress approves the construction of a telegraph line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland. A year later, after the line is finished on ground poles, Morse sends his first message over a commercial telegraph: “ What hath God wrought”.

In 1966, the first telegraph message crosses the Atlantic. Samuel Morse died in April, 1972, at the age of 82, living behind a great legacy remembered through generations.

Alexander Graham Bell is credited with the invention of the first working telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell is credited with the invention of the first working telephone. | Source

Telephone definition

An instrument that converts voice and other sound signals into a form that can be transmitted to remote locations and that receives and reconverts waves into sound signals.

TheFreeDictionary @

Telephone - voice communication

The next step in long distance instant communication was to replace the pulse code with a sound. It was an idea that had captivated scientists mind around the world with early theoretical works in Germany. A serie of scientists developed early prototypes of an apparatus that would carry sounds but the first practical use of such early inventions came from Alexander Graham Bell.

Bell, borned in Scotland, was fascinated with sounds and speech and elocutions, as his family had a great history in teaching elocution. Also, his mother deafness, made him experimenting with sounds and language signs that led him to an early study of acoustics.

At the age of 23, in 1970, Bell and his parents moved to Canada. Then he moved to United States where he found financial support from wealthy and influential people for his experiments. He was trying to transmit human voice through a telegraph. He worked with an young electrician called Thomas Watson and, in 1875, he patent his invention of an acoustic telegraph, in a race of patents with other scientists, but mainly with Elisha Gray.

But he didn’t have a working machine at the time.He experimented with water vibration but then abandoned this idea, focusing mainly in electromagnetic vibration that became the base of his work.

From here to the worldwide spread of this amazing device was just a matter of time and money. Now, a telephone is an essential item in most of the world. More, when the space era begun, in the 1960s, a new technology arise: the satellite communication.

Satellites were sent into space and telephone signals were captured and bounced all over the world in a dance of microwaves rays. Suddenly, the most remote area of the world could be reached in a second. Nobody was isolated anymore as far as he had a telephone or the next revolutionary device: the mobile phone.

Emerging from this new technology was the mobile phone that required no wire. It works by sending and receiving messages via microwaves directed to special stations. They built those stations in a cell structure, hence the name cellular phones. The more stations, the bigger the network, the longer the distance that could be covered.

The telephone network was the foundation for the next great thing in instant communication: the Internet (which you are probably using to read this article).

Front panel of the Interface Message Processor, used to transmit the first internet message
Front panel of the Interface Message Processor, used to transmit the first internet message | Source

Internet definition

A system connecting computers around the world using TCP/IP, which stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, a set of standards for transmitting and receiving digital data. The Internet consists primarily of the collection of billions of interconnected web pages that are transferred using HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and are collectively known as the World Wide Web. The Internet also uses FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to transfer files, and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) to transfer e-mail.

TheFreeDictionary @

Tim Berners-Lee will always be associated with the creation of the World Wide Web
Tim Berners-Lee will always be associated with the creation of the World Wide Web | Source

Internet - an instant communication of data

The Internet is the youngest of all instant communication systems. It started in 1960s when the American Army developed a network of computers called ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). Although this wasn't the only network in the world, it is credited with transmitting the first data using packet switching, a method created by the english scientist Donald Davis and Lawrence Roberts from Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts. The first world to be transmitted was “login”.

ARPAnet was first developed with the purpose of linking military and government computers in case of a nuclear war, as the “cold era” was at its peak. Soon, other places, like Universities, developed their own networks then, in 1983, they joined ARPAnet to form the inter-networks or Internet. Originally, this first Internet was only used by transferring data files and emailing. But didn’t last long. Six years later, the revolution will begin.

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a british engineer and computer scientist working at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) Laboratories in Switzerland, developed the web, or World Wide Web, or W3. He came up with a clever way of finding information from all the computers joined on Internet. After this date, the Internet exploded and anybody with a computer, a modem and a phone line could join. Today, 2,267, 233, 742 people use the Internet daily. This is 32.7% of the world’s population, according to Internet World Stats @


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    • Reginald Boswell profile image

      Reginald Boswell 

      9 years ago from Huntsville, Alabama

      Bell looks nothing like Henry Fonda.

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Interesting article Camella. Very nicely written. I specially liked the way you put three modes of electronic communication and u gave info about www.

      Perhaps 3 dimensional communication via www is just on the corner and may become common feature (On tv and movies it has been any way there).

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      Too much interesting posts to know about the history of the telecommunications' The world seems to be futile without telecom. in these days.

      Floating in the history and i am happy and sharing with friends too

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Nice summary of the history of communication. Thanks for the research and info. Rated up/I sharing.

    • cameciob profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you Ruchira.

      I thought we should not forget where have we been two centuries ago. I remember when I first saw a Mobil phone....I thought I was in Star Trek.

    • Ruchira profile image


      9 years ago from United States

      It's so good to go back in history and see how things developed and to see the current status of it today.

      You put forward an interesting journey for the readers, here :)

      voted up as useful and interesting.


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