Assignment 1 MEDA102

The electric telegraph revolutionized the way in which people communicated from long distances. The electric telegraph was first developed by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in 1838, in England. Their work also coincided with similar work being undertaken by Samuel Morse who further developed the telegraph and created a coding system which enabled messages to be sent. Development in electricity was a key step forward to the eventual production of the electric telegraph. An Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta, was the first to invent the battery. This was an important development as it enabled electric currents to be stored and used and controlled. The discovery of the connection between electricity and magnetism by Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted also was important for the development of the electric telegraph.

Cooke and Wheatstone’s first iteration of the electric telegraph was developed with five magnetic needles that were to point at a panel of letters and numbers through electric currents. The needles were arranged horizontally and would stop on a point on a particular incline when acted on by an electric current. These points would have letters engraved where the needles met. This system was soon used for railway communications. However, Cooke and Wheatstone’s telegraph was soon rendered obsolete by Samuel Morse’s similar work in the field.

Cooke and Wheatstone five-needle telegraph, 1837.

Samuel Morse’s telegraph differed from Cooke and Wheatstone’s as it used a single needle. This was an improvement on Cooke and Wheatstone’s as it further improved the telegraph through the invention of Morse code, as well as, the use of the single needle telegraph as opposed to five needle telegraph that Cooke and Wheatstone developed. This code was a series of dots and dashes that represented the alphabet and these would leave imprints on the paper. The first telegraph message was sent from Washington D.C to Baltimore Maryland in 1844. Morse code was an important invention and changed the way the telegraph was used in its previous developments.

Language is turned into code in the form of Morse code which is transmitted through a wire or cable. Short and long pulses of electricity were sent through the cable which were codes for the different letters on the alphabet. These pulses were then received and were decoded into letters. Morse created his code keeping in mind the letters that were used most often and these letters had the shortest codes. The most common Morse signal is SOS which incorporates only S which is three dots and O which is 3 dashes. This is a globally recognised emergency signal and demonstrates that Morse code is a widespread form of communication. Morse code is still used today despite the telegraph becoming a technology of the past. This demonstrates that Morse code has become a highly efficient way of communicating as it has stood the test of time.

International Morse Code

The most common use for the telegraph was railroad lines. The use of the telegraph made it possible to know when trains were due to arrive and when they would be leaving. This technology created a faster train network. The telegraph was also used within the military as a form of communication.

The limitations of the telegraph included the rate in which words could be transmitted as each word had to be spelt out. The process of coding and decoding a message also created a barrier as this form of communication could not be used by everyone. Skilled people trained in coding and decoding Morse code were restricted to being able to send and receive messages. The telegraph itself was also a complicated instrument that could not be easily used, again restricting its use by anyone. This was particularly true with Cooke and Wheatstone’s telegraph as it had multiple needles and wires. The use of the telegraph could not convey emotions through its messages creating a matter – of – fact form of communication. This, however, could be seen as a minor setback in the development of the telegraph at the time as the basic ability to send messages at that speed was revolutionary. Although weather conditions and environmental factors would not affect a message being sent, any fault within the wire or cable itself would inhibit a telegraph being sent. The maintenance and complexity of the instruments would hinder this form of communication greatly.

The electric telegraph brought about great changes in the way people communicated. The telegraph lead onto the invention of the telephone and furthermore the invention of the internet as we know it today. The telegraph was the first step in creating a more effective and fast way to communicate with people globally. When analysing the impact of the telegraph it can be seen that it was the start of new technology to come.


Highton, E, 1852. The electric telegraph : its history and progress. 1st ed. London: J.Weale.

The History of the Telegraph, Communication at its Best, Nearfield Communication 2015, The History of the Telegraph – Communication at its Best, online, <> Accessed 12 August 2015

EARLY BACKGROUND OF OUR TELEGRAPH CODES 2015, TPG, Online, <> Accessed 12 August 2015

Munitions Reference and Training Manuals 2015, Munitions Reference and Training Manuals. Online, <> Accessed 12 August 2015

History of the Telegraph in Communications 2015. History of the Telegraph in Communications, ShoreTel, Online, <> Accessed 12 August 2015


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