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The Development of Communications

Micheal Faraday's experiments with electromagnetism in the 1830's led other scientists to research the possibility of using electricity in the field of communications.

In 1837, Sir Charles Wheatstone, a British scientist, invented the first electric telegraph. This was a method of sending messages through wires to a remote receiver. Wheatstone's invention made use of five needles which turned and pointed to letters of the alphabet. The idea of the telegraph was soon further developed by an American called Samuel Morse. In 1838, Morse invented a code system using dots and dashes to represent letters. The letter S, for example, was transmitted as · · · and the letter O as - - - . These codes were transmitted directly over telegraph lines. Morse's system was soon in popular use and his code became known as Morse Code.

A morse code transmitter

Telegraphy rapidly expanded across the world. By 1851, a cable had been laid under the Channel which connected Britain to Europe. By 1858, a cable had been laid across the Atlantic, with the help of I. K. Brunel's ship, the Great Eastern.

For the next forty years, the telegraph was improved and refined with further innovations. However, by 1876, other inventions were appearing which were destined to eclipse the world of telegraphy. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, a Briton living in America, developed the telephone. His invention arose from his experiments with sound, which he had originally started with the aim of helping the deaf to communicate. Having patented the first working telephone in 1876, Bell then created the company which still bears his name, the Bell Telephone Company.

By 1884, Bell had installed the first long distance telephone lines. He used copper wire instead of iron wire since he found copper could transmit signals over longer distances. Surprisingly, it was not until 1956 that the first successful trans-Atlantic telephone line was operational.

It was yet another experiment with electricity which led to a discovery which revolutionized communications. In 1887, a German, called Heinrich Hertz, was the first to prove the existence of the electromagnetic waves called radio waves. In his experiments, Hertz was able to show that electricity flowing in one circuit could produce electricity in a second circuit which was unconnected to the first. An Italian, Guiglielmo Marconi, was convinced that Hertz's work could lead to messages being sent over long distances without the use of cables. Marconi researched his idea and was soon transmitting "wireless" signals.

Marconi's discoveries formed the basis of wireless telegraphy. For the first time, messages could be sent, using Morse Code, over long distances. By 1897, Marconi had moved to Britain and had taken out a patent on his invention. By now he was able to transmit over a distance of 19 kilometres and, in 1901, he demonstrated the first trans-Atlantic signal using Morse Code and Wireless Telegraphy.

An old advert for the wireless

Wireless telegraphy was enthusiastically taken up by the shipping industry. For the first time it could now receive regular transmissions from its ships at sea. Ships could transmit and receive messages regarding business matter and, perhaps more importantly, they could communicate in the event of an accident. In one of the first trans-Atlantic shipping tragedies, the sinking of the liner the Titanic in 1912, distress signals were picked up by radio operators on other ships which were then able to go to the rescue.

It was in 1906 that Marconi achieved his final goal. He transmitted the first human voice over the airwaves using radio transmissions. By 1920, his company, The Marconi Corporation, began transmitting the first British radio programmes. His station was known as 2LO, (early radio stations were given code names). In 1922, 2LO became the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). By 1927, the BBC was transmitting regularly to a British audience.

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Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.