History of Telecommunication - From Fire Beacons to the Internet

Telecommunication may sound like a modern word, but really telecommunication is just communication over a distance using some sort of transmission. In early times commication over a long distance involved methods such as: smoke signals, drums, fire beacons and other methods.

In the middle ages, communication was passed through beacons on the hilltops, like relaying a signal. Beacon fires presented a problem and that was that it could only send one piece of information such as "the enemy has been sighted" or something similar.

Early Telecommunications

In 1792, Claude Chappe, a French engineer, build the first visual telegraphy system between Paris and Lille. Later this was followed by a line from Strasbourg to Paris. In 1794, Abraham Edelcrantz a Swedish engineer, built a different kind of system from Stockholm to Drottningholm. This system relied upon shutters and was considerably faster. However, the problem with this communication system was the need for skilled operators and expensive towers, and by 1880 the last commercial line was abandoned.

Telegraph and Telephone

Telecommunication proceeded in leaps and bounds from this point on. In 1839, the first commercial electrical telegraph was constructed in England by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone. This electrical telegraph used the deflection of needles to represent messages and began operation over twenty-one kilometres of the Great Western Railway on the 9th of April, 1839.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Samuel Morse independantly developed a version of the electrical telegraph that he attempted to demonstrate on the 2nd of September 1837. He was joined by Alfref Vail shortly after and in 1838 it was successfully demonstrated over 5 kilometres, and a few years later in 1844 it covered a distance of 64 kilometres. By 1851, telegraph lines spanned over 32,000 kilometres.

In 1866, the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was completed allowing telecommunication across the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time. The international use of the telegraph has sometimes been named the "Victorian Internet".

The conventional telephone was invented by Alexander Bell in 1876 and in 1878 and 1879 commercial telephone systems were setup on both sides of the Atlantic in the cities of London and New Haven. From here on the technology grew quickly with inter-city lines being built and telephone exchanges existed in every major city of the United States by mid-1880s.

Radio and Television

James Lindsay, in 1832, gave a classroom demonstration of wireless telegraphy to his students. In 1854 he was able to demonstrate a distance of 3km, using water as the transmission medium.


It wasn't till 1900 that REginald Fessenden was able to wirelessly transmit a human voice. In December 1901, Guglielmo Marconi established wireless communication between Britain and Newfoundland, which earned him the noble prize in physics in 1909 (which he shared with Karl Braun).

In 1925, Scottish Inventor John Logie Baird publicly demonstrated the transmission of silhouette pictures at the Lond department store of Selfridges. In October that same year, Baird was successful in moving pictures with halftone shades, which were by most accounts the first true television pictures.

Computer Networks and the Internet

George Stibitz in 1940, September 11, was able to transmit problems using teletype to his Complex Number Calculator in New York and recieve computed results back in New Hampshire. However, it was't until the 1960s that researches started investigating packet switching, a technology that would allow data to be sent to different computers without first passing through a centralized mainframe.

In 1983, the internet was invented. The Internet revolutionised all communication methods and in today's society is probably being used as the number one method of communication. Emails can be sent across the world in a click of a button, people can communicate across instant messenges (such as MSN) or talk instantly across the world using programs such as Skype. Facebook and Myspace had also revolutionised the way that people communicate today.

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