The history from sending telegrams to email traces back to great inventions of scientists Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, and Tim Berners-Lee. In recent times, the powerful email allows instant communication with anyone, anywhere, a big leap from snail mail letters and phone calls. Importantly, this communication breakthrough is a hallmark of the Information Technology Revolution that began in the 1980s.
Telegraphy has a long history, starting with the use of smoke signals and semaphore, a flag language that allowed messages to be relayed between towers about 20 miles or 32 kilometres apart.
The Electric Telegraph
The invention of the electric telegraph by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in Great Britain was an offshoot in the development of electromagnetism. Another version was presented by the American physicist Samuel Morse with his assistant Alfred Vail – inventors of the Morse code – a system of short and long electrical pulses representing letters. A message in words was translated into a string of dots and dashes, sent down a cable, and translated back into words at the other end. The result was a telegram, also known as cable or wire.
Morse sent a famous telegram from the Capitol in Washington to Vail in Baltimore on May 24, 1844, reading “What hath God wrought?”
Over the next 20 years, the telegraph spread throughout the US. By 1853, the telegraph wires stretched through the UK and transatlantic cables were laid in 1858. England and India connected in 1870, with Australia linked in 1872. By 1902, a telegraph line across the Pacific made telegraphy global.
During the last years of the 20th century, the telegraph services closed down in favour of facsimile (fax) technology, and eventually the Internet and email in the late 1980s to early 1990s. The telegram still exists, only as a novelty.
Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell, who immigrated to Canada and did scientific research in Ontario and the United States, had always been interested in speech. He wanted to invent an instrument that would turn sound vibrations into electrical impulses and back again.
On March 10, 1876, Bell was experimenting with a transmitter in one room of his Boston laboratory as his co-worker Thomas Watson worked on the receiver next door. When Bell called out, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” and Watson heard him, Bell’s request became the first words ever transmitted by telephone. As a matter of information, the first telephones lacked a dial. It had a separate mouthpiece and earpiece. Users had to ring a switchboard operator to ask for the call to be connected.
The First Cell Phones
The first mobile phone handsets were introduced in the 1980s. They calls beamed to antennae on a nearby phone tower linked to ordinary phone lines. Each provided calls to one “cell” and referred to as phones. From the 20th century technology, tinier and cheaper computer chips led to the digital mobile phones.
Today, many things can be done with mobile phones than just make calls. Nobody knows what technology will come up next. The phones can now take pictures, play music, and more, as well as provide access to the Internet and email.
The Internet and Email
What is known as the Internet started as a network of research computers set up in 1963 by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency. Improvements in data transfer in the 1980s led to the Internet of today. Tim Berners-Lee is credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web (WWW).
The Internet connects millions of local networks together through a backbone systems plugged into smaller networks, in turn, attached to individual computers. It is the superhighway on which the Information Technology Revolution breathes and speeds. The computer-based information systems developed over the past 3 decades, along with their software applications and computer hardware, have transformed the world and how people live. Communication has gone a long stretch from sending telegrams to instant email.