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Telegraph and its Impact on Social Interaction
Phakaphol (Bom) Chinburi
Rhode Island School of Design

Telegraph and its Impact on Social Interaction

Competition was fierce, and not only from the many companies using the electromagnetic technology and the Morse code. In the early years, optical telegraphs were a competing technology. Though visual sighting is a form of instantaneous communication over long distances that has been around as long as there have been human societies, the messages transmitted were severely limited. Smoke could signal trouble with an invading enemy, but little more. In France in 1791, Claude Chappe developed an optical device for signaling over distances and named it the telegraph from the Greek for "far writer." A noted clockmaker devised a system of pulleys and rotating arms that enabled the operator to position the large viewable arms.
Napoleon Bonaparte, who came to power in 1799, ordered an extensive network of optical telegraphs built. Chappe evidently had enormous plans for a network of telegraphs across Europe. By the 1830s, lines of optical telegraph towers stretched across much of Western Europe. At this time, Morse failed to garner interest in continental Europe in his electromagnetic telegraph and code due in part to the dominance of the optical telegraph. In 1837, Congress was asked to fund cross-country optical telegraph lines between New York and New Orleans, but it refused to do so. The optical telegraphs required skilled operators and were expensive to build. The Chappe system was even adapted for use at night by the use of torches or lanterns on the movable arms. The development of the optical telegraph occurred alongside the attempts to harness electrical current as a means of sending messages.
There were considerable gains from network externalities in the use of the telegraph. As more…...

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