History of the Telegraph


View of the interior of the telegraph station established by the government on Plow Garlic Hill, and another called Watson's Tower. Both images show how telegraph stations were manned: operators would watch through a telescope and wait for visual messages from station to station, by utilizing wooden panels painted black and white that could be rotated, indicating certain letters/numbers. Electric models emerged later. The first commercial route, pioneered by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in 1837, connected Euston Station and Camden Town, a distance of 1.1 miles. Their method had a dial and set of wires that would trasmit into a wooden machine that would indicate the correct letters. This was later replaced by the American Samuel Morse's simpler system of code, because less wires were needed. Routes typically ran along established railroads.

Electric telegrams were cost prohibitive for most of the population. In 1860, the cost to send a ten-word telegraph from New York to New Orleans was $2.70 (about $65). The first transatlantic ten-word message cost $100 (about $2600). 

The telegraph was the first commercial use of electricity; electric lighting and electric machinery became commercialized in the 1860s and 70s. It disappeared from regular use in the 1970s. 

"Watson's Telegraph." The Illustrated London News (25 June 1842): 148-49.



Richardson, Alan J.. (2015). The cost of a telegram: the evolution of the international regulation of the telegraph. Accounting History. http://scholar.uwindsor.ca/odettepub/84. Accessed October 29th, 2019.


Associated Place(s)

Artist Unknown

Image Date: 

19th century