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The Telegraph: 'What Hath God Wrought Stop'
By Ayush Prasad

July 13, 2013

(India Post will stop telegraph service from July 15)

“WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT STOP” - with these words American painter called Samuel Morse beeped the first telegraph message from Washington DC to Baltimore on 24th May, 1844. Hence began a revolution in communication between humans. Telegraph was a truly revolutionary invention and introduced four new concepts.

The first was the idea of instant communication over long distances. Until that time in history long distance communication was as fast as the carrier man on a horse or pigeons. But Telegraph made communication almost instantaneous by not relying on physical matter to carry messages and instead used waves. Telegraph was the first form of communication technology to super-impose messages on electo-magnetic waves. It also introduced devices such as transmitter & receiver ; coder & decoder. This concept of super imposing messages on waves has since been widely used in Radio, Television and Mobile Phones.

Secondly, the Telegraph introduced the Morse Code. It was the first machine language code to encrypt human messages and instructions. Such codification was later used to interact with machines such as Computers, Microprocessors and now the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol of the Internet.

Thirdly, Telegraph was the first instance of wiring the surface of the earth with metallic wires on poles. This has later been replicated for telephone wires, electrical transmission network, cable television and now in fiber optics.

Fourth innovation with Telegraph was less to do with technology and more to do with language. Telegraph introduced us to short forms of words. Phrases could be expressed in just a few characters. Phrases like “Oh my God” could simply be written as OMG.

The popularity of Telegraph could be understood by its rapid adoption rate. Within 10 years of its invention, telegraph wires between Calcutta and London had been laid. India Post offered consumers to use Telegraph for personal use from 1850. For 169 years, Telegraph has served mankind in several ways. It helped the British quell the 1857 Mutiny and helped Lincoln get the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution passed enabling equality before law for Black-Americans. Receiving a telegraphic message was a significant occurrence in mundane lives of people. It spoke about birth of a child, a job opportunity and also death. It got with it tears, laughter, excitement and relived worries.

Telegraph used a single line with about few beeps every second. The modern fibre optics carry millions of lines and transmit billions of beeps every second. About ten years ago, I was taught to write Telegraphic messages in a CBSE school. By the time my younger sister, Anusha, came to the same class about 7 years later, she was being taught to write Emails and had taught herself to write BBM, SMS and Watsapp Messages. The end of telegraph has been brought about the advent of mobile phones and Internet. Over 950 million Indians use mobile phones today and hardly anyone uses Telegraph. It has served man kind for 169 years, but then its finally time for it to go to the pages of History and the museum!

I end with a Telegraphic Message:



Ayush Prasad - Archives:

Comments on this article
Tony Crasta, Sydney/MangaloreMonday, July 15, 2013
Sad in a way, as quite a number of jobs have been lost in the process. However, it is gratifying that the telegraphic messages have played vital and significant roles in communicating fast messages of important social and life events like births, weddings and deaths over a century or so.

By the way, the telegraphic communication was discontinued in Australia in the year 1962 and the redundant machinery and equipment were transferred to India under the Colombo Plan - so there is some history as well.
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