The Mechanical Telegraph – a French Invention

Claude Chappe’s Optical Telegraph
(Museée des Arts et Metiers)

On May 23, 1813, the first (modern) optical telegraph line following the mechanical telegraphy system of the French inventor Claude Chappe between Metz and Mainz was established. No, this wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was the first to connect the former already in France established telegraphy system with a (now) German city.

Long before the days of Morse Code or the telephone, the only way to send messages quickly was to use a mechanical telegraph system. These comprised a set of interconnected mechanical levers that were placed high up on a tower. These levers could be positioned in a number of ways with each combination either representing a letter or a code that could be looked up within a code book to reveal a more complex message. Shown here is a model of the Claude Chappe Mechanical Telegraph of 1792. The French created a national network based upon this system that covered a distance of 2,983 miles using 556 telegraph stations. Messages could be sent from Paris to Lille in 2 minutes and from Paris to Calais in less than 5 minutes.

At yovisto, you might start your investigation on the history of telecommunications with a short presentation of Prof. Nigel Linge from University of Salford about Claude Chappe`s optical telegraph.

For the German speaking audience, you might watch the introductory lecture on the history of telecommunications, die Einführungsvorlesung “Der Computer als universales Kommunikationsmedium” aus der Vorlesungsreihe “Informatik der digitalen Medien”.

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