How We Receive Information–From the Telegraph to the Associated Press

A brief history on the speed of obtaining information beginning with the telegraph and the Associated Press.

History Timeline of the Telegraph


Although the electric telegraph is outdated as a means of communication, if you think about it, its behavior of transmitting electric signals through wires from one place to the next as a method of communicating was phenomenal for its time. The timeline below is a window for those who deserve credit with their ideas and inventions, but it does not pay homage to every individual involved with inventions and extraordinary innovation on the subject of the evolvement of communication methods.

  • 1794 – Claude Chappe invented the non-electric telegraph which was replaced by the electric telegraph.
  • 1809 – Samuel Soemmering invented a crude type of telegraph using wires and gold electrodes in water. The message was read by the amount of gas caused by electrolysis.
  • 1820 – Hans Christian Oersted, a Danish physicist, discovers electric current in a wire will generate a magnetic field that deflects a compass needle.
  • 1825 – William Sturgeon, British inventor, created the idea of the electromagnet.
  • 1828 – Harrison Dyar invented the first telegraph used in the United States. His method generated burned dots and dashes used on paper tape that was chemically treated initiated by electrical sparks.
  • 1830 – Joseph Henry, an American inventor, brought more attention to Sturgeon’s method showing the benefit of the electromagnet for communicating by long distance. He sent electronic currents over a wire measuring a mile which caused an electromagnet to deploy the striking of a bell.
  • 1837 – William Cooke, British physicist, and Charles Wheatstone designed a telegraph under their own patent with the principle of electromagnetism.
  • 1848 – Associated Press is formed.
  • 1900 – Fredrick Creed came up with the Creed Telegraph System in which code could be converted to text.
  • 1913 – Western Union developed a method which would allow eight messages to be sent at once.
  • 1927 – Western Union came up with the first auto facsimile machine.
  • 1959 – TELEX is born.

Samuel Morse


I don’t know how many people are aware of the fact that Samuel Morse was an artist. In the early 1800s, he attended the Royal Academy of Arts in London. After he returned to the states, he opened a studio in Boston. In 1819, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of President James Monroe. In 1823, he opened an art studio in New York City. In 1826, Morse became the founder as well as president of the National Academy of Design. In September of 1837, Morse stepped away from painting to devote his time to the telegraph.

Although Samuel Morse proved signals could be transmitted by wire, it wasn’t until 1843 that he and his associates were funded $30,000 from Congress to aid in constructing a telegraph line from Baltimore to Washington D.C. The experiment wasn’t a success, so they put the wires above ground. The first news to be dispatched to the Capitol was transmitted in 1844. Later, private funds were obtained by Morse to have a line extended to the states of New York and Philadelphia. Telegraph companies were opening in other parts of the country and in 1851, the year Western Union began, the telegraph was the method to dispatch trains. Morse’s original telegraph printed code on tape and a well-trained operator could send up to 50 words per minute.

Once Morse is successful in receiving a patent on his invention of the telegraph, he begins receiving royalties. With the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the telegraph was widely used by both sides involved in the war.

In 1871, a statue of Morse is set on display in New York’s Central Park. Morse relays a message of goodbye to everyone, especially his fan base. He dies the following year.

With the development of the telegraph, instead of news being circulated via the railroad or other means (e.g., Pony Express), it was transmitted instantly between cities. There were other benefits thorugh the use of the telegraph relating to business and financial opportunities, but was to be ultimately replaced by the invention of the telephone. Western Union, however, still operates in sending telegrams and transmitting money orders.

The Associated Press

From old keys …


…to new keys – to achieve the similar end result remains the same.


How many times can we pick up a newspaper or read news on-line and not see the article was from an Associated Press (AP) contributor? The AP has one of the largest digital archives of photographs in the world and this news organization has received more photo Pulitzers than any other organization of the same caliber. It is a not-for-profit news cooperative formed in 1846 by Moses Yale Beachand. In 1848, the AP formed and pooled telegraph traffic of news related stories.

Interestingly, in February 1861, Abraham Lincoln is en route to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. and an AP reporter, Henry Villard, who has a relationship with Lincoln manages to obtain his notes for his inaugural address to communicate same by telegraph.

News and stories relating to the Civil War were communicated by telegraph by AP reporters. In 1866, with the completion of a telegraph cable between Europe and North America, international news is highlighted.

With the inception of the Teletype, AP could take the news in a whole different direction. “Teletype,” was a trade name for a particular brand of printing telegraph, but it became a generic term for printing telegraphs from other manufacturers. The type of technology it used was the principal technology for printing telegraphs. Similar to a telegraph, the Teletype operated over circuits. The sound effects of a Teletype are still used on some radio stations as background noise while the news is being delivered.

AP and its longstanding organization of historical journalism has an history archive on its site for those who are interested, and with modern technology, a reader can find AP news stories on social networking sites.