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Q: telegraph history ( No Answer,   5 Comments )
Subject: telegraph history
Category: Science > Technology
Asked by: ianj-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 28 Sep 2006 13:15 PDT
Expires: 28 Oct 2006 13:15 PDT
Question ID: 769286
I recall a statistic that a telegraph message from Madrid to Berlin in
the 1850s would have to be deceiphered and re-transmitted around 15
times before reaching its destination. Is there a source for this?

Request for Question Clarification by denco-ga on 28 Sep 2006 19:21 PDT
Howdy ianj-ga,

First, the figures you state would not surprise me, as the messages would pass
through provinces and countries, and so would different laws, jurisdictions, as
well as companies be encountered.  At some points it would not surprise me if
the messages had to be taken by courier to the next station or node.

At this point, I have only located one document that might be a source to the
statistic you mention, but because it appears on a membership website, I can't
verify the information.

"Development of the Anglo-Indian telegraph" by J.M. Adams

Engineering Science and Education Journal
Publication Date: Aug 1997
Volume: 6,  Issue: 4
On page(s): 140-148


Between the end of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and 1870, four Anglo-Indian
telegraph routes were constructed. The first of these, via the Red Sea, was
abandoned in 1861 leaving the British and Indian Governments to honour their
guaranteed annual payments of 4% on the capital invested. The second, via the
Persian Gulf was completed in 1865 but proved difficult to operate without
English speaking telegraphists through the Ottoman Empire. The third, via
Siemens' Russian network and north Persia and employing English operators,
reduced the mean time for telegrams to less than one day but was rapidly in
competition with a submarine cable from Cornwall to Bombay via the
Mediterranean. The author, a grandson of one of the Anglo-Indian telegraphists,
reviews some contemporary records of the telegraph routes."

If you do the following search on Google [retransmitted "twelve to fourteen
times"] you will see the following snippet, which might mean the article is
related to what you recall.

"... many telegraph clerks; that is to say each. one had to be written out by
hand and retransmitted. twelve to fourteen times. And it was assumed that most

If you have good library near you, they might have back issues of Engineering
Science and Education Journal or online access to the above article.

That would be preferable to going through the Institution of Engineering and
Technology (IET) Digital Library service and paying $35.00 to access it.

Obviously, I am not suggesting you pay $35.00 just to possibly find out it is
not the correct reference.

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher

Request for Question Clarification by denco-ga on 28 Sep 2006 22:00 PDT
Apologies ianj-ga, but there were errors in my first clarification request.

If you do the search on Google [retransmitted "twelve to fourteen times"] the
result is this snippet from the above mentioned article entitled "Development
of the Anglo-Indian telegraph."

"... many telegraph clerks; that is to say each. one had to be written out by
hand and retransmitted. twelve to fourteen times. And it was assumed that most

Here is the link to the IET Digital Library in proper format.

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: telegraph history
From: kemlo-ga on 28 Sep 2006 16:10 PDT
Only if it went the longer or reverse way around the world
Subject: Re: telegraph history
From: iang-ga on 29 Sep 2006 01:12 PDT
There's some interesting insight into the state of telegraphy at the
time at this site - .
Nothing specific though :-(

Ian G.
Subject: Re: telegraph history
From: myoarin-ga on 29 Sep 2006 03:13 PDT
I agree with Denco.
Although transatlantic cables were being laid by 1850, a telegraph
from Berlin to Madrid would have to pass through Spain, France and
Germany, but remember that at that time Germany was still a bunch of
un-unified kingdoms and principalities, and Prussia did not have any
holdings (I believe) further south, as it did in the late 1860s.  A
cable would probably have gone from Berlin to Hannover, then maybe to
Kassel, Frankfurt, ... maybe Basel as the larger city in the SW,
probably to and from Paris, since France had always preferred to
establish communication routes as spokes from the capital.
Subject: Re: telegraph history
From: kemlo-ga on 29 Sep 2006 09:58 PDT
To Myo
The first transatlantic cable wasn't attempted till 1857,   It was a failure.

The First successful cable wasn't laid until the 27 July 1866

To Denco

By the 1850s there was telegraphs lines all across Europe
There was also International agreements on accepting and retransmitting 
telegrams in the senders choice of language

Although Edward Davy  invented the automatic repeater in 1837 it was 
another twenty years before it saw widespread use
Subject: Re: telegraph history
From: denco-ga on 29 Sep 2006 11:45 PDT
Howdy Kemlo,

Yet, there is the referenced paper and this footnote as well.

"Messages had to be retransmitted at every node so that delivery times could
be days or longer depending on the status of the network."

Although I suspect the statistic that ianj-ga references might have been for
a longer range than Madrid to Berlin, I think you are being a bit optimistic
on the state of the telegraphic art in Europe in 1850s.

Optical telegraphs were still in use in Europe as late as 1866.  Electrical
telegraphs were put in place in France in 1846, but optical telegraphs still
competed with them for several years.  Germany had electrical telegraphs in
1848 and Spain wasn't up to speed until 1852 or so.

Granted, there was the Austro-German Telegraph Union with Austria, Prussia,
Bavaria and Saxony in 1850, but the West European Telegraph Union wasn't
formed until 1855 with Belgium, France, Sardinia, Spain and Switzerland.

Even though the above two groups generally cooperated with each other, the
International Telegraph Union (ITU) wasn't considered until 1865.

I find it hard to believe that these countries had such a seamless interface
that there were not (many) multiple telegraphic receptions and retransmissions
of messages even between Madrid and Berlin, at least in the early 1850s.

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher

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