Friday, March 2, 2012

Before there was texting…

On this day in 1791, fast, long distance communication was ushered in with the deployment in Paris of the optical telegraph invented by Frenchman Claude Chappe.  Prior to that, a message sent from Paris to Antwerp via messenger would take about a week.  Even with horses the trip would still take several days.  With the advent of the optical telegraph, the communication time was cut down to under an hour.  Very handy when you’re in the midst of a revolution.

The optical telegraph consisted of a chain of towers placed as much as 15 miles apart depending on terrain.  On top of the towers were placed a wooden semaphore and two telescopes.  The semaphore was wooden and had two signaling arms that could be deployed in 7 positions and the post itself could be turned to four resulting in 196 possible positions, each one signaling a code that could be a word, a number or part of a sentence.  The telescopes were used to view the other towers in the chain so the message could be relayed up the line.  Thus short messages could be sent quickly over great distances.

optical telegraph4

In what seems like a step above smoke signals to us, this cutting edge technology revolutionized communications in France in the 1790’s. While other countries quickly starting building networks of their own, a true European network never materialized.

Like all other technologies, the optical telegraph was quickly rendered obsolete.  The advent of electricity made possible the electric telegraph which was private, (no one could see the symbols being transmitted) could be used in bad weather and eventually, made intercontinental communication possible.  And as we all know, the electric telegraph was quickly replaced by twitter and finally facetalk.


     The Historical Inebriant:  The Telegraph

  • 1 1/2 ounces Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Vodka
  • Ginger Ale

In a shaker with ice, combine rum and vodka. Shake well and strain into a highball glass filled almost to the top with ice. Top off with ginger ale and stir gently.

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