Telegraphy for a new era

Telegraph, drawing by LM Ericsson, 1874
Telegraph, drawing by LM Ericsson, 1874

Although the first telegraph sets based on Morse’s system were imported to Sweden, Anton Henric Öller founded a special workshop in Stockholm in 1857 for telegraph materials. Lars Magnus Ericsson gained valuable experience in Öller’s shop, and when he subsequently opened his own business, telegraph sets were an important product.

Telegraphy was originally performed manually, but in the 1870s the Wheatstone system was introduced, which used fast, machine-driven equipment with punched tapes on which the holes represented Morse characters. The next step was a refinement introduced by the Scotsman Creed that allowed the received text to be produced at type characters, meaning a printed text on a paper strip.

By 1895, the Italian Guglielmo Marconi had demonstrated wireless telegraphy over a distance of 2.4 kilometers. Instead of using a metal wire, he used electromagnetic waves. Marconi then moved to London, where he continued to develop his telegraph technology. In 1899, he sent wireless signals in Morse code over the English Channel, and two years later, he sent signals across the Atlantic. At about the same time as Marconi, the Russian Popov succeeded in constructing an apparatus for wireless telegraphy.

In Sweden, radio telegraphy was first tested for communication between land and sea, but it was eventually found that radio telegraphy could easily compete with wire telegraphy. One long-distance radio link after the other was established. London had been the center for international cable telegraphy, but New York became the focus for radio telegraphy. Countries on the European side of the Atlantic could now establish their own radio links with America. Sweden opened its first direct radio telegraphy link with the US in 1923.

Around 1930, a major change occurred in telegraph technology. The old system with the Morse alphabet and the Wheatstone-Creed printing system was replaced by what were called printing telegraphs. A new type of telegraph was introduced that resembled an ordinary typewriter. The new devices were based on a new telegraph alphabet called the five-unit alphabet. The printing telegraphs were called teleprinters or teletype machines, and anyone who could type was able to use them without special telegraphy training. These devices made it possible to construct special networks of telegraph links in which several subscribers could be connected as in a telephone network. The new service was called Telex.

In the 1970s, work was conducted at Ellemtel on a program-controlled telex system with the same control computer as in the AXE telephone system. The result was a new completely electronic and processor-controlled system that was designated AZ. In 1985, Televerket,  the Swedish PTT, introduced a new, completely electronic telex terminal with word processing and storage functions.

The classic telegraph had virtually disappeared. With telex, printing telegraphs were moved out to customers. Around 1980, use of the telefax began to increase rapidly around the world. The telefax was easy to use and readily available over the global telephone network. The telegram as a concept was retained in data communications, electronic mail and the Internet, although it took on new forms.

Author: K V Tahvanainen

Radio set, Radiola with Marconi, advert, 1934

Advertisement for Radiola radios, made by SRA, Svenska Radioaktiebolaget (ERA, Ericsson Radio Systems). The Marconi company was the minority shareholder in SRA and this ad used its founders reputation as the father of wireless communication.

Mobile phone, T18, chatboard, 1990s

Mobile phone, T18, chatboard, 1990s

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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