The application of the natural phenomenon we call electricity to the processes of human communication involves a line of electrical experimenters stretching back to Queen Elizabeth I’s physician William Gilbert. The first Englishman to write, in De Magnete, a book based on direct observation, Gilbert coined the phrase vis electrica to describe the property, noticed in antiquity, possessed by amber (ελεκτρον) and some other substances which, when rubbed, attracted light materials such as feathers.
Further experimentation by the superintendent of the gardens of the King of France in 1733 revealed what Franklin was to call positive and negative charges. In 1745 Musschenbroek built the first device to produce an electric field, the Leyden Jar. His friend, Cunaeus, got a serious electric shock from it. The jar prompted the beginnings of a discussion as to the nature of the phenomenon and a parade of electricians, many of whose names are now immortalised in equipment or units of measure, elaborated, into the early nineteenth century, both the theory of and the laboratory apparatus for creating electrical phenomena.
There is another, even older strand of observation also involved in the ground of scientific competence leading to electrical communications systems. Robert Hooke, the experimental physicist, wrote in 1665:
I can assure the reader that I have, by the help of a distended wire, propagated the sound a very considerable distance in an instant, or with seemingly as quick a motion as that of light, at least incomparably quicker than that which at the same time was propagated through air; and this was not only in a straight line or direct, but in one bended in many angles.