A Brief History of Telecommunications in the United States
The quest for rapid communications over long distances was first realized with the development of a visual telegraph system in late eighteenth- century France. Designed by the engineer Claude Chappe, the first link was 230 kilometers long and connected Paris with Lille. A series of towers were located on hills in sight of one another. The letters of the alphabet and numerals were represented by movements of wooden arms mounted on top of a tower, and these movements could be seen by telescope at the next tower and transmitted to a succeeding tower by the same means. Initial success quickly led to a network of such towers covering most of France. This early optical telegraph system proved invaluable to France during the Revolution because it permitted the rapid deployment of military forces in response to allied attacks launched from many quarters ( Brown 1970, 12-13). Other countries, noting the military advantage conferred by this optical telegraph system, quickly copied it.
The use of electricity to transmit messages over long distances attracted interest in the eighteenth century, but it was the middle of the nineteenth century before electric telegraph systems began to come into use. Having heard of European research on the use of electricity to communicate over long distances, Samuel Morse became interested in the subject, and he constructed a working model of a telegraph in 1836. Morse applied for a patent on his telegraph device in 1838. At about the same time in Europe, the first electric telegraph systems were being constructed along railway tracks. A working system linked Paddington Station in London with West Drayton, thirteen miles away, by 1839.