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Electrical telegraphy in the United Kingdom | Wikipedia audio article

Electrical telegraphy in the United Kingdom | Wikipedia audio article


Electrical telegraphy in the United Kingdom
led the world in the first half of the nineteenth century. Electrical telegraphy is telegraphy
over conducting wires. It is distinct from the optical telegraphy that preceded it and
the radiotelegraphy that followed it. Francis Ronalds first demonstrated a working telegraph
over a substantial distance in 1816, but was unable to put it into use. William Fothergill
Cooke, starting in 1836, developed the first commercial telegraph put into operation with
the scientific assistance of Charles Wheatstone, the battery invented by John Frederic Daniell,
and the relay invented by Edward Davy. In 1846 the Electric Telegraph Company (the
Electric), the world’s first telegraph company, was formed by Cooke and financier John Lewis
Ricardo. The company initially supplied telegraph systems to railway companies, but soon branched
out into other businesses and slowly built a network that could be used by the general
public. Many competing companies arose; chief amongst them was the Magnetic Telegraph Company
(the Magnetic) formed in 1850. The Magnetic used the telegraph invented by William Thomas
Henley which did not require batteries. The Electric and Magnetic companies soon formed
a cartel to control the market. The London District Telegraph Company (the District),
an offshoot of the Magnetic, provided a cheap telegram service in London with a rooftop
to rooftop network. The United Kingdom Telegraph Company did not launch until 1860 and struggled
to compete with the big two. Most telegraph companies were unprofitable except for the
Electric and Magnetic. Submarine telegraph cables were made possible
by the introduction of gutta-percha in 1843 by Scottish military surgeon William Montgomerie
while stationed in Singapore. Gutta-percha was ideal for making underwater cables in
an age before synthetic plastics. The Submarine Telegraph Company laid the world’s first international
submarine cable in 1851 when they connected England with France. Cable cores were made
by the Gutta Percha Company who had a monopoly on the supply of the material until about
1863. Completed cables were made by wire rope manufacturers who armoured the cables. The
Gutta Percha Company merged with one such wire rope manufacturer, R.S. Newall and Company,
to form the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) in 1864 at the instigation
of John Pender. Pender was the leading entrepreneur responsible for constructing a worldwide telegraph
network. The transatlantic telegraph cable was laid by his Atlantic Telegraph Company
in 1866 after several failures. Many more Pender companies were formed to lay various
cables connecting Britain with its colonies in India and then on to the Far East and Australia.
Once the cables were laid, these disparate companies were merged into the Eastern Telegraph
Company, first established in 1872. The company was absorbed into Cable & Wireless Ltd in
1934. The inland telegraph companies were nationalised
in 1870 and were then run as part of the General Post Office. Companies operating international
submarine cables were left independent. A major mistake made during nationalisation
was that the estimated costs failed to take into account the cost of purchasing railway
company wayleaves, or even that it would be necessary to do so. The final bill far exceeded
the original estimate. The telegraph was never profitable under nationalisation because of
government policies. Prices were held low to make it affordable to as many people as
possible and the telegraph was extended to every post office issuing money orders, whether
or not that office generated enough telegraph business to be profitable. Telegraph usage
increased enormously under the Post Office, but it was never as cheap as the postal service
and growing competition from the telephone started to eat into its market share.
The telegraph was an important resource in both World War I and World War II which somewhat
delayed its decline. Decline was also countered with the introduction of special greetings
telegrams (birthdays etc.) in 1935 which proved highly popular. Even so, by 1970 telegram
usage had fallen to its lowest ever total under nationalisation. Repeated price rises
to control the deficit drove usage down even further. Post Office Telecommunications was
separated from the Post Office as British Telecom in 1981 to enable it to be privatised
(which occurred in 1984). In 1982 British Telecom ended its inland telegram service.
International telegrams could be sent by telephone and were received by ordinary letter post.
Some private wire use of telegraph continued after the end of the telegram service, and
the telex system continued in use by an ever-diminishing group of private users. Most of these succumbed
to alternatives on the internet in the 1990s.==Early development==The first demonstration that an electric telegraph
could be operated over a substantial distance was conducted by Francis Ronalds in his Hammersmith
garden in 1816. Eight miles of iron wire were strung back and forth between wooden frames.
His source of power was high-voltage friction machines. Ronalds offered his system to the
Admiralty, but they were already using an optical telegraph and saw no need for Ronalds’
invention, despite the optical telegraph being frequently unusable due to weather conditions.
It was never put to the test, but it is likely that Ronalds’ system could not be made to
work over very long distances using static electricity generators. Even the relatively
short test system only worked well in dry weather.Nearly all the telegraph systems that
were finally successful used batteries of electrochemical cells as their source of power.
An important development that made this possible was the invention of the Daniell cell in 1836
by John Frederic Daniell. The earlier voltaic pile suffered from falling voltage if used
continuously due to the formation of hydrogen bubbles around the copper electrode which
tended to insulate it. The Daniell cell solved this problem by placing the zinc and copper
electrodes in separate electrolytes with a porous barrier between them. The hydrogen
is consumed by the sulfuric acid electrolyte, oxidizing it to water, before it can reach
the copper electrode in the copper sulphate electrolyte. A later improvement by J. F.
Fuller in 1853 replaced sulfuric acid with zinc sulfate.Another important development
was the relay, invented by surgeon Edward Davy in 1837 and patented in 1838. The relay
allows weak telegraph pulses to be regenerated. The incoming pulse activates an electromagnet
which moves an armature to which are attached electrical contacts which close and complete
a secondary circuit. A local battery provides the current for a new pulse through the contacts
and onwards along the telegraph line. Davy’s relay was the first device to use metallic
make-and-break contacts. The importance of the relay lies in that it allows telegraph
transmissions over long distances that would otherwise require operators at periodic intermediate
stations to read and retransmit the message. Davy began experimenting in telegraphy in
1835, demonstrated his telegraph system in Regent’s Park in 1837 over a mile of copper
wire, and held an exhibition in London, but after his marriage broke down he abandoned
telegraphy and emigrated to Australia. The driving force in establishing the telegraph
as a business in the United Kingdom was William Fothergill Cooke. Cooke initially made a telegraph
with a clockwork detent mechanism operating electromagnets. The first mechanical apparatus
was built in 1836. He pitched the telegraph to various railway companies as a means of
signalling to control trains but without success. Cooke, who was not scientifically trained,
sought advice from Michael Faraday and Charles Wheatstone. Wheatstone recommended using a
needle telegraph system. Cooke had initially been inspired to build a telegraph after seeing
a demonstration of a needle telegraph by Georg Wilhelm Muncke in March 1836, and actually
built a prototype shortly afterwards. He had pursued his mechanical designs instead because
he believed that the needle telegraph would require multiple wires, each driving a separate
needle. After the collaboration with Wheatstone began, only needle telegraphs were pursued.
The Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph developed by the two men and patented in May 1837 could
have various arrangements of needles, but the one that initially became successful used
five needles. They were operated in pairs so that the pair of needles pointed to a letter
of the alphabet marked on a board. Cooke proposed the Cooke and Wheatstone system
to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and a four-needle system was trialled by the London
and Birmingham Railway in July 1837. Both applications were for signalling with rope-hauled
trains and both railways rejected electrical telegraph signalling in favour of steam-driven
whistles. The first success came in 1838 when a five-needle telegraph was installed by the
Great Western Railway from Paddington station to West Drayton. This was the first commercial
telegraph in the world. The cables were originally laid in underground conduit, but the insulation
started to fail. Cooke replaced the instruments with a two-needle system using only the wires
that remained intact. The code for the two-needle system could not be read off a board; it had
to be learned. The profession of telegraph operator had been created for the first time.In
1843 the telegraph line was extended to Slough and Cooke converted the whole line to a one-needle
system. New wires were run suspended uninsulated from poles on ceramic insulators, a system
which Cooke patented, and which rapidly became ubiquitous. This extension was done at Cooke’s
own expense, the railway company was unwilling to finance a system it still considered experimental.
Up to this point, the Great Western had insisted on exclusive use and refused Cooke permission
to open public telegraph offices. Cooke’s new agreement gave the railway free use of
the system in exchange for Cooke’s right to open public offices, for the first time establishing
a public telegraph service. A flat rate of one shilling was charged regardless of message
length, unlike later pricing schemes, but many people paid this just to see the strange
equipment.==Telegraph companies==Development of the telegraph in Britain was
distinctly different from other European countries. In Continental Europe, telegraph development
was for government purposes and controlled as a state monopoly. For instance, the early
telegraph installations by Siemens in Prussia had a distinctly military purpose, and in
France it was years before the public was allowed to use the telegraph at all. In Britain,
between 1846 and 1870, that is, from the formation of the first telegraph company until nationalisation,
the telegraph grew entirely at the instigation of private companies with private capital
and without government support.Between 1846 and 1868 64 telegraph companies were formed.
However, 68% of them failed and only a handful of them grew to any significant size.===Electric Telegraph Company===The Electric Telegraph Company (ETC) was formed
in 1846 by Cooke and financier John Lewis Ricardo, and was the first company formed
for the purpose of providing a telegraph service to the public. It was formed without Wheatstone.
Cooke and Wheatstone had had a serious falling out over who should take credit for the invention.
The matter went to arbitration with Marc Isambard Brunel acting for Cooke and Daniell acting
for Wheatstone. A compromise was reached with them both taking some credit. Wheatstone was
uninterested in commercial enterprises, wishing only to publish scientific results. The ETC
bought out Wheatstone’s patent interest in exchange for royalties. They also acquired
Davy’s relay patent. The ETC bought out other telegraph patents when they could, often not
because they wanted to use them, but as a means of suppressing competition.The company
at first concentrated on business with the railways but struggled to be profitable. On
the other hand, their relationship with the railways gave them a structural advantage
over competitors that started up later. By the time competitors came on the scene the
ETC had agreements with most railways. The wayleaves gave the ETC exclusive use, shutting
out competitors from the most economic way of building a telegraph network.After 1848
other areas of business started to grow in comparison to the railways. Supply of news
to newspapers and stock exchange information to the financial sector were profitable. A
major user from the beginning was the insurer Lloyd’s of London, and they had telegraph
instruments installed directly in their London offices in 1852. General use by the public
was slow to grow because prices were high. The telegram business grew after competition
drove down prices and this led in 1859 to the company relocating their London central
office to bigger premises in Great Bell Alley, Moorgate, the eastern portion of which was
later renamed Telegraph Street after the company. The ETC remained by far the largest telegraph
company until nationalisation in 1870. Cooke retired from the company after nationalisation.
Both he and Wheatstone were knighted for their efforts in telegraphy in, respectively, 1869
and 1868.The ETC was heavily involved in laying submarine telegraph cables to Europe and Ireland.
They operated the first cable ship permanently fitted out for laying cables, CS Monarch.
In 1853 they created the International Telegraph Company to overcome Dutch objections to a
British company laying telegraph cables on their soil. This company was merged back with
the ETC in 1854, the name of the new company becoming the Electric and International Telegraph
Company. Other subsidiaries created which laid submarine cables were the Channel Islands
Telegraph Company (1857) and the Isle of Man Telegraph Company (1859).===Magnetic Telegraph Company===The English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company
(Magnetic Telegraph Company, or just Magnetic for short) was established by John Brett in
1850, initially to connect Britain and Ireland with a submarine telegraph cable. The first
attempt at this failed, as did several other attempts by rival companies. The Magnetic
finally succeeded in 1853, allowing Ireland telegraphic connection for the first time
to Britain and on to mainland Europe. This was the deepest submarine cable laid to date.
The Magnetic was the largest competitor to the ETC, the two of them forming a virtual
duopoly, and in this context the ETC was commonly referred to as the Electric to counterpose
it to the Magnetic. It was not, however, the first competitor. That was the British Electric
Telegraph Company (BETC, later to change its name to the British Telegraph Company to avoid
confusion with the ETC) founded in 1849. The BETC failed because they were founded on the
mistaken assumption that they would be able to obtain railway wayleaves. They wrongly
believed that Parliament would force the railway companies to allow them to have lines. In
the event, they obtained very few wayleaves; the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway was one
of the few exceptions. They were taken over by the Magnetic in 1857 under the new name
of the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company.The Magnetic avoided the pitfalls
encountered by the BETC. From the start, they planned their system based on underground
cables along highways. Not only did the ETC have the railway wayleaves, but the United
Kingdom Telegraph Company had the wayleaves for canals and the BETC had the wayleaves
for overground cables along highways. This asset of the BETC was the attraction for the
Magnetic in its takeover of them. The Magnetic used a telegraph system not covered by the
ETC patents. It used the needle telegraph of William Thomas Henley and George Foster
which did not require batteries. Movement of the machine handles while the operator
was sending a message generated the electricity electromagnetically. This was the meaning
of magnetic in the company name.The Magnetic not only laid the first cable to Ireland,
they also had an exclusive agreement with the Submarine Telegraph Company which controlled
the cables to Europe. For a short period, the Magnetic had control of all international
traffic, shutting out the ETC. In Ireland, the Magnetic acquired most of the railway
wayleaves forcing the ETC to use roads and canals, the exact reverse of the situation
in Great Britain.===London District Telegraph Company===London District Telegraph Company (the District),
formed in 1859 in London, was a company closely associated with the Magnetic. John Watkins
Brett and Charles Kemp Dyer were directors of both companies and E. B. Bright was secretary
of both. Their telegraph operators were trained at the Magnetic’s headquarters in the Strand.
The Magnetic installed the telegraph lines for the District and leased them back to the
District for a peppercorn rent in exchange for the District passing on the Magnetic’s
messages to and from outside London. The business model of the District was to provide cheap
telegrams within London and not install expensive links between cities. Prices were fourpence
for ten words and sixpence for fifteen words. By comparison, a long distance telegram on
the Electric cost four shillings. The area of the District was to be within four miles
of Charing Cross, with possible later expansion to twenty miles. The District avoided the
expense of erecting telegraph poles or burying cables by stringing the wires from building
to building, a technique that could only be used in heavily built-up areas.Rooftop telegraphs
may have been cheap to install, but obtaining the wayleaves could be troublesome. Thousands
of individual permissions had to be sought and some unusual conditions were sometimes
imposed. One householder insisted that the installers enter her property only once (after
wiping their feet) to access the roof. Meals were hoisted up to the workmen on the roof
until they had finished. In all, around seven thousand interviews and negotiations were
conducted, many of them equally troublesome, to erect only 280 miles of wire.The cheap
prices of the District stimulated a much more casual use of the telegraph. In 1862 the company
transmitted a quarter of a million messages.===United Kingdom Telegraph Company===
The UKTC, founded by Thomas Allan, was the last major telegraph company to be formed.
It was registered in 1850, but did not raise sufficient capital to launch until 1860. The
business model was to provide a flat rate of one shilling for twenty words within 100
miles and two shillings beyond 100 miles, thus undercutting the established companies.
The Electric, with the Magnetic’s support, put a great deal of effort into obstructing
the UKTC. They challenged UKTC’s right to use highways in Parliament, and this was not
resolved until Parliament passed an Act in 1862 allowing the UKTC to erect trunk lines
along highways. The Electric used their exclusive agreements with the railways to demand that
they cut down UKTC lines crossing railway property, which for the most part the railway
companies complied. The Electric also petitioned other landowners to exclude the UKTC, and
in some cases UKTC lines were cut illegally. All this activity made it extremely difficult
for the UKTC to establish trunk routes between cities. The UKTC did have one good option;
they had exclusive rights along canals, but they could not reach Scotland or Ireland this
way.The UKTC got their first trunk line up in 1863 connecting London, Birmingham, Manchester,
and Liverpool. In 1864, they completed a second trunk along the route London, Northampton,
Leicester, Sheffield, Barnsley, Wakefield, and Hull. The northern end of this line was
then linked to Manchester and Liverpool, thus connecting the two trunks together at both
ends. Later, the trunk network was extended into Scotland reaching Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In 1865 the network was extended west, reaching Swansea and Plymouth. In 1866, traffic on
the UKTC network was nearly three-quarters of a million messages.The UKTC used the printing
telegraph of David Edward Hughes. This was an early form of teleprinter in which the
message is directly printed without the operator needing to decode it. Transmission was from
a piano-like keyboard marked with the letters of the alphabet. The Electric had tested the
Hughes printing telegraph in 1858 but decided against using it. The operation of the printing
telegraph was mechanical, a spinning wheel with the character types, similar to a modern
daisy wheel printer, was pressed against the paper at the appropriate time. The wheel in
the receiving machine had to be kept in exact synchrony with the sending machine, otherwise
garbage would be printed. The Hughes machine did this by sending synchronisation pulses
down the line. This was a marked improvement on earlier machines which were slow and temperamental.===Universal Private Telegraph Company===The Universal Private Telegraph Company (UPTC)
was established in 1861 for the purpose of providing private telegraph links for companies
and institutions. The telegraph system they used was the ABC telegraph, also known as
Wheatstone’s universal telegraph. This was an instrument patented by Charles Wheatstone
in 1858. It was designed to be used by unskilled operators with no knowledge of telegraph codes.
Letters were marked around a dial with a button for each. The operator pressed the desired
button and then turned a handle which generated pulses of current. The pulses moved a pointer
through successive positions until it reached the button that had been pressed at which
point the current was cut off. A receiving dial indicated the position that had been
reached at both ends of the circuit. Although much slower than other telegraph systems,
it ws possible to reach 25 wpm with practice.The company proved to be highly profitable. It
charged £4 per mile of wire per annum, and had few overheads. Unlike the public companies,
it did not have to staff telegraph offices or employ operators to send and receive messages.==Profitability==
Of the inland public companies, only the ETC and the Magnetic were profitable. The District,
with low prices and a troublesome rooftop system to maintain showed a loss every year
of its existence except 1865. The UKTC had come late to the party and hoped to take business
away from the big two with low prices, but they were handicapped by an inability to obtain
wayleaves on the best routes. The resulting price war ended with them joining the ETC/Magnetic
cartel and agreeing a common price structure, thus destroying their original business model.Competition
from the District and UKTC, together with economies of scale as the network grew, steadily
drove down prices. In 1851 ETC charged ten shillings for a twenty-word inland telegram
over 100 miles. This fell to four shillings in 1855. Further reductions occurred in the
early 1860s with both the ETC and the Magnetic attempting to compete with the UKTC’s flat
one shilling rate. The ETC stopped charging for the address as part of the message, effectively
reducing the cost further. In 1865, the ETC, Magnetic and UKTC fixed a common scale of
charges for all three companies. The flat rate was to be dropped and a twenty-word message
would now cost 1s up to 100 miles, 1/6d up to 200 miles, and 2s up to 300 miles. Local
messages within London and large towns were 6d.The falling prices stimulated more traffic
as the public started to use the telegraph for mundane everyday messages. This in turn
generated a steep increase in profits. Between 1861 and 1866 the combined net profits of
the ETC and Magnetic rose from £99,000 to £178,000. This was not solely due to the
increasing size of the network, the gross income per mile of wire was also increasing.==News service==
The telegraph companies offered a news service which was particularly useful to regional
newspapers who would otherwise have received the information some time after the event.
The ETC had a staff of journalists for news gathering and by 1854 had 120 newspaper customers.
News items included political news from parliament, stock exchange prices, and sports news, especially
horse racing where race results were wanted quickly. Until telegraph offices were opened
directly at the racetrack (Newmarket did not get one until 1860) the results were taken
to the nearest telegraph office by a fast rider. In places where the office was in line
of sight, the results could be signalled to an observer with a telescope at the office,
but only in clear weather.In 1859 the ETC and Magnetic entered into an exclusive agreement
with Reuters for the supply of foreign news. Reuters retained the right to directly supply
shipping and commercial news to private subscribers in the London region. In 1865 the ETC, Magnetic,
and UKTC formed a combined news service. There was now only one source of news by telegraph.
This monopoly irritated the newspapers, some of whom campaigned vigorously against the
telegraph companies. This control of the news became an argument for nationalisation of
the telegraph system.==Submarine cables==
To connect the telegraph to anywhere outside of Britain submarine telegraph cables were
needed. Development of these was held back for want of a good insulator. Rubber was tried,
but was found to degrade in sea water. The solution came with gutta-percha, a natural
latex from certain trees in the Far East. Gutta-percha sets harder than rubber when
exposed to the air, but will become plastic, and hence mouldable, in hot water. On cooling,
gutta-percha hardens again. The material was brought to attention after William Montgomerie,
the head of the medical department in Singapore, sent samples to the Royal Society in 1843.
Montgomerie had in mind using the material to make medical equipment. In the damp conditions
of the tropics rubber deteriorated rapidly. However, Michael Faraday recognised its potential
for underwater cables after testing some samples.Wheatstone had put plans to the House of Commons for
submarine cables as early as 1840. In 1844–5 he tested, probably short lengths, of cable
in Swansea Bay. He tried various insulations, including gutta-percha, but he could not find
a suitable way of applying it to long runs of cable.===Cable manufacturing companies===The Gutta Percha Company was founded in 1845
to exploit the new material. They initially made bottle stoppers, but soon expanded to
a very wide range of products. In 1848, on hearing of the potential use for telegraph
cables, they modified a machine for extruding gutta-percha tubing into one capable of continuously
applying gutta-percha to a copper conductor. Up to 1865, nearly all the cores for submarine
cables in the UK were made by the Gutta Percha Company which had a monopoly on the supply
of gutta-percha. The rival India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company was founded
in 1864 as an offshoot of S. W. Silver and Co. of Silvertown.Some early submarine cables
were laid with just their insulation for protection. These were not very successful, they were
easily damaged and some attempts to lay cables failed because they would not sink. The construction
found to work well was to twist the cable cores together, bind with tarred hemp, wind
tarred cord around the whole group of cores, and then protect the assembled cores with
iron wires twisted around them. The Gutta Percha Company never made completed cables
of this sort. Instead they were sent to another company for completion. These companies were
specialists in the manufacturing of wire rope. The principal companies involved in this early
work were R.S. Newall and Company in Tyne and Wear, Glass, Elliot & Company, and W.
T. Henley in London. In 1864, the Gutta Percha Company merged with Glass, Elliot to form
the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon). This was done at the instigation
of John Pender with Pender as chairman.By 1880, cable production was centred on the
banks of the Thames in East London. The major supplier by far was Telcon, with some work
subcontracted to W. T. Henley at North Woolwich who themselves had become a major manufacturer
of electrical equipment with a 16.5 acre site. Gutta-percha production was near-monopolised
by the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company, by then a subsidiary of Telcon,
at their 15-acre site in Silvertown. The company operated a number of cable ships, of which
the Silvertown was the largest in the world at that time. Siemens also had a cable manufacturing
facility at Woolwich. Exports were a large part of the business, well over £2 million
in 1873, 1% of total British manufactured exports.===Ocean cable companies===The first ocean cable anywhere in the world
was laid across the English Channel. Jacob and John Watkins Brett had been planning such
a cable since 1847. In 1849, the South Eastern Railway Company conducted a trial of two miles
of cable made by the Gutta Percha Company from the ship Princess Clementine anchored
off Folkestone. The ship was able to send telegraph messages directly to London via
a connection to the South Eastern’s overhead telegraph line. After several failed attempts,
the Brett’s company, the Submarine Telegraph Company (STC), succeeded in connecting to
France in 1851. The company went on to lay numerous other cables to European countries.The
Magnetic had a close relationship with the STC. From about 1857 the Magnetic had an agreement
with them that all their submarine cables were to be used only with the landlines of
the Magnetic. The Magnetic also had control of the first cable to Ireland. This control
of international traffic gave them a significant advantage in the domestic market. Both Newall
and Glass, Elliot laid cables as subcontractors to the inland telegraph companies. Newall
was prone to fall out with his customers and was often involved in litigation. The company
slowly moved away from the telegraph cable business. UKTC laid a cable from Newbiggin
to Jutland, Denmark in 1868, and from there extended through to Russia.The British government
took a strong interest in the provision of international telegraph connections. Their
assistance included the provision of Royal Navy ships to assist with cable laying and
monetary guarantees. Two major failures gave them cause for concern; the first transatlantic
telegraph cable in 1858, and the Red Sea to India cable in 1859 laid by the Red Sea & India
Company. Getting a telegraph connection to India had become a priority for the government
after the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and the guarantees provided by the government had caused them
a financial loss. In response, a government committee was formed in 1859 to investigate
the issue. In their final report in 1861, the committee concluded that future failures
of this kind were avoidable now that the technology was better understood. They recommended specifications
for future cable construction, installation, and maintenance. After the Red Sea failure,
the government no longer provided subsidies or guarantees and left it to private companies
to entirely take on the risk of new ventures. A connection to India was achieved in 1864
after the Indian government laid a new cable made by W. T. Henley from Karachi to Fao,
Iraq and thence by overland routes. This route was a shorter distance in ocean than the Red
Sea route and in shallower water, but still 1,450 miles. This was the first really long
submarine cable to be a permanent success. Pender’s motivation in creating Telcon from
the merger of Glass, Elliot and the Gutta Percha companies was to create a company that
could make and maintain the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable for the Atlantic
Telegraph Company, formed in 1856. With great difficulty, this was achieved in 1866. The
transatlantic connection was the last major link in an international network. London could
now communicate with almost any other telegraph office in the world. In 1862, a new submarine
cable had been laid from Queenstown in southern Ireland to St David’s Head in Wales. When
this was connected to the transatlantic landing point at Valentia Bay (opposite Valentia Island)
it dramatically reduced the distance transatlantic messages had to travel from Ireland to London
from 750 miles to 285 milesThe success of the transatlantic cable triggered the formation
of a multiplicity of new companies to lay more submarine cables around the world. Most
of these companies were founded by Pender. Pender’s first project was to lay a new cable
to India that went most of the distance in international waters where it would remain
in British control and avoid the political and other risks of an overland route. Telcon
manufactured the cable and converted the SS Great Eastern into a cable ship to lay it.
To limit the risk, Pender founded three companies, each tasked with laying one section of the
cable. The Anglo-Mediterranean Company (founded 1868) laid a cable from Malta to Alexandria
in Egypt. From there a short overland cable via Cairo connected to Suez. The Falmouth,
Gibraltar and Malta Telegraph Company (founded 1869) connected Malta, to Porthcurno, Cornwall
with landings at Gibraltar and Carcavelos, Portugal. Falmouth was originally intended
as the landing site in England, but in the event, the tiny village of Porthcurno became
the largest submarine cable station in the world after numerous other cables were landed
there. The final link was provided by the British-Indian Submarine Company (founded
1869) from Suez via Aden to Bombay in 1870. Once the connection was complete, all three
companies were merged as the Eastern Telegraph Company in 1872. James Anderson, the captain
of the Great Eastern was made managing director.A cable going east from India was laid by the
British-Indian Submarine Extension Company in 1871. This ran from Madras, which was connected
overland to Bombay, to Singapore via Penang and Malacca. This met a cable in Singapore
laid by the China Submarine Telegraph Company (founded 1869) running to Hong Kong. The British-Australian
Telegraph Company (founded 1870) then connected Hong Kong to Port Darwin, Australia via Java.
This was the end point of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line, running 2,000 miles to Port
Augusta in South Australia. The three companies were merged as the Eastern Extension, Australasia
and China Telegraph Company in 1873. This company connected Australia to New Zealand
in 1876. Other Pender companies included the Western and Brazilian Telegraph Company (1873),
the Brazilian Submarine Telegraph Company (1873), Marseilles, Algiers and Malta Telegraph
Company (1870), Eastern & South African Telegraph Company (1879), and the African Direct Telegraph
Company (1885). All these companies were merged into the Eastern Telegraph Company, which
became the Eastern and Associated Cable Company and the largest multinational of the 19th
century. The development of the undersea telegraph
cable network began in the late nineteenth century. In October 1902 a worldwide network
of cables and relay stations – including some 100,000 miles of undersea cables – was
inaugurated. This was called the “All-Red Line” and carried long distance telecommunications
to all parts of the British Empire. It was so called because at that time British territories
and colonies were usually coloured red or pink.In 1928 the British submarine cables
still dominated world telecommunications, but they were increasingly under threat from
radiotelegraphy. A particular concern was RCA in the US, but they were also losing business
due to the Imperial Wireless Chain set up by the British government to connect the empire
together. The transmitters for the Imperial Chain were supplied by the Marconi Wireless
Telegraph Company which was also a competitor outside the Empire. The Electra House Group,
an informal alliance of British telecommunication companies, decided that they could best compete
worldwide by merging the cable and radio companies into a single entity. Thus, the Eastern Telegraph
Company and the Marconi Wireless Company were merged into Imperial and International Communications
Ltd, which in 1934 changed its name to Cable & Wireless Ltd. The Porthcurno station stayed
open for exactly one hundred years, closing in 1970 when the last cable was taken out
of service. Submarine coaxial cables with repeaters had been in use for some time which
carried multiple telephone channels by frequency division multiplexing. There was no real need
for distinct telegraph cables any more. Telegraph was declining and multiple telegraph channels
could be multiplexed into a single telephone channel since the 1920s. The building is now
the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and historic archive of Cable & Wireless.===Maintenance and technical problems===
Maintenance costs of submarine cables were high. They were frequently damaged by ships’
anchors and the insulation deteriorated over time. They were most at risk in shallow water
near the coast, but very deep water was also avoided because it was difficult to retrieve
cables for repair. In 1868, the expected life of a cable was fifteen years, and most laid
to that date had not even lasted that long. A similar problem of deteriorating insulation
plagued inland buried cables, the Magnetic suffering the most from this. A recurring problem on buried cables, and
most especially submarine cables, was the phenomenon of dispersion, which produces the
effect called retardation. Dispersion, as it relates to transmission lines, is different
frequency components of a signal travelling along a line at different speeds. Frequency
analysis of this sort was not understood by early telegraph engineers. The effect of dispersion
on a telegraph pulse is to spread it out in time. This is because a rectangular pulse
(as used in telegraphy) has multiple frequency components. At the receiving end it appears
as if part of the pulse has been retarded, hence the term. The problem this causes for
telegraphy is that adjacent pulses smear into each other, and if severe enough the message
cannot be read. It forces the operator to slow the speed of sending so that there is
again separation between the pulses. The problem was so bad on the first transatlantic cable
in 1858 that transmission speeds were in minutes per word rather than words per minute. Thinking
he could solve the problem by using a higher voltage, telegraph engineer Wildman Whitehouse
only succeeded in permanently damaging the cable making it unusable.Retardation is worse
in insulated cables because the electromagnetic wave is travelling mostly in the insulation
material. Uninsulated wires on overhead poles, the most common system on overland routes,
are little effected, even over large distances. This solution is not open to submarine cables
and the very long distances maximise the problem. The problem of retardation was not fully solved
until the introduction of long-distance telephony made it essential to do so. However, various
mitigating actions were taken. The Magnetic, who operated a large number of buried cables,
had an instrument which sent a delayed pulse of opposite polarity to the main pulse, cancelling
the worst of the retarded signal. The mirror galvanometer of Lord Kelvin made it easier
to read weak signals, and larger cables with thicker insulation had less retardation.In
1854, Kelvin produced a mathematical description of retardation by analogy with heat flow after
the fiasco with first the transatlantic cable. In 1881, Oliver Heaviside gave the full analysis
of transmission lines which showed how the problem arose and in 1887 suggested how it
could be resolved. Heaviside believed that adding the right amount of inductance to the
line would completely remove the dispersion effect. He tried to persuade the General Post
Office to take up the idea, but he was a maverick outsider and was ignored. It was left to George
Ashley Campbell in the US to implement the idea when he added loading coils to a telephone
line for the first time in 1900.==Employment of women==
The telegraph companies began employing women as telegraph operators early on. The Magnetic
was one of the first to do so and the ETC started employing them from 1855. It was a
popular, keenly sought job with unmarried women, who had few other good options. It
was a well paid job in nice surroundings. The ETC paid between 10s and 30s per week
and the Magnetic paid a starting rate of 10s. The District also heavily employed women when
it started up in 1859. New recruits were unpaid until they completed training (typically six
weeks) at the end of which they were expected to achieve a minimum transmission speed (10
wpm at the Magnetic and 8 wpm at the ETC). Failure to achieve this minimum speed resulted
in dismissal.These wages compared very well with other common occupations for women. A
seamstress working at home, for instance, earned about 3d day. The pay was still less
than a male operator could expect. Holding down pay and the fact that women were not
organised into unions were the primary reasons the companies preferred to employ them. Adolescent
boys were also employed, but only men ever worked the night shifts.==Public take up==
The ability of the telegraph was first brought to the attention of a wider public on 6 August
1844 when the birth of Alfred Ernest Albert to Queen Victoria was reported in The Times
only 40 minutes after it was announced. A second event was even more sensational when
John Tawell murdered a woman in Salt Hill and tried to escape by train. His description
was telegraphed to Paddington and he was arrested shortly after arriving. The event was widely
reported in the newspapers.The 1851 channel cable caused a major boost in the reputation
of the telegraph. Prices in Paris could be relayed to the London Stock Exchange the same
day during opening hours. This was an unprecedented ability in international communications. Likewise,
news stories in France could be reported promptly to London newspapers. Also in 1851, the Great
Exhibition featured many telegraph instruments which greatly enhanced the public awareness
of the telegraph.The biggest driver of public take up was the fall in prices; firstly, through
competition under the companies, especially competition with the District, and later price
control under nationalisation.==Nationalisation==
An early advocate of nationalisation was Thomas Allan in 1854. Allan believed that a flat
rate of one shilling for 20 words regardless of distance would encourage wider use of the
telegraph, which in turn would lead to more intensive usage of lines and the economic
case for building new lines. This could only come about, according to Allan, if the Post
Office ran the network as a unified whole, comparing his proposal to the effect of the
introduction of the Penny Post. Allan later tried to bring about cheaper telegrams through
private enterprise by founding the UKTC. A more surprising, and more influential, advocate
was John Ricardo, free trade campaigning Member of Parliament, railway entrepreneur, banker,
and cofounder of the ETC. In 1861 he wrote a memorandum to William Gladstone, then Chancellor
of the Exchequer and future Prime Minister, setting out the case for nationalisation.
Ricardo’s argument was that the telegraph was an important government tool for diplomatic,
military, and administrative purposes. He pointed out that in all European countries
state control had been in place from the beginning.The first sign of government disquiet came in
1862 when the Act enabling the UKTC was passed. Provisions were made to prevent the UKTC selling
assets to other companies without permission. This was to discourage the UKTC from joining
the emerging cartel in the telegraph industry. A further cause for concern came in 1865 when
the companies, including the UKTC, set common tariffs and dropped the one shilling/20-word
flat rate. In 1863, a Telegraph Act gave the Board of Trade the power to regulate the telegraph
companies on the same basis as other utilities. In 1865, Lord Stanley the Postmaster General,
came out in favour of nationalisation with Frank Ives Scudamore leading the campaign.
Scudamore pointed out that telegraph offices were often located inconveniently at railway
stations outside town, some towns were not served at all, and some had multiple offices
from rival companies next to each other. State control in continental countries, according
to Scudamore, ensured a more rational and convenient distribution of offices and cheaper
rates led to greater telegraph use. His opponents pointed to the United States where rates where
also cheaper, but with a great profusion of private companies. Many newspapers campaigned
for nationalisation. They were generally dissatisfied with the news service they got from the companies,
and they especially resented not being able to choose their own news provider. They wanted
the telegraph merely to deliver the product from their chosen supplier.===Telegraph Act 1868===
By 1866 it was clear that the government intended to nationalise the inland telegraph. This
had the effect of inhibiting growth of the network. In fact, in that year growth temporarily
went backwards due to a great snowstorm in January. Every above ground line within a
50-mile radius of London was damaged and the rooftop system of the District was put entirely
out of action. Across the country, the Electric had 450 miles of line damaged. In May, the
Panic of 1866 put a further brake on growth. The financial turmoil and the resultant change
of government caused a delay, but did not change the policy. In the following year,
much parliamentary time was taken up with the Reform Bill and Scudamore’s Bill did not
come before parliament until 1868. The Bill did not mandate nationalisation or give the
Post Office a legal monopoly. It merely gave the Post Office the right to set up telegraph
services on the same basis as private companies and the ability to purchase private companies
or their assets through normal commercial negotiation.The resulting opposition from
the telegraph companies had been expected. What had not been expected was that the railway
companies were going to be a problem. Scudamore had made no allowance in costing the scheme
for purchasing railway wayleaves. The railway companies started to vociferously oppose the
Telegraph Bill. Many railway telegraph systems were run by the telegraph company that had
the wayleave. If the Post Office were to take over the telegraph company, the railway company
would, or so they claimed, have the additional expense of running their own telegraph. This
difficulty came as a great surprise to the new Chancellor, George Ward Hunt. The problem
for the Post Office was that they could not take over on the same terms as private companies,
effectively becoming servants of the railway companies. They wanted the lines, but not
the terms that came with them.The government was determined to reach a decision quickly
so that future planning was not left in limbo, and rising company share prices meant that
delay would likely add to the costs. In June, the companies started to negotiate, fearing
that if they did not, a disadvantageous arrangement would be imposed on them. A select committee
under Hunt reached deals with the telegraph companies based on the last twenty years net
profits, and compensation for the railway companies. By July, opposition had largely
disappeared. It was not originally planned to nationalise the UPTC because they had no
lines for general public use; all its lines were private wires in which the Post Office
had no interest. However, the UPTC complained that the planned Post Office uniform rate
would so damage their business that they would become unprofitable. This persuaded Hunt that
private wires should be nationalised as well. Another problem area was the cables to continental
Europe. The Magnetic was obliged to send all continental traffic through STC’s cables.
The ETC was obliged to use Reuter’s Nordeney cable. It would be impossible for a unified
nationalised organisation to simultaneously meet both contractual obligations. The solution
arrived at, in a great hurry and afterwards admitted to be not ideal, was to purchase
Reuter’s cables and lease them back to the STC, together with other continental cables
acquired by the Post Office. Reuters and STC were to remain un-nationalised. The Bill was
passed into law as the Telegraph Act 1868, to take effect July 1869.The government did
not immediately authorise expenditure under the Act. They had become concerned that entrepreneurs
who had been bought out would set up in business again undercutting the Post Office flat rate
of one shilling in lucrative city areas (6d had been charged in London by the District)
with no obligation to serve unremunerative outlying areas. Consequently, nationalisation
was delayed until The Telegraph Act of 1869 was passed. This amended the 1868 Act to create
a Post Office monopoly, with the actual transfer taking effect on 1 January 1870. Companies
operating submarine cables with no landlines were excluded from nationalisation. Any company
that had not, so far, been taken over by the Post Office could demand this happen under
the Act for the same 20-year net profit basis as before. Several small companies that the
Post Office considered virtually defunct and not worth buying took advantage of this. The
Telegraph Acts Extension Act 1870 extended the monopoly to the Channel Islands and the
Isle of Man resulting in the purchase of the Jersey and Guernsey Telegraph Company and
the Isle of Man Electric Telegraph Company. The Orkneys & Shetland Telegraph Company was
purchased in 1876–77 and the Scilly Islands Telegraph Company in 1879–80.===Aftermath===
There was some criticism of the government handling of the nationalisation. The total
price paid for nationalising the telegraph was £5.9 million, compared to Scudamore’s
original estimate of £2.5 million. By 1876, the total cost of acquisitions and extensions
exceeded £10 million. The price paid for most of the telegraph companies far exceeded
their capital value due to the 20-year profit calculation. In comparison, the cost of the
telegraph across the whole of continental Europe was only £4 million. It was alleged
in parliament, somewhat speculatively, that a new UK telegraph system could have been
built from scratch for £2 million. The discrepancy was largely due to the unbudgeted payments
to the railways, but compounded by paying them on the basis of 20 years net profit.
Most of the railway leases had far less than 20 years to run so the Post Office was not
going to get 20 years profit from the purchase. However, it was difficult to avoid once the
principle had been established; Reuters went to arbitration over the issue when the government
offered them a lesser deal and won.Further criticism concerned the purchase of the reversionary
rights of the railway wayleaves, which had been another unforeseen expense. Without these
purchases, when the lease expired, the railway company would then have the right to use the
line for public telegraphy on its own account unless a new lease was taken out. Another
issue concerned the railways free use of the telegraph on their property. This was part
of the leasing arrangement with the private companies and was inherited by the Post Office.
In most cases, the railway company was also entitled to send free messages to stations
not on its own line. The purpose of this facility was supposed to be for the control of trains,
but it was heavily abused; in 1891 1.6 million free messages were sent, compared to 97,000
in 1871. The contractual arrangements with the railway companies were so complex that
arbitration cases concerning them were still being heard ten years after nationalisation.==Post Office Telegraphs==
Post Office Telegraphs placed their head office in Telegraph Street in the old ETC building.
“The ever open door” was their slogan above the entrance. Immediately after nationalisation,
they set about extending the telegraph from outlying railway stations to town centres.
It was their policy to provide telegraph facilities at every office from which money orders could
be sent, a great increase on the existing number. For instance, the number of telegraph
offices in London increased from 95 in 1869 to 334 in 1870. By the end of 1870, over 90%
of telegrams were sent from post offices. By 1872, the Post Office had 5,000 offices
and traffic had increased 50% over pre-nationalisation, to some 12 million messages per year. More
offices meant installing more lines, plus the lines handed over to the railways for
operating their own internal telegraphs had to be replaced. In 1872 there was 22,000 miles
of line, 83,000 miles of wire, and over 6.000 instruments. By 1875, the Telegraph Street
central office was the largest telegraph centre in the world with 450 instruments on three
floors working connections both domestically in the UK and worldwide on the Imperial telegraph
network. The Post Office decided to standardise on
the Morse telegraph system, which had been the international standard since 1865. A great
variety of different equipments had been used by the companies. The largest company, ETC,
used the Cooke and Wheatstone needle telegraph. It is possible to send Morse code on a needle
telegraph system but this is slower than using Morse sounders. This standardisation could
not be immediately implemented everywhere, not least because the Franco-Prussian War
prevented imports of German-made instruments. Some needle telegraphs continued in use, mostly
on the railways, well in to the 20th century.In 1873 Scudamore left the Post Office under
a cloud. He had been taking money out of other Post Office budgets to pay for the unforeseen
costs of telegraph expansion, anticipating that Parliament would soon approve more money.
He went to Turkey where he was employed to modernise the post and telegraph of the Ottoman
Empire. The losses of Post Office Telegraphs steadily grew till 1914. Interest on the capital
overspend was not the only problem. Although Scudamore’s estimate of the increase in traffic
from expansion proved largely accurate, the operating costs were badly underestimated.
As a result, net revenue was not sufficient to cover the interest on loans and year on
year the debt was growing. On the other hand, the Post Office overall remained profitable
throughout.The government attempted to stop the rot with a change in policy in 1873. No
longer was it policy to open a telegraph facility at every office issuing money orders in outlying
areas. It would now have to be shown first that the office was likely to be profitable.
There was no proposal to disconnect already connected unprofitable offices. However, the
number of these declined with increasing traffic. The situation was not helped when in 1883,
against the wishes of the government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Childers,
parliament, under pressure from business groups, called for the minimum charge on inland telegrams
to be reduced to 6d. In 1885 Postmaster General George Shaw-Lefevre introduced a Bill to implement
the 6d rate, which was passed into law. Shaw-Lefevre tried to mitigate the adverse effects by limiting
6d telegrams to only 12 words, including the address. Addresses had previously been free,
but would now be charged for on all telegrams. £500,000 was spent on new wires and training
additional staff in anticipation of the increased traffic. Traffic did indeed increase enormously,
from 33 million messages in 1884–85 to 50 million in 1886–87 and reaching its peak
by 1900 at over 90 million. At the same time, there was a large increase in the deficit,
mainly due to the cost of the increased staff. Despite the losses, the telegraph was retained
in national ownership as it was considered a public service.===Unionisation===
In 1871 the Telegraphers’ Association was formed amongst the telegraph clerks at Manchester
with the aim of agitating for higher wages. This was the first active union in the public
service. Scudamore demanded that the clerks resign from the association and then dismissed
those that refused. There followed a strike to demand their reinstatement. Scudamore blocked
the telegraphic transmission of news of the strike to national newspapers. The resulting
protests from the press got him officially censured. Wages were increased in 1872 and
a formal staff structure introduced. Their pay was still less than the pay in cable and
maintenance companies; more than 2,300 out of 6,000 clerks left the Post Office between
1872 and 1880.In 1868 Charles Monk got a private member’s bill through parliament extending
the vote to Post Office workers and other civil servants. It became law despite opposition
from the Benjamin Disraeli government and lack of support from Gladstone, the leader
of the opposition. There was concern that organised workers could have undue influence
on Members of Parliament, but this fear never materialised.===Exchange Telegraph Company===
The Exchange Telegraph Company (later known as Extel) was, like Reuters, a news distribution
service. It was founded in 1862, but was a very minor player until 1872 when the Post
Office granted it a license to provide London Stock Exchange prices and other financial
news to its customers in London. Their license limited their operation to within 900 yards
of the stock exchange. Similar licenses were later granted for local stock exchanges in
Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin. These were
all linked to a central office from where news could be distributed. Extel also provided
a service for calling the police, or raising a fire alarm.==Competition from the telephone==Usage of the telegraph never developed to
the extent predicted by Scudamore. Despite the introduction of the 6d rate, it was still
too expensive to compete on price with the letter post and, from its introduction at
the end of the 19th century, the telephone. Telephones were first introduced to Britain
when William Preece, Post Office Chief Electrician (chief engineer), exhibited a pair he had
brought from America in 1877. In 1878 the Post Office entered into an agreement with
Bell Telephone Company for the supply of telephones. It was initially only intended that telephone
instruments would be hired out as alternatives to the Wheatstone ABC telegraph on private
wires.There then followed the founding of a string of private telephone companies; the
Telephone Company had the rights to Alexander Graham Bell’s patent and the Edison Telephone
Company had the rival patents of Thomas Edison, the two later merging as the United Telephone
Company (UTC). Additionally, a number of companies were founded to set up telephone exchanges,
starting with the Lancashire Telephone Exchange Company in Manchester in 1879. Telephones
on private wires were not a threat, but if exchanges were allowed to connect people over
more than a very limited distance, or even worse, connect between exchanges nationally,
serious damage could be done to the telegraph business. Parliament had declined to give
the Post Office a monopoly of telephones. However, telephone messages, the Post Office
argued, counted as telegraph messages under the Telegraph Act 1869, so telephone exchanges
could not be set up by private companies without a license from the Post Office.The Post Office
announced that they would issue licenses similar to the license granted to Extel in 1872, with
a limit of half a mile to the distance an exchange could connect. The companies challenged
the Post Office monopoly in court, but lost the case in 1880. The same year, a new Postmaster
General, the blind Henry Fawcett, started setting up telephone exchanges on the Post
Office’s own account by modifying the ABC telegraph private wire network, and using
telephones made by the Gower Bell Telephone Company. The telephone companies launched
an appeal against the court decision. The UTC, which held all the telephone instrument
patents, further claimed that Gower-Bell, by selling to the Post Office, were in breach
of their license which forbade them to set up their own exchanges. However, an agreement
was reached before it came to court. The companies were given licenses on more liberal terms
and in exchange they dropped their appeal and recognised the Post Office monopoly.The
Post Office now accepted that the telegraph service was going to decline. Financially,
they were in a better position as the telephone business was very lucrative for them. Not
only was there a fixed charge for the licenses, but the Post Office also took 10% of company
gross receipts as a royalty payment. The cost to the Post Office of maintaining the telephone
system was insignificant compared to the cost of the telegram system. The Post Office was
careful not to allow the companies to grow into a national system. They refused the companies
permission to install trunk lines in 1881, preferring to provide them themselves and
rent to the companies. Licenses were limited to one year so that only the Post Office had
long term control. In response to complaints that the Post Office was hindering the development
of the telephone in the UK, Fawcett, in 1884, allowed the companies to build trunk lines.
Nevertheless, telephone development in the UK still lagged behind other countries.In
1889, the three main companies, UTC, National, and Lancashire & Cheshire amalgamated as the
National Telephone Company (NTC). In 1891 the NTC patents ran out and nationalisation
was mooted but the Post Office was not ready to do so. The NTC was accused of inefficiency,
high prices, and, especially in London, of disfiguring the landscape with haphazard overhead
wires. When the NTC’s license expired in 1911 they were nationalised under the Post Office.
After 1911, telegraph usage declined rapidly. At the same time, telephone use grew, especially
after 1960; by 1970 there were nearly 14 million telephones in the UK, nearly double the 1960
figure.==Specialist uses=====
Railway block signalling===From the beginning, Cooke promoted the Cooke
and Wheatstone telegraph to the railways as a safer way of working, particularly on single
lines, with the first installations in the 1840s. Previously, separation of trains had
relied on strict timetabling. Block working, controlled by the telegraph, ensured that
only one train at a time could be on a section of line. The benefits of block working were
not generally appreciated until the late 1860s. The number of block instruments on the London
and North Western Railway, for instance, increased from 311 in 1869 to 3,000 in 1879.===News service===Prior to World War I, the telegraph rates
charged to news services was much discussed. There was an extremely preferential rate granted
for news providers. They were charged 1s for 75 or 100 words (depending whether it was
inside or out of office hours respectively) and then 2d for each additional 75/100 words,
including repeat messages to different addresses. Thus, a journalist could send 100 messages
and 99 of them would cost only 2d. This was not profitable for the Post Office, but the
government was reluctant to act because they did not want to antagonise the newspapers.
The issue was put on hold when war broke out, but in 1915 the minimum price of ordinary
inland telegrams was raised from 6d to 9d. The Postmaster General, Herbert Samuel, commented
“If 6d for 12 words is unremunerative, 1s for 100 words is far more so”, let alone the
2d copy rate for subsequent messages. Samuel proposed a new press scale of 1s for 60/80
words and a copy rate of 3d. This was first delayed to 1917 because of the war, and then
to 1920 when it was finally implemented.Some of the London press, notably Harold Harmsworth
(Lord Rothermere), proprietor of the Daily Mirror and cofounder of the Daily Mail, supported
increased charges, which would tend to discourage new rivals. In 1926 Harmsworth tried to persuade
the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, but the Postmaster General, William Mitchell-Thomson
was against charging an economic rate. Provincial papers would stop using the telegraph, or
be driven out of business altogether, with little saving to the Post Office. The fixed
costs of maintaining and operating the telegraph system would still have to be paid. The press
rate was not increased until 1940 when it went up to 1/3d when there was a general increase
in all charges. The copy rate remained at 3d until 1955 when it was abolished. By that
time, with increasing use of the telephone, income from press telegrams had become insignificant.===Military===
The first military use of the telegraph in action was during the Crimean War (1853–1856).
A submarine cable was laid across the Black Sea from Varna to Balaklava. The army found
the use of civilian volunteer telegraphists problematic because of their lack of military
training. From 1870, the War Office arranged with the Post Office for the training of military
telegraphists. Royal Engineers from the Telegraph Battalion were employed on state telegraphs
and withdrawn for overseas duties in time of war.In World War I, the telegraph was recognised
as being of crucial importance. Both sides tried to damage the international telegraph
lines of the other. Post Office cable ships were involved in the action. Just a few hours
after the declaration of war on 4 August 1914, CS Alert cut the German cables in the English
Channel, almost completely isolating Germany from the rest of the world. In 1915, CS Monarch
was sunk by a German mine off Folkstone.===Meteorology===
The science of meteorology was greatly assisted by the rapid weather reports made possible
by the telegraph. In 1860 the Magnetic was contracted by the Board of Trade to pass weather
data between London and Paris. Lighthouses, lightships, and islands got telegraph connections
and became weather stations. There were even attempts to place weather ships far out into
the Atlantic. The first attempt was in 1870 with the old Corvette The Brick 50 miles off
Lands End. £15,000 was spent on the project, but ultimately it failed. In 1881, there was
a proposal for a weather ship in the mid-Atlantic, but it came to nothing. Deep-ocean weather
ships had to await the commencement of radio telegraphy.===Emergency services===
The provision of telegraph connections to lightships gave a means of calling for assistance
to a ship in difficulties. Prior to having a telegraph connection, there had been cases
of ships wrecked on rocks after being seen to be struggling by a lightship for as long
as twelve hours. For instance, the SS Agnes Jack sunk with the loss of all hands in January
1883 in view of a lightship off the coast of Wales.Installation of street call-points
to raise a fire alarm by electric telegraph had been installed in Europe as early as 1849
in Berlin. Siemens Brothers had proposed a system in Manchester using the now ubiquitous
break glass call-points around 1861. The town council rejected the scheme through fear of
hooliganism. The first system was not installed in Britain until the Metropolitan Fire Brigade
in London took it up in 1880, installing 40 call points. Other towns soon followed and
there was a dramatic reduction in serious fires as a result.The police were an early
user of telegraph private wires. In 1850 Scotland Yard had a line to Charing Cross railway station.
In 1860 the police stations of the City of London were connected together using the Wheatstone
ABC system. Church steeples were used to keep the wires high and out of reach of vandals
and criminals. In 1872–73 the Metropolitan Police connected numerous points in their
district to police stations.==Automation==The teleprinter was invented in the United
States in 1915, but was not taken up by the Post Office until 1922, after a British company,
Creed & Company, started producing a similar machine in 1921. From then on, teleprinters
started to replace the Morse system, and Morse was completely eliminated from Post Office
landlines and submarine lines in 1932, but continued in use in radiotelegraphy. A teleprinter
has a typewriter-like keyboard for sending messages, which are automatically printed
at both the sending and receiving end. The system had great cost savings for the Post
Office. The operators did not need to be trained in Morse and the receiving operator did not
need to be attending the machine during receipt of the message. It was only necessary to fix
the printed message to the telegram form for delivery. Thus, one operator could work several
telegraph lines simultaneously. On busy lines, multiplexing was used to avoid
the cost of erecting additional wires. The Post Office used a system that could simultaneously
send four messages in each direction (eight simultaneous messages in all). These systems
were usually used in conjunction with high speed paper punched tape readers to maximise
the usage of the line. Messages were first typed on to punched tape before sending to
the line. The code used was the Baudot code, invented by Émile Baudot. Early keyboards
used were Baudot’s five-key “piano” keyboards (each key corresponding to one of the bits
of the code, and hence to one hole in each column of holes on the tape), but later keyboards
were typewriter-like.Because traffic was declining in the 1920s, it was not worthwhile to automate
many less busy lines. Wherever possible, the Post Office closed direct lines and diverted
traffic on to the main automated lines by a more circuitous route. about eighty such
circuits were closed. Between 1929 and 1935, on the recommendation of a committee set up
by Postmaster General William Mitchell-Thomson in 1927, the old Morse and Baudot equipments
were replaced with Creed teleprinters without waiting for the apparatus to reach end of
life. The War Office expressed concern at this change; they would no longer have a pool
of trained Morse operators to call upon. Another innovation in this period was the use of motorcycle
messengers to speed up delivery.Automation, closing uneconomic lines, and staff rationalisation
reduced, but did not eliminate, the deficit on the telegraph service. Between 1930 and
1934 the deficit fell from over £1 million to £650,000. Towards the end of the 1930s,
teleprinter automatic switching in exchanges was introduced, eliminating the need for manual
exchange operators. The possibility of direct dialling between customers’ teleprinters was
investigated in 1939, but nothing was done until after World War II.==Decline and recovery==The pre-war decline was briefly halted during
World War I, but usage started falling again in 1920 when the minimum charge for inland
telegrams doubled to one shilling. By 1935, with the country in the grip of economic depression,
inland telegram messages had fallen to 35 million, less than half the pre-war figure,
and just over one third of the 1900 peak. At the same time, telephone usage rapidly
increased as the number of subscribers grew. Telephone calls grew from 716 million in 1919
to over 2.2 billion in 1939. Even the number of telephone trunk calls alone, 112 million
in 1939, exceeded the number of telegrams. In some cases telegrams were sent or received
by telephone (phonograms), making it increasingly difficult to treat the two services separately.
By 1939, 40% of telegrams were phonograms.Another issue that encouraged decline was the introduction
in 1921 of telegram delivery by “walks” similar to the way mail was delivered. That is, a
group of telegrams were all delivered by one messenger on the same outing over a predefined
route. Previously, a messenger was sent out from the receiving office as soon as the telegram
was received. This eroded the speed advantage of the telegraph over the post, although the
time between walks was still usually very short; the postal service was cheaper and
could guarantee next-day delivery almost anywhere in the British Isles, which for most purposes
was good enough. Around 800 fewer messengers were required as a result of the introduction
of this system.In 1935 Postmaster General Kingsley Wood took steps to increase the usage
of the telegraph service. The 6d rate was restored, but for only nine words. A priority
service was introduced for an additional 6d, delivered in a red envelope. Special envelopes
were also introduced for greetings telegrams, coloured gold with a red and blue border,
and a dove logo. This service was heavily publicised to overcome a widespread belief
that telegrams usually meant bad news. The message was hand written rather than printed
tape, and the Post Office provided a free diary service for recurring events like birthdays
and anniversaries. In 1939, over 4 million greetings telegrams were delivered and the
total number of telegrams got back up to 50 million. Another service introduced around
this time was facsimile by telegraphy. This was heavily used by newspapers to receive
photographs.==World War II==World War II saw an increase in telegraph
traffic. Usage peaked in 1945 with 63 million messages. Children evacuated overseas were
given one free telegram per month to stay in touch with their parents. Telegraph operators
trained in Morse were considered important enough to make them a reserved occupation.Enemy
action caused disruption to the British telegraph system both domestically and in the imperial
network worldwide, but communication was largely maintained. The Central Telegraph Office in
Telegraph Street was destroyed in a bombing raid in December 1940. Service was maintained
by emergency centres in London set up to cover just such an eventuality. In 1941, in the
City of London (the financial centre), messengers were stationed in the street to collect telegrams.
Italy entered the war on the Axis side in June 1940 immediately after the Fall of France
to the Germans. The Italian navy then cut the five British telegraph cables from Gibraltar
to Malta and two of the five going on from Malta to Alexandria. This was the most direct
route of communication with the British forces in Egypt and East Africa. The resistance of
the British Egyptian forces to Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps played an important part in winning
the war, and it was vital to maintain a telegraph connection. Malta was important too because
of the threat it posed to Rommel’s line of communication. The telegraph system was resilient
enough to do this, but only by a very roundabout route going all round the continent of Africa
on submarine cables.==End of the telegraph era=====
Telegrams===After the war, telegram usage went back into
decline and the deficit was back in the millions of pounds. Telegram numbers were 42 million
in 1950, under 14 million in 1960, and only 7.7 million in 1970, the lowest it had ever
been under nationalisation. Repeated price rises by successive Postmasters General Ness
Edwards and Ernest Marples to try to keep the deficit under control only made the situation
worse by driving traffic down even further. Other measures were the ending or reduction
of special prices for certain categories. These included the end of free messages for
the railways in 1967, increase of the press rate, and increase of the surcharge for telegrams
to the Republic of Ireland, which had not been part of the United Kingdom since 1922,
and officially a republic since 1949. One area that continued to grow was greetings
telegrams. More special occasion categories were added and premium “de luxe” telegrams
were introduced for some categories in 1961. Business use of public telegrams, once the
major user of the service, was now minimal.In 1969 Post Office Telecommunications, of which
the telegraph service formed a part, was made a distinct department of the Post Office,
and in 1981 it was separated entirely from the Post Office as British Telecom as a first
step to its privatisation in 1984. British Telecom ended their inland telegram service
in 1982. International telegrams were still handled, of which there were 13.7 million
in 1970. However, incoming international telegrams were no longer delivered by messenger, they
were instead delivered by ordinary post.The telegram service was replaced with the telemessage
service in which the message is dictated over the phone to an operator and delivered by
post in a yellow envelope similar to the old telegram envelope. British Telecom discontinued
this service in 2003 and sold the business to Telegrams Online.===Telex and private wires===
While the telegram service was declining post-war, in the same period business use of telegraph
private wires and telex was growing. Most press traffic was also now on telex or private
wires so the increase in the press rate on the public telegram system was of little concern
to them. Telex was a switched network of teleprinters using automatic exchanges. The address of
the recipient was contained in the header of the message which the automatic exchanges
could read. Telex, standing for “telegraphy exchange”, was originally a trademark of Western
Union who set up a telex system in the United States in 1962, but soon became a generic
name for the worldwide teleprinter switched network that developed from 1970 onwards.
In Britain, the Post Office moved to automatic switching in 1947, sowing the seed of the
international telex network. The advantages of telex over telephone were that an operator
was not required to permanently staff the station to receive messages, and that a printed
message provided a permanent record.As office computers became commonplace in the 1980s,
telex switched to a new telegraph code, ASCII, to aid integration with computers. ASCII is
a 7-bit code, compared to the Baudot 5-bit code, which means it has enough codes to represent
both upper and lower case whereas Baudot machines printed in upper case only. Teleprinters could
then be used in conjunction with word processor programs for instance. Telex was mostly superseded
by e-mail and the internet in the 1990s. The number of subscribers in the UK fell from
115,000 in 1988 to 18,000 in 1997. One of the last groups using the telex service was
solicitors, who used it for exchange of contracts in conveyancing amongst other things. Conveyancing
can be done by post or telephone, but telex has an immediacy that the former does not,
and provides a written record that the latter does not. Conveyancing can also be done over
the internet, but in the 1990s there was some concern over its security

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