Cons of the Telegraph

Hand using an antique telegraph machine.
••• Studio-Annika/iStock/Getty Images

Do you think you can survive without your cell phone? How about your computer? A little over a century ago, people had few options for long-distance communication. In 1843, Samuel Morse – inventor of the famous “Morse Code” – created the telegraph. It would lead the trend in electronic communication that grew into what we know and see today.

Required Morse Code

The telegraph was one of the most important inventions of the 19th century; however, it has several drawbacks compared to 21st-century devices. For example, telegraphs required a knowledge of Morse Code – their primary means of communication. Telegraphs sent a series of electrical signals via a telegraph wire. The signals could be heard by the operator on the opposite end of the wire as a series of long and short clicks. Morse Code represented letters of the alphabet with click patterns, which had to be memorized by the operator.

Slow Speed

The first long telegraph-line extended all the way from Baltimore to Washington. Messages sent by telegraph took anywhere from a minute to a few minutes, depending on the message length and the operator's skill. Because each letter had to be converted into Morse Code and keyed by hand, telegraph transmission took much longer than electronic communication methods used today.

Message Length and Access

Due to the conversion time of a message, the length of telegraphs needed to be relatively short, making them useful only for very short and concise messages. Access to telegraphs was another issue. Some towns had them, and some didn’t. Unlike the telephones that are commonplace today, telegraphs were rarely used outside of government, business and other large institutions.

Poor Quality Communication

A serious drawback of telegraph devices was that they lacked quality in communication, which is why when the telephone came about – invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 – offering direct voice communication, it quickly took the communications crown from telegraphy, which was relegated to specialty uses. A telephone conversation carries all the subtlety and nuance of normal speech, which was absent in telegraph messages. Today’s communication methods allow digital transfer of video, audio, as well as documents; other technologies, such as the fax machine, allow physical documents to be restructured on the receiving end – all of which the telegraph was incapable of doing.

Related Articles

Inventions in 1947
Description of a Flying Shuttle
How to Write Your Name in Binary Numbers
What Are Printed Circuit Boards Used for?
Differences Between Passenger Pigeons & Carrier Pigeons
Senior Project Ideas for Electronic Engineering
A History of Computers for Kids
Importance of the Michael Faraday Invention of the...
This 9-Course Training will Teach You Java, Python,...
History of the Audio Amplifier
Types of Analog Computers
Science Discoveries of the 70s
Pros & Cons of Forensic Science
How Do Holographic Projectors Work?
What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Outbreak
Mechanical Barriers to Communication
What Were Some Inventions Between 1750-1900?
Research Topics for a Ph.D. in Forensic Science
What Would Happen if the Internet Went Down?
List of Edison's Inventions