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Developing telegraphic services

Exchange Telegraph printing receiver - a Connected Earth artefact, now in the Museum of London

First telegraph businesses launched : news, what news?

The electric telegraph created opportunities for entirely new forms of business, based on the distribution of information. One was the Exchange Telegraph Company, formed in 1872, to cable Stock Exchange news and prices to subscribers around the country. It soon gained the exclusive right to be represented on the floor of the exchange and its glass-domed 'ticker tape' machines that printed out the latest figures became a familiar sight in offices, banks, gentlemen's clubs and leading hotels.

Around the same time the Press Association established a similar business to disseminate the latest news, racing results and other information to newspapers nationwide.


Cartoon c1862, telegraph wires on the rooftops

Early misapprehension : 'the wires are humming...'

It is difficult to imagine how strange the telegraph must have seemed to our great, great grandparents. People had only the vaguest idea about the technology involved.

They did know that the wires sometimes made a strange sound. But instead of realising it was just the wind blowing, some thought the lines were humming because they were carrying messages.

One railway passenger who left her umbrella on the train asked at the station if it could be found. The stationmaster said he'd try to use the telegraph to arrange for its return and wired to the end of the line to see if it had been found on the train. Soon, he received a message back that it had and would be sent back 'down the line'. When he told the anxious passenger this good news, she expressed amazement that items such as umbrellas could be returned using the telegraph!

Rather than disappoint her, the station staff hooked the returned umbrella over the telegraph wire - as if it had literally come back 'down the line'.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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