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The telegraph debate - 1860s

The Electric Telegraph Company printers block and print

ETC (Electric Telegraph Company) (1846) : opening up the telegraph

The Electric Telegraph Company was formed by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and John Lewis Ricardo and established by Act of Parliament on 18 June 1846, four years after Cooke had launched the first commercial telegraph system between Paddington and West Drayton. That line had been installed in 1839 but, up to 1842, had carried only railway messages.

The partnership between Cooke and Wheatstone was never an easy one, and was effectively over by 1843. Thereafter, Cooke carried forward their joint patents as a business and Wheatstone merely took a royalty payment for all lines constructed under them.

The company went on to lay telegraph networks in many parts of the country and laid submarine cables to Holland, thus offering links through to much of Europe. This international expansion was done through a specially formed associate company - the International Telegraph Company - with which the ETC merged in 1855 to become the Electric and International Telegraph Company.

In 1870 the company and all its assets were transferred to the government, as a result of nationalisation under the Telegraph Act, January 28, 1868. The international operations were not taken up by the Post Office but were leased on to the Submarine Telegraph Company. 

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