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The impact on business

Portrait of Paul Julius Reuter

The foundation of Reuters (1851) : pioneer news agency

An astute young German, Paul Julius Reuter, was one of the first to see the potential news value of the telegraph. His first business was in plugging a cross border gap in the telegraph links between Germany and Belgium, using pigeons to relay messages between Aachen and Brussels for a year.

But London was where the real money was to be made and Reuter made his way there in 1850. Immediately the Calais-Dover undersea telegraph cable opened in 1851, Reuter opened his new office in the City of London. He used the new link to transmit stock market quotations between London and Paris.


Empire State Building, New York

The Wall Street Crash : a tidal wave of telephone orders

By the end of September 1929 America's Dow Jones index stood at an all time high - too high for the liking of many, who were convinced that stocks and shares were way overpriced. The index began to drop, slowly at first, but gathering momentum. By the third week of October big investors were getting panicky.

'Black Thursday', October 24, 1929, saw the first big crash. The New York Stock Exchange put extra telephone staff on duty at the members' boxes around the floor - but was still overwhelmed by the number of phoned 'sell' orders. The following Tuesday, October 29, Wall Street went into free fall. Prices fell so far as to wipe out all the gains that had been made in the previous year.

Never had markets fallen so far and so fast - and the telephone had accelerated this.

Telex literature, 1959

Driving business forward : the telex takes centre stage

The telegraph remained a key medium for exchanging business information and messages for over 60 years - until well into the 1950s.

Telex - the ultimate and most sophisticated form of telegraphy - continued to dominate official business and international communications until the 1980s.

Over the past 15 years, telex has largely been replaced by fax, and latterly by e-mail.

But even now telex plays a vital role in less developed countries (where e-mail is not widely used) and for official purposes. One reason for this is that telex is accepted by some as a legal record of an order or transaction. 

Teleprinter No.1 - a Connected Earth artefact, now at the Amberley Museum

Teleprinter No.1 (1920s) : setting the standard for code sending

This machine represented a breath of fresh air for many of the telegraph operators in the 20th century, because it was part of the new drive to standardise telegraph messaging. Until then a variety of codes had been used by an even wider range of machines to send telegraph messages. However, the five-unit code was becoming the acceptable standard for all telegraph networks.

This was the first machine in Britain built specifically to handle the code. It would have been used in one large post office to communicate with another in a neighbouring town, possibly between Manchester and Liverpool, by the teams of telegraph operators working in the telegraph rooms, happy with the knowledge that the days of using Baudot and Morse Code were fading into a memory.

Telegraph company printing blocks - now in the Museum of London collection

Printing blocks : a stamp of authority

Nowadays, companies have their logos and motifs in the form of computer clip-art, ready for use at any size in any printing project. Older processes used detailed printing blocks - in differing sizes, for different applications - originally made from wood.

These blocks show the corporate emblems of the Electric and International Telegraph companies.

The Electric Telegraph Company's block features Old Father Time holding an hour glass being smashed by a bolt of electricity.

The block for the International Telegraph Company features the head of the Greek god Mercury (the winged messenger) and several communications and marine motifs - its motto translates as 'Not even the great sea parts us'.



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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