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Chappe, Claude Chappe, Claude (1763-1805)

Claude Chappe invented the first practical visual telegraph. Known as the semaphore, it used large wooden arms to spell out words and messages.

Chappe was the grandson of a French baron and spent a dual life as both an engineer and a cleric. His rise to fame came during the French Revolution, when he and his four brothers looked at ways to optimise signalling for military use.

Chappe established a chain of 22 tower stations spanning the 120-mile stretch from Paris to Lille. His semaphore system enabled a message to be sent between the two cities in under six minutes, a remarkable improvement over the 30 hours it took a courier on horseback hitherto.

Sadly Chappe suffered from depression and found fame hard to cope with. He was deeply upset when rivals raised doubts about his mechanical creation and finally committed suicide by throwing himself down a well.

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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.

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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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