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This Week in Tech History: Birth of the Telegraph Industry

The telegraph industry is born, the first city-wide fire alarm system goes into operation and pianos play themselves… It all happened This Week in Tech History.

This week in 1844 – Samuel Morse sent the first message via telegraph. The message, “What hath God wrought”, a quote from the bible, was sent from a committee room in the US Capitol to his assistant, Alfred Vail in Maryland. While Samuel Morse did not invent the telegraph, he did develop it, commercialize it and invent the famous code that now bears his name. This first message officially inaugurated America’s telegraph industry. 

1857 – William Channing and Moses Farmer received a patent for a fire alarm telegraph. In this time before telephones, the purpose of the system was to be able to alert firefighters quickly in the event of a fire. Boxes were installed throughout Boston, the first city to adopt the system. In the event of a fire, the box was opened and a crank was turned, sending a signal to a central station which would alert the authorities.

1900 – Edwin Votey, who was regarded as a “Genius of the Music World”, patented his pianola. Commonly known as the player piano. The original Pianola was a large wooden cabinet in front of an ordinary piano. At the rear of the cabinet was a row of “wooden fingers” aligned with the piano keyboard. These fingers were activated by air passing through a roll of paper perforated with holes that determined which note to play. The air was generated by pressing two foot pedals at the base of the pianola.

And this week in 1985 – GTE, General Telephone and Electronics, was named by Fortune Magazine as the largest utility in the US. GTE was founded in 1934 and provided telephone service to a large number of areas in the US. In 2000, GTE was acquired by Bell Atlantic, one of the regional operating companies formed after the breakup of the Bell System. After the acquisition, the combined company changed its name and became Verizon.

Written by Chris Graveline

Chris has covered consumer technology for over 20 years. He is the host of This Week in Tech History as well as a regular co-host on "Into Tomorrow with Dave Graveline" and our Technical Director.

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