The History of Electronic Communication up to the Invention of Text Messages

Erikka Innes
6 min readAug 23, 2021

The history of long distance communication through the use of electricity gets it start way back in 1729. That’s when Stephen Grey discovered that electricity could be sent long distance using insulated copper wires. But how did we get from zapping each other over a distance all the way to texting? This timeline should explain that.

1799 — Volta invents the electric battery

Alessandro Volta created the first electric battery and named it the Voltaic cell. It consisted of two plates of different metals immersed in chemicals that generated electricity. The electricity flowed evenly through a conductor in a closed circuit. Because it was the very first battery, no one was quite sure what to do with it. However it was the first reproducible source of electrical current created, and was the first step towards developing electrical equipment. In his honor, today we still call a unit of electric potential the volt.

1834 — Charles Wheatstone measures the velocity of electricity in a wire

Wheatstone was able to show that electricity travelled at a set velocity using a circuit that today is called the Wheatstone bridge circuit.

1837 — Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke patent the 5 needle telegraph

The five needle telegraph was a set of independent needles mounted on a diamond-shaped display with 20 letters of the alphabet. Omitted were C, J, Q, U, X and Z. (So people tried not to send any telegraphs from the town of Zzyzx, California.) Each needle was magnetized and could be moved short distances depending on the direction of the current that came through the telegraph wires. A sender would point their needles to the desired letters, and then electric current going in the appropriate direction would travel through the wires and move the needles at the other end to point to the right letters.

1838 — Samuel Morse demonstrates an electric telegraph that uses Morse code

The morse code telegraph is the one that people are most familiar with because it became…

Erikka Innes

Developer Advocate, Writer, Comedian, and Commander of the Nerd Legion