Communicating at the Speed of Sight

Remember that really cool scene in “The Return of the King,” when Pippin lights the signal fire in Gondor, and like a majestic game of tag, signal fires on mountain peaks between there and the riders of Rohan light up one after the other? This post in the blog Cabinet of Wonders gave me the same goose bumps.

By 1793, …Claude and his brothers had set up a telegraph line which ran between two locations near Paris, approximately 26 km apart. Having several allies within the new government, they received permission to test the line. The messages took approximately 10 minutes to transmit, an unheard-of speed at that time – and government people were there to see it happen.

This caused such excitement that within two weeks a decision had been made to establish a national telegraph system, and Claude Chappe was named Ingénieur Télégraphe (Telegraph Engineer), working for the government. Money was appropriated for the construction of a line of fifteen stations from Paris to Lille, at the frontier with the Austrian Empire; this line, when it was complete, could transmit a message in a little over half an hour, a key tool in the war between France and the Empire, as it meant the Capital could keep up on events as they happened.

Blogger Heather MacDougal reports that even today, you can see the towers that communicated the semaphore signals that France developed back then.

I have to say, Cabinet of Wonders is a fascinating blog, full of well researched, informative posts by a lively writer. I highly recommend it.