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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Auto-Transmission Hubs

Professional telegraphers could send and receive messages at high speeds across their lines. This skill took considerable time and training to develop, and efficiency only came after years of practice.

Automatic telegraphs—devices that could send messages without human operators—appeared in the 1870s.

Inventors had been trying, with rather limited success, to create this kind of machine since the 1850s. Their underlying belief—one seemingly backed by the amount of time telegraph operators had to devote to learning their craft—was that Morse code would be too difficult for the public to master.

The most successful of these automatic machines was developed by the English physicist and inventor Charles Wheatstone, who in 1837, along with his colleague William F. Cooke, created an automatic telegraph featuring a pair of dials. Around each dial appeared the letters of the alphabet. One dial allowed the user to spell out messages for transmission, while the other relayed incoming information.

Britain soon saw a boom in the use of Wheatstone’s device, as individuals not trained in Morse code could easily use it.

Wheatstone went on to create machines that were compatible with Morse equipment. Using pre-punched tape, these could transmit code at high speeds—around 400 words per minute—theoretically replacing skilled telegraph operators.

By 1867, governments in Europe were making wide use of this technology in sending out public notices and information.

Automatic transmission was only one aspect of the move towards machinery over the human touch: Thomas Edison, the inventor responsible for the quadruplex telegraph line, also patented one of the first telegraphic auto-relay systems.

The auto-relay device allowed for a coded message to be sent from the hand of a human operator to a mechanical relay point at a different telegraph office. From there, that message would be automatically sent along another wire to its final destination.


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