Replica of Claude Chappe's optical telegraph on the Litermont near Nalbach, Germany

Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of textual messages where the sender uses symbolic codes, known to the recipient, rather than a physical exchange of an object bearing the message. Thus flag semaphore is a method of telegraphy, whereas pigeon post is not. Ancient signalling systems, although sometimes quite extensive and sophisticated as in China, were generally not capable of transmitting arbitrary text messages. Possible messages were fixed and predetermined and such systems are thus not true telegraphs.

The earliest true telegraph put into widespread use was the optical telegraph of Claude Chappe, invented in the late eighteenth century. The system was extensively used in France, and European countries controlled by France, during the Napoleonic era. The electric telegraph started to replace the optical telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century. It was first taken up in Britain in the form of the Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph, initally used mostly as an aid to railway signalling. This was quickly followed by a different system developed in the United States by Samuel Morse. The electric telegraph was slower to develop in France due to the established optical telegraph system, but an electrical telegraph was put into use with a code compatible with the Chappe optical telegraph. The Morse system was adopted as the international standard in 1865, using a modified Morse code developed in Germany.

The heliograph is a telegraph system using reflected sunlight for signalling. It was mainly used in areas where the electrical telegraph had not been established and generally uses the same code. The most extensive heliograph network established was in Arizona and New Mexico during the Apache Wars. The heliograph was standard military equipment as late as World War II. Wireless telegraphy developed in the early twentieth century. Wireless telegraphy became important for maritime use, and was a competitor to electrical telegraphy using submarine telegraph cables in international communications.

Telegrams became a popular means of sending messages once telegraph prices had fallen sufficiently. Traffic was became high enough to spur the development of automated systems – teleprinters and punched tape transmission. These systems led to new telegraph codes, starting with the Baudot code. However, telegrams were never able to compete with the letter post on price, and competition from the telephone, which removed their speed advantage, drove the telegraph into decline from 1920 onwards. The few remaining telegraph applications were largely taken over by alternatives on the internet towards the end of the twentieth century.


The word "telegraph" (from Ancient Greek: τῆλε, têle, "at a distance" and γράφειν, gráphein, "to write") was first coined by the French inventor of the Semaphore telegraph, Claude Chappe, who also coined the word "semaphore".[1]

A "telegraph" is a device for transmitting and receiving messages over long distances, i.e., for telegraphy. The word "telegraph" alone now generally refers to an electrical telegraph. Wireless telegraphy is transmission of messages over radio with telegraphic codes.

Contrary to the extensive definition used by Chappe, Morse argued that the term telegraph can strictly be applied only to systems that transmit and record messages at a distance. This is to be distinguished from semaphore, which merely transmits messages. Smoke signals, for instance, are to be considered semaphore, not telegraph. According to Morse, telegraph dates only from 1832 when Pavel Schilling invented one of the earliest electrical telegraphs.[2]

A telegraph message sent by an electrical telegraph operator or telegrapher using Morse code (or a printing telegraph operator using plain text) was known as a telegram. A cablegram was a message sent by a submarine telegraph cable,[3] often shortened to a cable or a wire. Later, a Telex was a message sent by a Telex network, a switched network of teleprinters similar to a telephone network.

A wire picture or wire photo was a newspaper picture that was sent from a remote location by a facsimile telegraph. A diplomatic telegram, also known as a diplomatic cable, is the term given to a confidential communication between a diplomatic mission and the foreign ministry of its parent country.[4][5] These continue to be called telegrams or cables regardless of the method used for transmission.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Telegrafie
العربية: تلغراف
asturianu: Telegrafía
Bân-lâm-gú: Tiān-pò
български: Телеграфия
català: Telegrafia
čeština: Telegrafie
dansk: Telegrafi
Deutsch: Telegrafie
Ελληνικά: Τηλεγραφία
español: Telegrafía
Esperanto: Telegrafio
euskara: Telegrafia
فارسی: تلگراف
français: Télégraphie
Gàidhlig: Dealan-spèid
한국어: 전보
हिन्दी: टेलीग्राफ
hrvatski: Telegrafija
Bahasa Indonesia: Telegrafi
íslenska: Ritsími
עברית: טלגרפיה
ქართული: ტელეგრაფი
Kiswahili: Telegrafu
Latina: Telegraphia
latviešu: Telegrāfs
lietuvių: Telegrafas
magyar: Távíró
მარგალური: ტელეგრაფი
Bahasa Melayu: Telegrafi
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ကြေးနန်း
Nederlands: Telegrafie
नेपाल भाषा: टेलेग्राफी
日本語: 電報
norsk: Telegrafi
norsk nynorsk: Telegrafi
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Telegrafiya
polski: Telegrafia
português: Telegrafia
română: Telegrafie
rumantsch: Telegrafia
русский: Телеграф
Scots: Telegrafie
Seeltersk: Telegrafie
shqip: Telegrafi
Simple English: Telegraphy
српски / srpski: Телеграфија
suomi: Lennätin
svenska: Telegrafi
Tagalog: Telegrapiya
தமிழ்: தந்தி
తెలుగు: తంతి
Tiếng Việt: Điện báo
Winaray: Telegrapiya
ייִדיש: טעלעגראפיע
粵語: 電報
中文: 电报