The History, Function, and Significance of Semaphore Telegraph Towers – Final Update

When I first proposed this project in February 2018, I formulated several research questions I hoped to answer: Who developed semaphore telegraph systems and when, and how did the systems and codes of different nations differ from one another? How did the mechanical aspects of the towers function, and how were they controlled? What were the experiences of tower operators? How did this form of near-instant communication, and the resulting increased speed of information, affect society, culture, and government? How did governments balance the systems’ great advantages with the massive costs of erecting dozens of towers? How did this technology relate to previous and later revolutions in communication, such as the electric telegraph and the internet? I believe my work, including my research, my research paper, and my models, answered all of these questions.

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The History, Function, and Significance of Semaphore Telegraph Towers – Update 2

After several weeks of research and writing, I am coming close to finishing my research paper. It begins by noting that decades before the spread of the electrical telegraph, a message could travel across France at fifty times the speed of an equestrian messenger, a feat possible through the pre-electrical data network of semaphore lines. Many people today assume that the speed of information only exceeded the speed of humans and animals when Morse introduced the electrical telegraph, so this introduction serves to alert them that this paper covers an intriguing technology which achieved what modern people assume was impossible in the 1790s.

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The History, Function, and Significance of Semaphore Telegraph Towers – Update 1

     Over the past two weeks, I have consulted various sources concerning optical telegraph systems, ranging from technical diagrams and close-up photographs to philosophical analysis of communication and comparisons to ancient and modern technologies.

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Abstract: The History, Function, and Significance of Semaphore Telegraph Towers

I will conduct research on semaphore telegraph tower systems, the technology which was the fastest method of communication in existence from the 1790s until the invention of the electric telegraph and Morse code in the 1830s. The system consisted of lines of towers which crossed the countryside, set at distances so that each could be seen by the next, with arrangements of mechanical shutters or hinged arms on top. An operator manipulated the shutters or arms to spell a message in code, and the operator of the next tower would observe the message, and repeat it for the following tower’s operator to repeat, and so on.

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