Before the web, before the computer, before the phone, even before Morse code, there was le systeme Chappe. Not for the first time or for the last, at the end of the 18th Century France made an important technological advance – only to see it overtaken by newer science. In this case, it was the world’s first ever system of telegraphy.

Before the web, before the computer, before the phone, even before Morse code, there was le systeme Chappe. Not for the first time or for the last, at the end of the 18th Century France made an important technological advance – only to see it overtaken by newer science. In this case, it was the world’s first ever system of telegraphy.

According to most accounts, the very word “telegraph” – distance writing, in Greek – was coined to describe Claude Chappe’s nationwide network of semaphore. At its most extensive, it comprised 534 stations covering more than 5,000km (3,106 miles). Messages sent from Paris could reach the outer fringes of the country in a matter of three or four hours. Before, it had taken despatch riders on horseback a similar number of days.

Source: BBC News | Hugh Schofield