Communication Through Time: Telegraph vs. Telephone

Something that particularly interests me is modes of communication throughout the ages. From the 19th century through today, we experienced huge advances in technology that helped to sculpt the way we live in this day and age. Two of the biggest forms of communication that arose during the Victorian era were the telegraph and the telephone, which I decided to compare for this assignment.

graphI was surprised at my Ngram chart results because I was expecting there to be a much bigger rise in the telephone from the time it was invented in 1876. Though it did receive wide popularity before 1900, I thought it was interesting to see that the telegraph still exceeded it by a significant amount by the end of the century.

The telegraph’s mentions begin before 1800, when the electric telegraph was first being developed. But its growth begins in 1830, when Samuel Morse perfected this invention for long distance communication with the help of his system called Morse Code. The telegraph became quickly accepted by the public as a faster way of sending and receiving information. Its rise continued consistently as it came into use all around the world until around 1860, when the first transcontinental telegraph line was cerated. This sparked a jump in the chart as telegraph’s came into use worldwide. Something I also noticed was after the telephone was invented, you still see the telegraph going up, but it’s not as consistent anymore and you see more drops in the graph.

In 1876, when the telephone was invented, it automatically made a significant jump in the amount of times it was mentioned in texts, as you see a slight fall in the telegraph. The telephone came into wide use very quickly, with around 10,000 telephones in service by 1878. In the 1880’s, the telephone continues its upward climb with the development of long distance service from the Bell Telephone Company, which was the only telephone company at the time. In the 1890’s, independent phone companies began to pop up all around, giving the Bell Company competition and also supporting the continuous rise of the telephone.

I also wanted to see when exactly the telephone became more popular than the telegraph. In 1900, the telephone’s book mentions skyrocket and exceed that of the telegraph by 1905, a huge jump in just 5 short years. Since then, the telephone has almost continuously risen until modern years while the telegraph has continuously fallen to almost 0% on the Ngram chart.

Overall, I thought it was interesting to see how the amount of mentions in books and texts correlate to popularity. I was surprised to see that mentions of the telephone didn’t rise over that of the telegraph until 1905 because its usage grew so quickly in such a short amount of time. But since the telegraph was so common and prevalent in that society, it took awhile for it to lose that popularity, something that still happens all the time with technology today.