The Mechanical Internetélégraphe_Chappe_2.jpg

Telecommunications got an early start in France, where inventor Claude Chappe built a series of towers between Lille and Paris in 1792. Each tower was topped with a set of movable wooden arms that could be arranged to represent symbols; if each operator viewed his neighbor through a telescope, a symbol could pass through 15 stations covering 120 miles in only 9 minutes, giving France a valuable communications advantage over the surrounding powers during the sensitive period of the revolution. It makes an appearance in The Count of Monte Cristo:

They passed to the third story; it was the telegraph room. Monte Cristo looked in turn at the two iron handles by which the machine was worked. ‘It is very interesting,’ he said, ‘but it must be very tedious for a lifetime.’

‘Yes. At first my neck was cramped with looking at it, but at the end of a year I became used to it; and then we have our hours of recreation, and our holidays.’




‘When we have a fog.’

Expanded into a network of 534 stations, the system worked well, but it was expensive, with skilled operators manning towers set every 10-30 kilometers, and the messages were far from private. Finally the electrical telegraph killed it — Sweden abandoned the last commercial semaphore line in 1880. By then, depressed by illness and the conviction that others were stealing his ideas, Chappe had long since killed himself.