The History and Parallels of the Telegraph and the Internet

The telegraph and the Internet are completely different in technology are extremely similar in impact, societal impact to be specific. Both pieces of technology were created over 100 years apart but the effect they had on society on a global scale are almost parallel.

First, a bit of background information on the Telegraph. In 1837, Samuel Morse created the first electronic telegraph and its first public use was in 1844. The development of the electronic telegraph meant that communication could cross borders and different parts of the world in minutes. At the time it was revolutionary. Prior to this invention it would take days and months to send a message. The ability to send information quicker brought the world closer together. We became a global village (McLuhan, 1964). By this McLuhan meant that due to technology, the world was shrinking as we became more connected with each other and our cultures. Like the Telegraph, there was a long production to finally create the Internet. Development of the Internet started back in the early 60’s where it was worked on until 1991 when the World Wide Web was created. The impact this had on the world was similar to the invention of the telegraph. Although we had already become a global village, it only increased our connection with other nations. Both technologies had particularly large influences in business. In both cases the stock market grew with the invention of the Telegraph and with the Internet it worked more efficiently than previously.

Telegraph- “This was a major achievement in communications, culminating in the appearance of the first financial newsletters”.

Internet- “…an improvement of an existing process is the elimination of the broker in sending orders to financial markets. Before the Internet, this was possible by using the telephone. But the Internet allows it to be done much more efficiently through a direct connection to an electronic system”. (Economides, 2001)

Another parallel between the two was fear. It was completely unknown what would come from each technology and whether it would be good or bad, particularly in relation to what it would do with war.

In an 1838 letter to Francis O.J. Smith in 1838, Morse wrote about the telegraph:

“This mode of instantaneous communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to be wielded for good or for evil, as it shall be properly or improperly directed.”

Mondo 2000 editor R.U. Sirius as quoted in a 1992 article in the Bergen (N.J.) Record said this about the Internet:

“Who’s going to control all this technology? The corporations, of course. And will that mean your brain implant is going to come complete with a corporate logo, and 20 percent of the time you’re going to be hearing commercials?”

(both quotes found on Elon University School of Communications)

Whilst there are many more similarities, it would simply take too long. The main point is that each medium had very similar social, political and economic impacts on their times.


Economides, N 2001, ‘The impact of the Internet on financial markets’, Journal of Financial Transformation, pp. 8-13

Imagining the Internet, Elon University School of Communications, viewed 7th April 2015,

Maddox, B 2006, ‘When First We Clicked’, Discover, vol. 27, no.4, pp.30-31

McLuhan, M 1964, Understanding Media, McGraw Hill, New York

Phillips, J 2000, ‘Digital technology and institutional change from the gilded age to modern times: The impact of the telegraph and the Internet’, Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 34, no. 2

One thought on “The History and Parallels of the Telegraph and the Internet

  1. It is very interesting reading about some of the similar relations between the two. Also how we have adapted over time and how technology has evolved to suite our changing society. How we react with fear initially to what these technologies could do in relation to affecting our society is quite a good point. It’ll be interesting to see what the next big technology is to allow people to stay connected.

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