Thomas Edison is widely regarded as one of the most famous inventors in the world because his inventions were able to improve life in so many ways. What many people don’t always realize, however, is that his inventions were often improvements on existing inventions, not something that came from scratch. That doesn’t change how he was able to transform the world, but it does put his work in a slightly different perspective.
When did Thomas Edison invent the telegraph? Edison didn’t actually invent it – that honor belongs to a man named Samuel Morse. What Edison did do, however, was improve the telegraph so that it became a faster, more efficient method of communication. His first patented telegraph improvements came in 1869.
Edison Created an Automated Telegraph System
When the telegraph was first invented, it required operators on both ends of the line. One operator was required to tap out the message they would have received and the other operator would then record the message from the tapping. What Edison created was a telegraph design that was actually based on his pen. His “automatic telegraph” allowed for an operator to tap out the message, but for the receiving end to automatically record the message. This increased the system’s ability to transmit messages to as many as 1,000 words per minute.
This invention brought Edison toward what many felt was his greatest invention, but also became one of the most hotly contested patent wars in US history: the speaking telegraph.
What Is the Speaking Telegraph?
Edison realized that if these sounds could be transmitted automatically through a wired system so that they could be recorded automatically, then it made sense for someone’s voice to be able to do the same thing. That set Edison off on a quest to develop what he called his “speaking telegraph,” or a method of having an operator speak into a handset and have someone else on the other end be able to hear the words just after they were spoken.
It was just 7 years after the development of the automatic telegraph that Edison was able to bring his speaking version to the market. The only problem was that there was another inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, who was also working on a similar device. There was also a third inventor, Elisha Gray, who invented a similar device and submitted his patent just one hour after Bell’s.
Who actually invented the telephone first? According the US court system and the patent office, that honor goes to Bell. Gray’s argument was that his telephone actually worked, whereas Bell’s did not and that’s why his invention should have been given first status. Edison’s argument was that his technology was based more off of the existing telegraph infrastructure and made more sense as an investment.
The actual inventor of the speaking telegraph is still up for debate, but what is generally agreed upon is that Edison was able to change the world in many different ways. The initial invention of the telegraph, however, just wasn’t one of them.