The Needle Telegraph – Precursor to the Cellphone

One of the more fascinating items in the museum is The Needle Telegraph. You may well ask what is the connection between this and the cellphone?

The growth of the railways from 1825 onwards brought with it a need for a new form of communications that could work over large distances and in any weather. Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke were two Englishmen who on 25th July 1837 demonstrated a system for sending messages using electricity. A set of magnetic needles could be deflected by an electric current such that the needles would point to a particular letter on a grid. The demonstration in the video below shows how a 4 needle telegraph – a slightly later model of the July 1837 original – operates and how letters could be communicated. The needle telegraph started a telecommunications revolution based on electrical communication.




Find out more by viewing this You Tube video by Professor Nigel Linge, University of Salford, UK. Our museums example is a “Single Needle Telegraph” and contains the complete English alphabet.