In 1826-7, Harrison Gray Dyar, of New York, devised a telegraph in which the spark was made to stain the signals on moist litmus paper by decomposing nitric acid; but he had to abandon his experiments in Long Island and fly the country, because of a writ which charged him with a conspiracy for carrying on secret communication. In 1830 Hubert Recy published an account of a system of Teletatodydaxie, by which the electric spark was to ignite alcohol and indicate the signals of a code.
But spark or frictional electric telegraphs were destined to give way to those actuated by the voltaic current, as the chemical mode of signalling was superseded by the electro-magnet. In 1820 the separate courses of electric and magnetic science were united by the connecting discovery of Oersted, who found that a wire conveying a current had the power of moving a compass-needle to one side or the other according to the direction of the current.
La Place, the illustrious mathematician, at once saw that this fact could be utilised as a telegraph, and Ampere, acting on his suggestion, published a feasible plan. Before the year was out, Schweigger, of Halle, multiplied the influence of the current on the needle by coiling the wire about it. Ten years later, Ritchie improved on Ampere's method, and exhibited a model at the Royal Institution, London. About the same time, Baron Pawel Schilling, a Russian nobleman, still further modified it, and the Emperor Nicholas decreed the erection of a line from Cronstadt to St. Petersburg, with a cable in the Gulf of Finland but Schilling died in 1837, and the project was never realised.
In 1833-5 Professors Gauss and Weber constructed a telegraph between the physical cabinet and the Observatory of the University of Gottingen. At first they used the voltaic pile, but abandoned it in favour of Faraday's recent discovery that electricity could be generated in a wire by the motion of a magnet. The magnetic key with which the message was sent Produced by its action an electric current which, after traversing the line, passed through a coil and deflected a suspended magnet to the right or left, according to the direction of the current. A mirror attached to the suspension magnified the movement of the needle, and indicated the signals after the manner of the Thomson mirror galvanometer. This telegraph, which was large and clumsy, was nevertheless used not only for scientific, but for general correspondence. Steinheil, of Munich, simplified it, and added an alarm in the form of a bell.
In 1836, Steinheil also devised a recording telegraph, in which the movable needles indicated the message by marking dots and dashes with printer's ink on a ribbon of travelling paper, according to an artificial code in which the fewest signs were given to the commonest letters in the German language. With this apparatus the message was registered at the rate of six words a minute. The early experimenters, as we have seen, especially Salva, had utilised the ground as the return part of the circuit; and Salva had proposed to use it on his telegraph, but Steinheil was the first to demonstrate its practical value. In trying, on the suggestion of Gauss, to employ the rails of the Nurenberg to Furth railway as the conducting line for a telegraph in the year 1838, he found they would not serve; but the failure led him to employ the earth as the return half of the circuit.
In 1837, Professor Stratingh, of Groninque, Holland, devised a telegraph in which the signals were made by electro-magnets actuating the hammers of two gongs or bells of different tone; and M. Amyot invented an automatic sending key in the nature of a musical box. From 1837-8, Edward Davy, a Devonshire surgeon, exhibited a needle telegraph in London, and proposed one based on the discovery of Arago, that a piece of soft iron is temporarily magnetised by the passage of an electric current through a coil surrounding it. This principle was further applied by Morse in his electro-magnetic printing telegraph. Davy was a prolific inventor, and also sketched out a telegraph in which the gases evolved from water which was decomposed by the current actuated a recording pen. But his most valuable discovery was the 'relay,' that is to say, an auxiliary device by which a current too feeble to indicate the signals could call into play a local battery strong enough to make them. Davy was in a fair way of becoming one of the fathers of the working telegraph, when his private affairs obliged him to emigrate to Australia, and leave the course open to Cooke and Wheatstone.
The electric telegraph, like the steam-engine and the railway, was a gradual development due to the experiments and devices of a long train of thinkers. In such a case he who crowns the work, making it serviceable to his fellow-men, not only wins the pecuniary prize, but is likely to be hailed and celebrated as the chief, if not the sole inventor, although in a scientific sense the improvement he has made is perhaps less than that of some ingenious and forgotten forerunner. He who advances the work from the phase of a promising idea, to that of a common boon, is entitled to our gratitude. But in honouring the keystone of the arch, as it were, let us acknowledge the substructure on which it rests, and keep in mind the entire bridge. Justice at least is due to those who have laboured without reward.
Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone were the first to bring the electric telegraph into daily use. But we have selected Wheatstone as our hero, because he was eminent as a man of science, and chiefly instrumental in perfecting the apparatus. As James Watt is identified with the steam-engine, and George Stephenson with the railway, so is Wheatstone with the telegraph.