In 1802, Jean Alexandre, a reputed natural son of Jean Jacques Rousseau, brought out a TELEGRAPHE INTIME, or secret telegraph, which appears to have been a step-by-step apparatus. The inventor concealed its mode of working, but it was believed to be electrical, and there was a needle which stopped at various points on a dial. Alexandre stated that he had found out a strange matter or power which was, perhaps generally diffused, and formed in some sort the soul of the universe. He endeavoured to bring his invention under the eye of the First Consul, but Napoleon referred the matter to Delambre, and would not see it. Alexandre was born at Paris, and served as a carver and gilder at Poictiers; then sang in the churches till the Revolution suppressed this means of livelihood. He rose to influence as a Commissary-general, then retired from the army and became an inventor. His name is associated with a method of steering balloons, and a filter for supplying Bordeaux with water from the Garonne. But neither of these plans appear to have been put in practice, and he died at Angouleme, leaving his widow in extreme poverty.
Sommering, a distinguished Prussian anatomist, in 1809 brought out a telegraph worked by a voltaic battery, and making signals by decomposing water. Two years later it was greatly simplified by Schweigger, of Halle; and there is reason to believe that but for the discovery of electro-magnetism by Oersted, in 1824 the chemical telegraph would have come into practical use.
In 1806, Ralph Wedgwood submitted a telegraph based on frictional electricity to the Admiralty, but was told that the semaphore was sufficient for the country. In a pamphlet he suggested the establishment of a telegraph system with public offices in different centres. Francis Ronalds, in 1816, brought a similar telegraph of his invention to the notice of the Admiralty, and was politely informed that 'telegraphs of any kind are now wholly unnecessary.'
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.