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The History of Communication from Smoke Signals to Smartphones



People have always had the need and desire to communicate with each other. The tools and abilities to communicate have changed significantly over time from humble beginnings of smoke signals, carrier pigeons, and flags. Fast-forward to current technology and messages span the globe in mere seconds thanks to smartphones, tablets, and computers. The pursuit of the latest smartphone cases and tablet cases becomes important to protect modern gadgets. Exploring the history of communication can be a fascinating journey back through time.

Early Communication

Before phones became commonplace, people used other ways to communicate over long distances. Smoke signals involved generating puffs of smoke with a fire and a blanket from a high elevation so others could see the smoke rising into the air. Native Americans used smoke signals, as did the Chinese. Flag signals were another method of communication, with different colors and combinations of flags having different meanings when hoisted into the air. Blowing horns also communicated messages over distances. For example, troops used the bugle extensively to communicate orders to troops.

  1. Intelligence in the Civil War
  2. A Time Before Phones
  3. Smoke Signals
  4. What is Telecommunication?
  5. Glossary of Mid-19th Century Telegraphic Terms
  6. An Introduction to Wireless Communication

Writing and Letters

In its earliest form, writing for communication involved rudimentary forms etched on cave walls. Slowly, writing systems developed and evolved as people continued their drive to communicate with each other. Different cultures developed their own alphabetic scripts etched on stone tablets. Eventually, paper was invented, and communication took a significant leap ahead as people gained the ability to write on this portable surface.

The United States Postal Service has evolved in huge ways since its humble beginnings at the inception of the country. Initially, service was spotty depending on the location of the offices. Mail carriers had to travel over difficult routes, sometimes even absent of roads. They usually traveled on foot over routes that were hundreds of miles long. Not all areas of the United States received postal service, even in the early 19th century. Mail traveled across the country on foot, by horse or mule, and on waterways. With the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, mail service took a giant leap forward, with letters traveling coast-to-coast in one week or less.

  1. A Long and Winding Road: Early Mail Delivery
  2. The Last Dinosaur: The U.S. Postal Service
  3. Man of Letters
  4. Postal History of the First Transcontinental Railroad
  5. Transportation in America's Postal System
  6. Pony Express: A Local Legacy
  7. The Postal Service as a Catalyst of Unification in Victorian America: 1863-1910

Invention of the Telephone and Telegraph

The telegraph was a collaborative project involving inventors Samuel Morse, Alfred Vail, and Leonard Gale. These men worked to design and build the telegraph over a number of years during the 1830s and 1840s. Morse successfully sent the first telegraph message between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, in 1844. The telegraph sent messages using electricity that flowed over wires. Codes of dots and dashes made up the messages, entered by the sender holding down a key on the telegraph. The recipient would need to decipher the code to receive the message.

Until the invention of the telephone, the telegraph was the principal means of long-distance communication. The telephone quickly took over as the main method of communication, though. The first voice traveled over a telephone line on March 10, 1876. The telephone was wild success as telephone lines went up throughout the United States. By the close of 1877, 3,000 phones were in use, and only six months later, this number jumped to 10,000.

  1. The History of the Telephone
  2. Who is Credited as Inventing the Telephone?
  3. "What Hath God Wrought": The House and the Telegraph
  4. History of the Telegraph
  5. Communication Across the Nation: The History of the Telegraph
  6. Invention of Radio
  7. Speech Transmitted by Telephone

Computers, Email, and IM

In the middle of the 20th century, inventors progressed to the point of developing the first computing machines. These large machines were able to add numbers with mind-boggling speed and accuracy. Technology raced forward, and by the 1960s, the cutting-edge computers were smaller and more powerful. The Internet debuted in 1969, known as the ARPANET and designed mainly for the military's use. By 1986, computers had taken another giant leap forward with the invention of the mouse and current graphical user interfaces such as Windows. Internet service providers began offering Internet service to customers by the mid-1990s.

As the Internet gained popularity, communication changed drastically. Instead of using the telephone and incurring potentially high long-distance charges, suddenly, it became possible to converse with people via the Internet. Email communication became available with the development of Web-based services and Internet service providers. Instant messaging and conversing in Internet forums also became prevalent.

  1. The Past and Future History of the Internet
  2. A Brief History of the Internet
  3. Imagining the Internet
  4. History of Computing
  5. How Did the Internet Get Started?
  6. Internet History

Smartphones and Mobile Devices

Eventually, technology advanced to the point where people were able to take their connectivity mobile. Devices such as smartphones and tablets enable mobile connectivity virtually anywhere that Wi-Fi or cellular service exists. People simply pack their electronics into functional and stylish smartphone cases and tablet cases, and they maintain connectivity wherever they go. This mobile society has increased and changed worldwide communication. People can converse virtually anywhere and any time by voice or text. However, these gadgets can also kill face-to-face communication because people tend to pay more attention to their devices than the people around them.

  1. A History of Mobile Applications
  2. The Physics of Cell Phones
  3. A Brief History of Mobile Communications
  4. A Short History of Radio