Celebrating 19 Years on the Web
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.”
more quiz questions >>

The Telephone, a Telegraphic Alarm.

from Journal of the Franklin Institute (1855)

[p.91] In consequence of the curious and very important experiments on Phonic Signals recorded by Mr. Cresson in the Number for December, 1854, we take from the pages of the London Illustrated News, 1844, the following description of a very neat, compact, and, we do not doubt, efficient instrument for producing sounds, when a steam whistle cannot be used. Editor.

Amongst the many valuable inventions recently laid before the Lords of the Admiralty, that of the “Telephone, or Marine Alarm and Signal Trumpet,” by Captain J. N. Taylor, R.N., is, perhaps, one of the most important; its objects being to convey sound signals to vessels at sea, or in harbor; to transmit orders to and from forts and ships; to prevent collisions at sea, or on railroads; to transmit orders on the field of battle, from position to position, as an auxiliary to the duties of the aide-decamp, or orderly, who frequently rides with important despatches in the face of an enemy in great haste and imminent risk ; to inform engine stations in case of fire ; for alarms in dock-yards, &c.; and as a means of communication between the palaces and halls of the nobility and gentry, &c.

The principle of the Telephone is one of musical accord, composed of four alternate notes, given out separately, played like those of the cornet, and prolonged whilst the finger remains on the note. The instrument is formed of a chamber, into which air is compressed through three or more alternate pumps, which are moved by a corresponding number of cranks, set in motion by a winch ; and of a set of piston keys, with valved apertures, giving free egress to the compressed air, which, in its passage, acts upon a series of metallic springs, and produces the required sounds through four pipes or trumpets.

[p.92] The Indicator.—The Indicator, or Signal Tell-Tale, to be placed on the Telephone Drum, to denote the signals made, is composed of 16 holes, in four parallel lines, and numbered at the top 1, 2, 3, 4. The first number made is to be indicated by a peg, placed under the required figure, in the first horizontal column, colored red; the second number in the white; the third in the blue; and the fourth in the yellow line, observing that only one peg is to be placed in the same horizontal row of holes. The Telephone gamut notes are arranged for numbers either by the public or private key. The alternate notes of the gamut C, E, G, C, being denoted by 1, 2, 3, 4.

The Telephone Gamut.—The Telephone, No. 1, will convey signals four or five miles; and as a fleet sailing in three columns will not extend over more than three miles, it will be sufficient for the guidance of the whole fleet, in foggy weather, by night or day. For fixed stations, light-vessels, light-houses, preventive ports, &c., it is made the size of a large drum, with trumpet in accordance, and will convey signals in foggy weather six or eight miles; or by unscrewing the trumpet, and applying a parabolic phonic reflector to it, the sound will be conveyed to a much greater distance.

Ships or steamers passing each other, by giving the signals for “helm to port,” &c., &c., would prevent those dreadful collisions and loss of life which frequently occur, either from indecision, the thickness of the fog, or other causes.

As an alarm-instrument, to be used on light-vessels, light-houses, dangerous headlands, &c., the Telephone is most important, as it will be the means of preventing the great sacrifice of life and property, which so frequently takes place in foggy weather, from the lights being invisible. Vessels would also be directed by it to the pier or harbor, and the height of the tide for entering conveyed to those in the offing. On railroads, too, it is of great importance, as an instant signal for stopping the train, increasing the speed, or of the approach of another engine, may be given from the guard to the engineer.

Another advantage of the above instrument is, that it can be employed with a secret key, so that two persons in correspondence will understand the communication, while it remains unintelligible to others.


from Electrical Engineer (1892)

Sir,—I would suggest that the late Mr. Stuart’s “sea telephone” (see p. 579 of your last volume*) was nothing more than a method of conveying signals at sea by the agency of sound. In January, 1828, a M. Sudré presented to the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris a system of transmitting words by means of musical sounds, which he called “telephony.” It was the subject of extensive experiments, both in the French navy and elsewhere, an account of which may be found in the Mechanics’ Magazine for July, 1835, p. 269. The inventor visited England in that year, and he explained his method at a meeting of the Royal Society. As an illustration, it may be stated that the word “age” would be transmitted by playing on a trumpet or other instrument the notes la (a), sol (g), and mi (e). In July, 1884, Captain J. N. Tayler, R.N., showed a foghorn, which he called a “telephone,” at the Admiralty. The following extract from a newspaper of the day shows what this “telephone’’ was:

“At an Admiralty levée, last week, Captain J. N. Taylor’s telephone instrument was exhibited to the Lords Commissioners. The chief object of this powerful wind instrument is to convey signals during foggy weather, when no other means presents itself, by sounds produced by means of compressed air forced through trumpets, which can be heard at a distance of six miles. This important instrument will tend to prevent collision at sea and on railways, and will lessen the horrors of shipwreck and capture, and give notice of fire. Vessels in the offing will be by it directed into harbour, and the time to enter tide harbours made known from the pier-head. Four notes are played by opening the valves of the recipient, and the intensity of sound is proportioned to the compression of the internal air. The small-sized telephone instrument, which is portable, was tried on the river, and the signal notes were distinctly heard four miles off.”

The word was used in another sense by Prof. Wheatstone, who says, in his reply to Cooke (W. F. Cooke, the Electric Telegraph, 1857, p. 114): “When I made in 1823 my important discovery that sounds of all kinds might be transmitted perfectly and powerfully through solid wires, and reproduced in distant places, I thought that I had the most efficient and economical means of establishing a telegraphic (or rather a telephonic) communication between two remote points that could be thought of. My ideas respecting a communication of this kind between London and Edinburgh you will find in the Journal of the Royal Institution for 1828. Experiments on a larger scale, however, showed that the velocity of sound was not sufficient to overcome the resistance and enable it to be transmitted efficiently through long lengths of wire.”

I cannot find the paper referred to in the Journal for 1828. That for 1831 is the volume in which the paper appears.

In his answer to the above, Cooke says, at p. 260: “In the meantime, the failure at Portsmouth left his [Wheatstone’s] submarine conception (with his telephone) in abeyance.”

Perhaps some of your American readers will make enquiries about Mr. Stuart’s “telephone” and communicate the result to the Electrical Engineer.—Yours, etc.,R.B P.

Text extract from 'Telephoning at Sea—The Word “Telephone”', The Electrical Engineer (1 Jan 1892), 9, 15. (source)

[Foot note added by Webmaster:

R.B.P. was replying to an issue of the magazine two weeks earlier that contained a death notice for the inventor, George Stuart (reproduced below). The information given by R.B.P. was included here for the additional newspaper description of Captain Taylor's ship telephone of 1844. However, note that George Stuart might have devised a quite different invention from Taylor's foghorn. For example, Thomas Edison had by 1889 already made his own experiments using the water as a better sound conducting medium. Edison's apparatus transmitted the noise from a steam whistle from a sounder below the water-line of the ship, controlled by keys somewhat similar to a telegraph instrument. (Guglielmo Marconi's first radio transmission would not come along until 1901.)

* Telephoning at Sea.—The following note is from the obituary of the Daily Chronicle: “Mr. George W. Stuart, inventor of the sea telephone, died of heart disease at New York on December 9th, just after he had secured a promise of capital with a view to pushing his invention.” We are not acquainted with the invention mentioned, nor assured of the possibilities of useful telephone communication between ships, to which it seems to refer. But it is certainly unfortunate that an enthusiastic inventor should die just at the moment when he is within sight of port. If there is anything in Mr. Stuart’s invention, we hope it will not be left to subside without trial.

Paragraph from 'Telephoning at Sea', The Electrical Engineer (18 Dec 1891), 8, 579. (source)]

Image and supplementary extracts, not in original text, added from sources shown above. Main text from John F. Frazer (ed.), 'The Telephone, a Telegraphic Alarm', Journal of the Franklin Institute (Feb 1855), 59, (3rd series Vol. 29), 91-92.(source)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
Quotations by: • Albert Einstein • Isaac Newton • Lord Kelvin • Charles Darwin • Srinivasa Ramanujan • Carl Sagan • Florence Nightingale • Thomas Edison • Aristotle • Marie Curie • Benjamin Franklin • Winston Churchill • Galileo Galilei • Sigmund Freud • Robert Bunsen • Louis Pasteur • Theodore Roosevelt • Abraham Lincoln • Ronald Reagan • Leonardo DaVinci • Michio Kaku • Karl Popper • Johann Goethe • Robert Oppenheimer • Charles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about: • Atomic  Bomb • Biology • Chemistry • Deforestation • Engineering • Anatomy • Astronomy • Bacteria • Biochemistry • Botany • Conservation • Dinosaur • Environment • Fractal • Genetics • Geology • History of Science • Invention • Jupiter • Knowledge • Love • Mathematics • Measurement • Medicine • Natural Resource • Organic Chemistry • Physics • Physician • Quantum Theory • Research • Science and Art • Teacher • Technology • Universe • Volcano • Virus • Wind Power • Women Scientists • X-Rays • Youth • Zoology  ... (more topics)

- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.