Teletype Is Developed

The telegraphic transmission of recorded messages enabled speedy communication of news and other essential information.

Summary of Event

The nineteenth century origins of the teletype, also known as the teletypewriter and occasionally as the teleprinter, proved to be less important than the device’s twentieth century technical development, which brought it into worldwide use. The teletype—a form of electric telegraph, which it replaced in part—was the outcome of designs and the subject of patent claims on both sides of the Atlantic for many decades. It became identified as an instrument increasingly essential to business, government, and social communication. Although by the late twentieth century the teletype was rapidly being replaced in the newswire services by computerized satellite transmissions that relayed information directly to newsroom computers, the teletype continued to be in demand in areas where printed records of messages were also important. Inventions;teletype
[kw]Teletype Is Developed (1901-1925)
[g]United States;1901-1925: Teletype Is Developed[00110]
[c]Communications and media;1901-1925: Teletype Is Developed[00110]
[c]Science and technology;1901-1925: Teletype Is Developed[00110]
[c]Inventions;1901-1925: Teletype Is Developed[00110]
Baudot, Jean-Maurice-Émile
Cooper, Kent
Edison, Thomas Alva
Kleinschmidt, Edward Ernest
Krum, Howard Lewis
Morton, Joy

As Samuel F. B. Morse Morse, Samuel F. B. conceived of the telegraph when he developed it in the middle of the nineteenth century, it was a device that converted electric pulses coming in over the telegraph wire into written dots and dashes that a human operator could translate at leisure into letters and words. However, before the beginning of the twentieth century, the volume of information being conveyed by telegraph in the pursuit of financial, commercial, administrative, governmental, news, social, and business affairs raised the need for both a practical machine to record incoming messages directly in letter form and a transmitting unit that would convert letters to electric pulses to be telegraphed.

Although that need was recognized, a general solution was not immediately at hand. Instead, alternative, partial solutions were brought together before a practical system was developed in 1914 that could send and receive messages using teletypewriters. One of the first of these partial solutions was the duplex technique of transmitting two messages simultaneously, in opposite directions, over the same wire. First put into practice in the United States in 1872, this method was followed in 1874 by inventor Thomas Alva Edison’s quadruplex system. In that same year in Europe, Jean-Maurice-Émile Baudot devised his five-pulse code, later modified by Donald Murray, which Edison used in his famous glass-domed stock market “ticker” that came into use in 1870. The ticker reported stock market quotations in a coded pattern of holes punched in paper tape.

Users could structure the five-pulse code into thirty-two different patterns, either by omitting one or more pulses in the sequence of the group of five generated within a fraction of a second or by reversing the polarity of one or more of the pulses. Twenty-six of these patterns were assigned to the letters of the alphabet, and the others were used for such functions as introducing spaces between words and conveying numbers, question marks, and other symbols. The pulse patterns were punched into paper tape, where they could either be deciphered by trained eyes or fed into a machine that would respond to the patterns by typing the corresponding letters.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the state of the art of typewriter engineering and design was not sufficiently advanced to provide practical keyboard machines that would utilize the five-pulse code or the later seven-pulse code introduced by Howard Lewis Krum, which added clarity between transmitter and receiver by using the first and last pulses as “pattern-start” and “pattern-stop” symbols to keep the sender and the receiver synchronized on the same message. Letter-wheel and letter-hammer machines were tried without practical success at first. In 1900, the idea of using a typewriter to send and receive telegraph messages was still a dream of inventors.

Then Joy Morton of the Morton Salt family provided financial backing to Howard Krum, a mechanical engineer who brought his son Charles into the enterprise. The Morkrum Company Morkrum Company was organized under Krum’s engineering leadership early in the 1900’s and produced a number of encouraging teletype designs. At the start, the company used the five-pulse code, a rotating typewheel, and a stationary roller to hold the paper. The Morkrum teletypewriter slowly came into increasingly widespread use. Under the impetus of Kent Cooper, at that time traffic manager of the Associated Press Associated Press wire service, teletypewritten reports were being transmitted to the press by 1915. In 1917, the United Press, Associated Press’s competitor, signed the first contract for three private-line teletypewriter services.

By 1923, the Morkrum Company had become successful enough with its machines to combine with the Kleinschmidt Electric Company (founded by the developer of the teletype and the high-speed teletypewriter, Edward Ernest Kleinschmidt) to form the Teletype Corporation, Teletype Corporation which later was acquired by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T).

Western Union Western Union also switched to the teletype and by 1927 had more than six thousand units on line. On the other side of the Atlantic, Britain’s nationalized telegraph service began using British-built Creed teleprinters, expanding their use rapidly as part of an effort to counteract the shrinking use of the telegraph as the telephone grew more popular.


The teletype’s role in communications in Europe and the United States was influenced by the growing popularity of the telephone and by the economics of the communications industry, both private (in the United States) and public (in Europe). Wire, cable, wireless, and automatic-circuit systems continued to multiply during the second quarter of the twentieth century. During this period, these economic and technical developments extended the teletype’s use to major centers of news and of business and government activities worldwide. In 1931, AT&T introduced in the United States the Teletypewriter Exchange Service Teletypewriter Exchange Service (TWX), which enabled subscribers to link up their teletypes by telephone lines. In 1932, Western Union introduced a telex network utilizing the telegraph lines, and Europe had its own telex, which spread worldwide after World War II. By 1940, nearly fifteen thousand U.S. teletype stations were tied together by the TWX network, and by 1950 there were more than twenty-eight thousand. During the 1960’s, the number passed fifty thousand, and service was extended to Canada. In 1962, TWX converted to automatic dialing, and subsequently telex absorbed TWX to provide a global network.

The service came into widespread use by industry and various governmental agencies. Typically, news reports, administrative messages, and business orders and records were transmitted. The inventors’ dream of 1900 had demonstrated its practicality to all doubters by 1925. By midcentury, it was the major vehicle for written-message transmission and was being incorporated into computer-controlled information networks. The early plateau of sixty words per minute gave way to speeds of one hundred words per minute and then the higher magnitudes afforded by computerized operation. Although the teletypewriter had originated as a communications machine in its own right, it became one of the components—along with the telephone, the teletypesetter, the television screen, and the computer—of numerous and increasingly elaborate worldwide integrated electronic communications systems during the latter part of the twentieth century.

By the late twentieth century, special lines connecting several teletypewriters on a continuous basis had become commonplace. Although the costs of such lines were high, methods of sending a number of messages over a single line at the same time became widely used. Mechanical methods enabling five or six teletypewriters to share a single wire in the early part of the century were largely replaced by electronic systems that simultaneously sent signals from as many as twenty-four teletypewriters over a single channel of an ordinary telephone network.

During the 1990’s, with the spectacular advances in electronic mail, development of the Internet, and advances in wireless technologies, including cellular phones, telegraph and teletype technologies were largely superseded by faster and more efficient electronic systems for communication. Inventions;teletype

Further Reading

  • Fagen, M. D., ed. A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: The Early Years, 1875-1925. Murray Hill, N.J.: Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1975. The teletype is only one of several nonvoice communications covered in one chapter of this thousand-page survey, but the numerous historical tidbits, technical information, and evaluation make it useful even to the lay reader.
  • Fang, Irving. A History of Mass Communication: Six Information Revolutions. Burlington, Mass.: Focal Press, 1997. Traces common themes in the complex history of mass communication and examines how various means of communicating have developed out of particular societies and in turn influenced those societies. Includes bibliography, time line of communication developments, and index.
  • Gramling, Oliver. AP: The Story of News. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1940. The story of the largest U.S. news agency, which was the first enterprise after the stock market to make significant use of the teletype.
  • Martin, James. Telecommunications and the Computer. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. Provides technical detail and places the teletype in historical perspective.
  • Mott, Frank L. The News in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. Examines the technical, ethical, and professional factors of the mass media facilitated by the use of the teletype and electronics.
  • U.S. Naval Electronic Systems Command. Principles of Telegraphy, Teletypewriter. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1967. Provides technical details and places the teletype in historical perspective.
  • Winston, Brian. Media Technology and Society: A History—From the Telegraph to the Internet. New York: Routledge, 1998. Examines the history of communication technologies from the printing press to the Internet. Emphasizes the influences of social necessity and suppression of potential societal disruption in the development of new media and discusses the roles played by particular individuals in the introduction of new technologies. Includes references and index.

First Transatlantic Telegraphic Radio Transmission

Fessenden Pioneers Radio Broadcasting

First Transcontinental Telephone Call Is Made

First Demonstration of Transatlantic Radiotelephony

Principles of Shortwave Radio Communication Are Discovered