Wired: A world transformed by the telegraph

Currently on view in the Maihaugen Gallery

Western Union Telegraph book

Western Union book of blanks, early 20th century. Institute Archives & Special Collections

Until the mid-19th century, most messages could travel across long distances only as quickly as they could be physically carried. Audiovisual systems such as smoke, flags, drums, beacons, and gunshots were cumbersome and severely limited in their sophistication and speed. The electric telegraph changed all that.

The ability to communicate instantaneously across entire continents—and even oceans—heralded the birth of telecommunications. The current exhibition in the Maihaugen Gallery introduces a rich and varied collection of materials on the electric telegraph and its impact on the world. The collection is a gift of Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. (MIT 1957), who also made a generous donation to process and catalog its contents.

The exhibit includes telegrams, images, books, video, and ephemera that chart the birth of a huge industry, and reveal how business, warfare, social interactions, and even the arts, were affected by this transformational technology.

photo of Military Telegraph School

Basic and Advanced Flying School, 1942. Institute Archives & Special Collections

Visit the Maihaugen Gallery
Monday – Friday, 10 am – 4 pm