Milestones:Salvá's Electric Telegraph, 1804

Date Dedicated
2019/05/17
Dedication #
194
Location
Barcelona, Spain
IEEE Regions
8
IEEE sections
Spain
Achievement date range
1804

Title

Salvá's Electric Telegraph, 1804

Citation

On 22 February 1804, Francisco Salvá Campillo reported to the Barcelona Royal Academy of Sciences, in Spain, a new kind of electric telegraph. He proposed a new method of telegraphy by combining the generation of an electric current using the recently-invented voltaic pile with detection by water electrolysis. Salvá’s report described the elements required and how they should be arranged to convey information at a distance.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

41.38417, 2.1707 Real Academia de Ciencias y Artes de Barcelona, La Rambla, 115, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

Details of the physical location of the plaque

The plaque will be mounted in the main hall of the Royal Academy premises.

How the intended plaque site is protected/secured

The intended plaque site is an indoor space, under the Royal Academy protection, where visitors can freely wander and watch the plaque while enjoying the modernist architecture of the building. Not any arrangement is required in advance. Just, to check the opening hours of the Royal Academy is required. The contact information is: Tel: +34 93 317 0536, E-mail: secretaria@racab.com

Historical significance of the work

Francisco Salvá y Campillo (1751-1828) was one of the pioneers in exploring the practical application of human-made (artificially generated) electricity [1]. After a deep review of the Benjamin Franklin's works, he repeated some of the experiments that were being carried out at that time by Galvani and Volta. As a result of that, he very soon devised the application of human-made electricity to the transmission of information at a distance, as a more reliable and cost-effective substitute for the optical telegraph systems then in use. He wrote a report titled "Electricity Applied to Telegraphy", addressed to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, as early as December 16, 1795, where he already unveiled his ideas on this topic [2].

In the following years, Salvá conducted some new experiments on galvanism that he duly reported again to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona in two in a row papers: a first one on February 19, 1800, titled of "On the Galvanism" [3], and a second one on May 14 of the same year, titled of "On the Application of the Galvanism to the Telegraphy" [4]. Just as a curiosity, in his last paper he proposed the use of frog-legs as a natural current detector for the receiver.

Meanwhile that was happening, some remarkable scientific advances were being done in Europe. On the one hand, in Italy, Alessandro Volta had just developed the electric pile as a way to artificially produce a steady electric current [5]; on the other hand, in England, William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle had discovered the electrolysis process leading to the decomposition of water [6]. Based on those two relevant facts, Salvá conceived a new method for conveying intelligence at a distance by means of electricity, which finally led to his 1804 electric telegraph. This was a very innovative model based on those two former elements: on the one hand, the use of a Volta's pile to generate an electric current and, on the other hand, the electrolytic decomposition of water to detect such a current flow.

The equipment and operation for this new system was presented to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona on February 24 that year, and was recorded in a paper titled "Second Report about Galvanism as applied to Telegraphy" [7].

As far as it has been documented until now, this 1804 electric telegraph was the first one in history operated by means of an electric battery to produce the signaling current and by using a reliable physical phenomenon to make its detection, so coming ahead of the Sömmering electrochemical telegraph, demonstrated to the Munich Academy of Sciences 5 years later, and to the electromagnetic models proposed by Morse, in the States, and Cooke and Wheastone, in England, over 3o years later.

Next, some literal paragraphs have been reproduced from works of different historians, recognizing the contribution of Salvá to the development of the electric telegraph:

Munro, p. 17 [10]: "Volta's great invention of the pile in 1800 furnished a new source of electricity, better adapted for the telegraph, and Salvá was apparently the first to recognize this, for, in the same year (sic), he proposed to use it and interpret the signals by the twitching of a frog's limb, or the decomposition of water".

Huurdemann, p. 30 [11]: "A few attempts were made to use this electrolytic phenomenon as a means of signal transmission. In 1798 (sic), the Spanish Franscisco Salvá yCampillo used the development of hydrogen bubbles on the negative electrode as a signal indicator".

Hawks, p. 61 [12]: "In 1795, Salvá, an eminent Spanish physicist and the inventor of the first electro-chemical telegraph, described how insulated wires might be laid under the ocean and the water used, instead of return wires, to complete the circuit".

Pérez-Yuste, p. 3 [13]: "Salvá should devise the advantages that these both discoveries could have over his previous telegraph systems because, in 22 February 1804, he presented a new essay to the Barcelona Academy of Sciences, titled "Second Report about Galvanism as applied to Telegraphy", where he reported his ideas for making use of a voltaic pile, in preference to Leyden jars, to generate an electric current and of the electrolysis process, instead of the electric shock, the attraction of a pith ball or the twitching of a frog leg, to detect such a current flow".

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

In according to John Munro, "the first suggestion of an electric telegraph on record is that published by one C.M. in the Scots Magazine for February 17, 1753" [10]. The device consisted in a number of wires, one for each letter of the alphabet, so a static current was applied to a wire representing the letter to be transmitted. At the other end, the wires were arranged to attract a disc of paper marked with the corresponding letter, and so the message would be spelled.

After that, Anton A. Huurdeman claims the Genevan physicist Georges-Louis Le Sage be, in 1774, "the first to construct an electrostatic telegraph as proposed by C.M." [11]. Le Sage used 24 pith balls over 24 wires connected with an electrostatic generator to communicate at a short distance.

Even Salvá, in 1795, also conceived a more advanced electrostatic telegraph by using Leyden jars to transmit a spark across the wires and, amazingly, by the twitching of a frog's limb as a way to signal the reception [13].

But, without a doubt, it was the system proposed in 1804, what gives Salvá the merit to be a pioneer of the electric telegraph. So it is recognized by some historians like Munro [10] , Huurdeman [11], Hawks [12], or Pérez-Yuste [13].

By following Salvá's steps, Samuel Thomas von Sommering, a distinguished Prussian anatomist, in 1809, brought out a telegraph worked by a voltaic battery, and making signals by decomposing water, in a very similar way to Salvá's [11]. There is reason to believe that but for the discovery of electromagnetism by Oersted, in 1824, the Salvá's electric telegraph could have come into practical use much before the models of Morse and of Wheatstone and Cooke.

An artistic recreation of the 1804 Salvá's electric telegraph, as it was imagine by the Spanish historian and electrical engineer Antonino Suárez Saavedra, was reproduced in his popular treatise on telegraphy, written in 1880 [14].

Significant references

[1] Pérez-Yuste, A., "Francisco Salvá's Electric Telegraph", Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 98, n. 11, pp. 1974 - 1977, Nov. 2010

[2] Salvá-Campillo, F., "Memoria sobre la Electricidad Aplicada a la Telegrafía", 1795 Report in Memorias de la Real Academia de Ciencias Naturales y Artes, pp. 1-12, Imp. Jaime Jepús Roviralta, Barcelona, 1876

[3] Salvá-Campillo, F., "Disertación sobre el Galvanismo", 1800 Report in Memorias de la Real Academia de Ciencias Naturales y Artes, pp. 13-27, Imp. Jaime Jepús Roviralta, Barcelona, 1876

[4] Salvá-Campillo, F., "Adición sobre la Aplicación del Galvanismo a la Telegrafía", 1800 Report in Memorias de la Real Academia de Ciencias Naturales y Artes, pp. 28-40, Imp. Jaime Jepús Roviralta, Barcelona, 1876

[5] Cecchini, R. and Pelosi, G., "Alessandro Volta and his battery", IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 34, n. 2, pp. 30-37, April 1992

[6] Nicholson, Carlisle, and Cruickshank, "Experiments in Galvanic Electricity", The Philosophical Magazine, vol. VIII, pp. 337-347, Sep. 1800, London

[7] Salvá-Campillo, F., "Memoria Segunda sobre el Galvanismo Aplicado a la Telegrafía", 1804 Report in Memorias de la Real Academia de Ciencias Naturales y Artes, pp. 41-55, Imp. Jaime Jepús Roviralta, Barcelona, 1876

[8] Gazeta de Madrid, n. 96, p. 1018, Martes 29 de Noviembre de 1796

[9] Sánchez-Miñana, J., "Vida y Obra del Doctor Salvá i Campillo", Ed. Colegio de Ingenieros de Telecomunicación de Cataluña, Barcelona, Spain, 2005

[10] Munro, J., "Heroes of the Telegraph", Ed. The Religious Tract Society, 1891, rerpint edition by BiblioBazaar, 2007

[11] Huurdeman, A. A., "The Worldwide History of Telecommunications", Ed. Wiley-Interscience, New Jersey, 2003

[12] Hawks, E., "Pioneers of Wireless", Ed. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1927, reprint edition by Arno Press Inc., 1974

[13] Pérez-Yuste, A., "Salvá’s Electric Telegraph based on Volta’s Battery", 2008 IEEE History of Telecommunications Conference, HISTELCON, 11-12 September 2008, Paris, France

[14] Suárez-Saavedra, A., "Tratado de Telegrafía", Imp. Jaime Jepús Roviralta, Barcelona, 1880

Supporting materials


Pérez-Yuste, A., "Francisco Salvá's Electric Telegraph", Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 98, n. 11, pp. 1974 - 1977, Nov. 2010: Media:Francisco_Salvá's_Electric_Telegraph,_2010.pdf

Cecchini, R. and Pelosi, G., "Alessandro Volta and his battery", IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 34, n. 2, pp. 30-37, April 1992: Media:Alessandro_Volta_and_his_battery,_1992.pdf

Nicholson, Carlisle, and Cruickshank, "Experiments in Galvanic Electricity", The Philosophical Magazine, vol. VIII, pp. 337-347, Sep. 1800, London: Media:Experiments_in_Galvanic_Electricity,_1800.pdf

Pérez-Yuste, A., "Salvá’s Electric Telegraph based on Volta’s Battery", 2008 IEEE History of Telecommunications Conference, HISTELCON, 11-12 September 2008, Paris, France: Media:Salvá’s_Electric_Telegraph_based_on_Volta’s_Battery,_2008.pdf

Suárez-Saavedra, A., Artistic recreation of Salvá's electric telegraph, in "Tratado de Telegrafía", Imp. Jaime Jepús Roviralta, Barcelona, 1880: Media:Artistic_recreation_of_Salvá's_electric_telegraph,_1880.JPG


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