The roots of computer code lie in telegraph code
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The first long-distance message Samuel Morse sent on the telegraph was "What hath God wrought?" It's a question that's still being answered when it comes to digital progress.
The telegraph was a revolutionary means of communication in itself. But it's also connected to the development of modern computer languages. Its creation had a ripple effect. It provoked a wide range of other innovations. Engineer Jean-Maurice-Émile Baudot was an important telegraph innovator. His telegraph system helped lay the groundwork for modern computers.
Baudot had been a telegraph operator since 1869. That's according to Fritz E. Froehlich and Allen Kent writing for The Froehlich/Kent Encyclopedia of Telecommunications. Baudot learned how to operate Samuel Morse's original telegraph when he was training. He also learned to use other telegraph models. He practiced on the Hughes telegraph. It was an early printing telegraph that had a keyboard like a piano. He also practiced on the Meyer telegraph. It was the first to use paper tape with holes in it to record telegraph signals. That's according to author Anton A. Huurdeman. Baudot built on these innovations. He added his own touch.
Morse Code was first used in the 1840s. Baudot Code's biggest advantage over it was its speed. This was also true of other earlier codes. Earlier systems sent characters of information by using different lengths of character. They were distinguished by a short gap. An example of these is the "dits" and "das" of the Morse code system.
"Baudot's code sent characters in a synchronized stream," writes author Robin Boast. "As each character code was exactly the same length and had exactly the same number of elements."
Some of the ideas he used had been pioneered before. But Baudot was the first to connect them all in a system, Boast writes. He goes on to explain, "most significant for us is that Baudot was the first to recognize the importance of a simple five-bit binary code. A digital code." Baudot's fixed-length binary code is a direct predecessor of some of the digital codes used today.
ASCII is the most widely accepted code for translating computer information into the words you see on your screen. It is based on Baudot code. It went through several permutations after Baudot's original innovation. Baudot's code "laid the first brick in the road to our digital universe," writes James Draney for Review 31.
"Baudot's Printing Telegraph was an encoding system that ran off five-bit binary code. It was not the first binary code, of course, but it was the first to be properly considered digital. And its essence still exists in our computers, tablets and mobiles today."
Printing on paper tape
Baudot patented his printing telegraph in France, England and Germany. Then he secured an American patent for his printing telegraph. That was on August 21, 1888. The inventor wasn't the first to use a paper-punch system to record telegraph signals. But Baudot Code and his custom-built telegraph machines were widely embraced. They helped keep the system alive. His printing telegraph was a predecessor to computers because it ran without human intervention. Once the data (codes) were input it presented the information to the receiver in a readable form. It came out on paper tape with coded holes in it.
Baudot's teletype machine was also called a teletypewriter. It used a five-key keyboard. That's according to Froehlich and Kent.
"Borrowing from Meyer, Baudot developed a distributor that allowed five instruments to share the same wire," they write.
His prototype was tested in the later 1870s. It was widely adopted in France: "by 1892," the pair write. "France had 101 Baudot-printing multiple telegraphs in operation."
Digital printing using perforated paper was still used in the twentieth century, Boast writes. It was "one of the first recording media used for electronic computers in the 1940s and '50s." Think punch cards and ticker tape.