The roots of computer code lie in telegraph code
The roots of computer code lie in telegraph code Unlike Samuel Morse's one-key telegraph, Baudot's used five keys. (Wikimedia Commons/Markus Spiske/Flickr)
The roots of computer code lie in telegraph code
Lexile: 810L

Assign to Google Classroom

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.  

Baudot Code

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.

Source URL:

Filed Under:  
Assigned 102 times
Why do you think it's important to study precursors to today's computer code?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • Jack-E2
    11/05/2019 - 10:32 a.m.

    This article was about how old technology helps a lot with our modern day programming. It is about how the telegraph moves through time. I think that it can help us develop better technology to serve humans better.

  • Audrey-E2
    11/05/2019 - 10:41 a.m.

    so this article is about how the roots computers.Morse Code was first used in the 1840s. one big thing is that the computers was really fast. i think that it is good to study the computers code and that we find out more.

  • Eva-E2
    11/05/2019 - 10:41 a.m.

    This article tells you a lot abut the history of computers.
    it is really good to learn history.
    it is important to study for the fucher.

  • Victoria-E2
    11/05/2019 - 11:08 a.m.

    the article is basically about how morse code with its dits and dahs helped influence all modern technology I think it is important to study the modern technologys precursors to help us under stand modern technology

  • Alma-E2
    11/05/2019 - 11:16 a.m.

    This article was about how people use to send messages and print onto paper before there were computers. To send a message dits and das were used. I think it's important to study precursors so we can see how things have changed over the years.

  • Weston-E2
    11/05/2019 - 11:27 a.m.

    this document gave me a lot of information. like what was the
    first sent message which is what hath god wrought
    and why I think its important to study precursors today
    is just because we can

  • Will-E2
    11/05/2019 - 12:04 p.m.

    I liked this article because it was about code.
    I would never have picked it because I don't like history articles but I liked this one. I think that it is important to study precursors to computer code because we can go back to what they did and take it in a different direction. An example would be looking at morse code and be like what if we took it to dah dit and det. Then we take that and say well what if we take binary and add twos. Like 10021021122012.

  • Sarah-E2
    11/06/2019 - 10:11 a.m.

    This is interesting...

    Who would have known that the roots of computer code could lie in telegraphs.I think that this article is very interesting, it is about a person that discovered the roots of computer code in an unexpected place.

  • Arash-E2
    11/06/2019 - 06:05 p.m.

    This article was about how Baudot's code was more efficient then Morse code. It had a five key keyboard. Baudot's code also made one digital that you would be able to see as letters you would write. It is important to learn how to code before you actually code so you can understand how to do it.

  • Edileh-E2
    11/07/2019 - 10:47 a.m.

    This article was about the growth of communication and telegraphs. There was many different people who made different styles of communication. I think that It is important to study precursors to todays computer code because if we are using the 21st century technology then we should know about the things from before.

Leave a comment
Leave a comment