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Communication has come a long way through the ages. Here our helpful guide takes you through some of the major developments from the last 2000 years.

Smoke Signals


It’s almost impossible to say the exact date that smoke signals first began being used to communicate. What is known is that ancient civilisations used them to declare their territory and warn others of danger. Smoke signals are also synonymous with Native Americans who communicated more complicated messages. They’re also still in use today, as the election of a new pope is signalled by white smoke.

Did you know...

Carrier Pigeons can carry a message further than you might expect; they’ve been known to deliver messages over 1,000km making them the earliest example of long distance communication. This is one of the reasons why they were popular with the military throughout this period of history.

Carrier Pigeons


Using Carrier Pigeons is another of the oldest methods of getting a message from one point to another. The Romans were amongst the early adopters, using them to keep their military informed. The method works as pigeons have natural homing capabilities which can be enhanced with training. The idea of training the birds is widely attributed to the Persians.



The typewriter’s history is one of the more interesting as it took many different forms before ending up with the early model of what we regard as a typewriter today. The first recorded machine to put letters onto paper was in 1575, but the first time the typewriter was considered a commercial success was when Sholes and Glidden released theirs in 1873.

Did you know...

The longest time elapsed between a letter being posted and its delivery is 89 years. In 2008, Janet Barrett, a guest-house owner in Weymouth, Dorset, UK, received the letter - an RSVP to a Boxing Day party invitation, which had been posted on 29th November 1919.

Modern Postal Service


The written word was no doubt delivered a long time before this, but the modern postal service as we know it came about around the 1600s, though the first recorded UK post office was roughly 100 years earlier. The US were slightly behind us on this, as their post service (USPS) was launched in 1775.

Flag Semaphore


Although mechanical semaphores were developed earlier, flag semaphores came into being around 1790. The sender uses two flags to communicate messages over long distances. The position of the flags while in rest position corresponds to a letter or number, allowing the recipient to spell out the message from their end.

The flags are not compulsory; they make the signal positions easier to see from afar.

Did you know...

In June 2005 Andrei Bindasov (Belarus) successfully transmitted 230 Morse code marks of mixed text in one minute. The attempt was held as part of the International Amateur Radio Union's 6th World Championship in High Speed Telegraphy in Primorsko, Bulgaria.

Morse Code


People around the world are familiar with the dots and dashes of Morse code. The code was developed in the 1840s to allow quick and easy communication via electrical telegraph systems. The sender sends individual letters and numbers, and the recipient assembles the message.

Fax Machine


You may be surprised to know that fax actually predates telephones. Alexander Bain was able to produce signs in laboratories in 1846 and the first faxed message was achieved in 1865, some 11 years before telephones. The modern fax as we know it now was patented by Xerox in 1964 but has seen its popularity diminish as more recent technology superseded it.

Did you know...

The most books typed backwards on four blank keyboards and without looking at the screen is 73 (3,870,650 words, 21,791,904 characters, 28,847 pages, 277,080 paragraphs and 575,398 lines) and was achieved by Michele Santelia (Italy), in Campobasso, Italy, on 12th April 2014.

Signal Lamps


The dots and dashes of Morse code can also be transmitted by lights. The Navy pioneered this type of signalling in 1867 with their own code, although later they adopted Morse code for ease of use. Shutters on the lights are open and closed to send the relevant messages.



Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone in 1876, though contributions from the likes of Antonio Meucci have also been noted. The first message passed through Bell’s telephone was “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

Did you know...

Whilst there are hundreds of millions of e-mails sent each day, the amount of junk or spam sent each day is somewhere between 75% and 90% whilst the amount containing potential malicious software or malware remains well above 50% making it one of the more dangerous methods of communication on our list.



Technically, the first air mail was by hot air balloon in 1785 between Dover and Calais, but the first recorded aeroplane delivery occurred in 1911. These days, we often don’t specify whether something is to be delivered by airmail, apart from international post and a large amount of national mail has a flight as part of its delivery.

Radio Broadcast


The transmission of audio and sound through electromagnetic waves. 1896 is the year that radio was invented, though many people were involved before this. The first audio broadcast took place in 1916 with Morse code; the first voice transmission took place in 1919. Nowadays radio communication, like television, is digital and online.

Did you know...

The most people singing live on a radio broadcast is 6,689 and was achieved by The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (Hong Kong) at the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hong Kong, on 6th December 2014.



Television developed over a long period of time, with mechanical televisions prevalent in the late 1800s, but television came more into the public eye in the 1920s through the work of John Logie Baird in the UK and Philo Farnsworth in the US.



Pagers were probably at their peak in the 80s and 90s but the modern pager can be tracked back to 1960 and John Francis Marshall who took the concept of walkie-talkie communication a stage further and created the pager. Much like the fax machine, pagers have seen their popularity rapidly decrease with the due to the popularity of mobile phones since the 1990s.

Did you know...

Echo 1 was launched on 10th July 1962 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. It was a 30m (98 ft) diameter balloon with a reflective aluminium coating, allowing radio and television signals to be passively reflected back to Earth.



Electronic Mail is the sending of written messages from one person to one or more recipients digitally. E-mail predates the internet with message-based systems being in use since the mid-20th century, such as the US military's AUTODIN network in 1962. 1971 saw the first email sent from one location another. Nowadays we send 144 billion emails each day.

Mobile Phones


Motorola developed the first handheld mobile phone in 1973, though there had been widespread usage of mobile telephone communication via radio telephony and transceivers prior to that through use of walkie-talkies and phones in cars. The Motorola phone weighed 1.1kg and was 23cm long, offering only 30 minutes talk time after a 10 hour charge. Modern day mobile phones are smaller, offer much longer charge and offer a range of communication methods other than verbal.

Did you know...

The highest altitude at which a land based mobile phone text message was successfully sent is 8,848 m (29,029 ft), achieved by Rod Baber (UK) using a Motorola MOTO Z8 on the summit of Mt Everest, Nepal, at 12.52 am GMT on 21th May 2007.



SMS, also known as short-messaging service, is the sending of typed messages from one mobile phone to another. Messages are generally restricted in character limits (the original texts were only 160 characters), though this has grown over time. The first text message in the UK was sent on 3rd December 1992 from Neil Papworth at SEMA Group to Vodafone with the message 'Merry Christmas'.

Instant Messenger


With the World Wide Web gaining in popularity, instant messaging came to the fore. As you might expect, it dates back a number of years as technical institutions developed their own variations of instant messaging, but it sprung into the public’s wider attention in the mid 1990s. AOL’s Instant Messenger was one of the most popular early versions, but this too has been impacted by the growth of smart phones and app-based communication such as WhatsApp and SnapChat.

Did you know...

Released on 22 April 1993, NCSA Mosaic was the world's first internet browser. It was created by researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications of the University of Illinois. It was designed to allow people to easily retrieve data from computer networks.

Wearable Technology


Whilst wearable technology has been with us before 2015, this year is the first time we’ve been able to communicate using wearable devices, with the Apple Watch being one example and the Moto watch being another. For the moment, these devices still have to sync up to a parent device to work properly, but look for this to evolve as the technology develops.

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