The Telegraph Office

by Neal McEwen, K5RW

k5rw@telelgraph-office.com

"The Harmonic Telegraph"

From the "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal"

Volume 15, Number 3, March, 1881

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Recently certain users of telephones along the line of telegraph between New York and Boston have noticed a novel addition to the assortment of sounds which telephone wires pick up by induction from neighboring telegraph wires. The new sound is more musical than welcome, and is obviously made up of several distinct tones singing together, while each is independently interrupted by rapid breaks or short spaces of silence. These breaks correspond with the "dot and dash" sounds of the ordinary telegraphic instrument, so that the message may be spelled out by the interruptions of the singing tone. Tracing these sounds to their source, they are found to be due to a relatively new system of multiplex telegraphy now on trial on the Western Union Telegraph line between New York and Boston. The system is a development of Elisha Gray's original electro-harmonic or electro acoustic multiplex telegraph, the early history of which is familiar to all who are at all acquainted with the investigations which led to the invention of the first speaking telephone. The tones of the harmonic telegraph are produced by the vibration of steel reeds operated by electro-magnets, the pitch of the tone produced being determined by the number of vibrations the reed makes in a second. The current operating one reed , when passed over a line, will set in motion at the other end a reed exactly corresponding to the first in rate of vibration, and cause it to yield the same note, while a reed tuned to a different note is entirely unaffected. When two or more reeds are sounding separately or simultaneously at one end of a circuit, their counterparts at the other end will exactly respond, each singing or keeping silent as its corresponding vibrator at the other end of the wire is started or stopped. Obviously any interruptions of the current passing through any transmitting vibrator will be produced by its corresponding receiving instrument, but not by any other in the series, causing clearly recognizable breaks in the singing tone emitted by the vibrator. The message spelled out by such interruptions of the current may be read by the receiver in the interruptions of the tone, or the receiving vibrator may be used as a relay in operating an ordinary sounder.

In the practical work, on the Boston line referred to, it has been found possible to send simultaneously by one wire, and analyze at the other end, four distinct tones, thereby transmitting four separate messages in one direction at one time. This offers a signal advantage over the quadruplex system, which transmits two separate messages simultaneously each, but cannot send four messages one way. In cases of extraordinary pressure of business the full capacity of the harmonic system may be utilized in either direction. It is hoped that the harmonic system will ultimately make possible the simultaneous sending of four or five messages both ways on a single wire; in other words, four tone messages and one ordinary Morse message in each direction, or ten in all. In this way all the tones in the octave will be made use of, and that is the probable limit of the system, unless it be found possible to operate with fractional tones. 


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Neal McEwen, k5rw@telelgraph-office.com