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Milestones:Shilling's Pioneering Contribution to Practical Telegraphy, 1828-1837 - GHN: IEEE Global History Network
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Milestones:Shilling's Pioneering Contribution to Practical Telegraphy, 1828-1837

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Shilling’s Pioneering Contribution to Practical Telegraphy, 1828-1837

In this building, Shilling`s original electromagnetic telegraph is exhibited. P. L. Shilling, a Russian scientist, successfully transmitted messages over different distances by means of an electric current’s effect on a magnetic needle, using two signs and a telegraph dictionary for transferring letters and digits. Shilling`s demonstrations in St. Petersburg and abroad provided an impetus to scientists in different countries and influenced the invention of more advanced electromagnetic telegraphs.

Пионерский вклад Шиллинга в практическую телеграфию, 1828-1837

В этом здании демонстрируется подлинный электромагнитный телеграф Шиллинга. Русский учёный П.Л. Шиллинг успешно передавал сообщения на расстояние посредством действия электрического тока на магнитную стрелку, используя два знака и телеграфный словарь для пересылки букв и цифр. Демонстрации Шиллинга в C.Петербурге и за рубежом послужили толчком для учёных разных стран и способствовали созданию в будущем более совершенных электромагнитных телеграфов.

The plaques are in Russian and English, and may be visited at the Central Museum of Communications, St. Petersburg, 7 lit. A, Pochtamtskaya Street, Russia.

Significant dates

1828 – Shilling made the first experiments. By means of the electric current transferred along the wires stretched between two locations, the telegraph writes signs, which make an alphabet, words, speeches, and so on.

The end of 1820 to the beginning 1830 – Shilling`s demonstrations (including for the Tsar) in St.Petersburg.

1835 - Shilling`s demonstrations in Bonn at the congress of scientists and doctors.

1836 – The offer on sale of Shilling’s invention to the English Government. Test made by Russian Governmental commission of Shilling's telegraph in the Admiralty (St.-Petersburg). Two outermost buildings of Admiralty were connected by means of a cable line with the length of 5 kilometers in 1836. This line passed along the neighboring streets and partially under water (on the bottom of the canal).

1837 - In May 1837 a decision to construct a telegraph between Peterhof and Kronstadt followed, but due to Shilling’s death in July 1837 it was not actually built.

P.L. Shilling summarized the experience of many physicists and started a new page in the history of Science and Technology. Shilling's telegraph device had a visual indication of the signals transferred on electric wires. The signals were easily decoded and turned into letters by the operator of the receiving telegraph apparatus , according to the special table of codes developed by P.Shilling. This telegraph, based on visual reception of codes, became a pattern for many of the following electromagnetic telegraphs, such as needle, recording and type-printing ones.

P.L.Shilling’s invention of the electromagnetic telegraph was an important event in the development of science and gave an impetus to the scientific and technical thinking of many inventors. The development of the first telegraph code for the telegraph apparatus laid the foundations of encoding information which principles are still in use today.

Shilling’s electromagnetic telegraph was not turned into commercial opportunity, but it became a model for designing many telegraphs and thus indirectly affected the development of telegraph communication all over the world. New ways of exchanging information were opened.

Shilling’s invention of electromagnetic telegraph had been prepared by all previous development of physics (H.C. Oersted, A.-M.Ampere). Invention of the first electromagnetic indicator of an electric current ("multiplier") in 1820 by I. Schweigger and of an electromagnet in 1825 by W. Sturgeon meant that more sound background for creation of electromagnetic telegraph appeared. P.Shilling was the first to create such electromagnetic telegraph. P.Shilling didn’t patent the development, but scientists in the Europe and America knew about his invention.

Differences from similar achievements.

A.-M.Ampere (1820)

An essential change was introduced into Ampere’s idea: Shilling encoded the information and reduced quantity of wires up to six. P.Shilling’s telegraph apparatus (demonstration took place in 1932) consisted of six electromagnetic indicators, each of them operated by a separate pair of wires (6 signal, one call and one general - 8 wires totally). Depending on the direction of the current in this or that pair of wires, the black circle or the white circle of the disk indicator faced the operator. Such design allowed to induce a combination for coding any of two to the sixth power of code units, that is 64 signs, that was enough for encoding all letters, figures and special signs.

C.F. Gauss and W.E. Weber (1833)

Comparison of Shilling’s telegraph to the Gauss and Weber’s device shows, that the latter was a set of bulky labware of a little practical use. The signals transferred between a cabinet and an observatory differed on size and the direction of light-spot deviations on the magnetometer’s scale.

W.F. Cook together with Sir Charles Wheatstone (1837)

Received two patents for the design of a construction similar to the Shilling’s one , and even constructed an operating line along one of English railways. Cook and Witston "inherited" ideas of Shilling, not knowing about that. In his description Cook mentions the Shilling’s scheme, but he calls it Munke´s telegraph by mistake. This mistake is a result of the following circumstances. P.Shilling demonstrated his device in 1835 in Bonn at the congress of a German society of scientists and doctors. George Munke, the chairman of the congress, the professor of Heidelberg university and the honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences praised the work of a Russian scientist in the field of telegraphy and later demonstrated the model of an electromagnetic telegraph during his lectures.


In the Shilling`s device only a visual registration of code marks was carried out. Later S. Morse made an important invention in the development of telegraphy: he developed and introduced graphic registration code marks. From 1837 Morse gave his full attention to telegraph. It had achieved remarkable results.