Article, Fintech

The History of Long-Distance Communication: Pre-phones & Internet


Communication. With the mention of that word, what is the first thing that comes into your head? Is it simply talking to someone? What about sending them a letter in the post, or sending them a text message? Or is it waving at somebody or giving them the rude middle finger?

Communication is such a vital part of our everyday lives and it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and its form will greatly vary.

Such as verbally talking to somebody or sending them written messages. Shaking someone’s hand or hugging them. Even glaring menacingly is a form of communicating.

But in this article, we’ll focus more on long distance communication over our history.


So, back in the days of old, what other methods of long-distance communication did we have besides yelling at the top of our voice? As we all know, frequent shouting is an immense strain on your throat and vocal cords which in turn can cause potential health problems. A good alternative, however, is whistling.

It has been known that the villagers from mountains of Turkey, as well as in other remote places such as the island of La Gomera, utilize this whistled language as a way for them to communicate with other individuals that are out of reach of what the typical distance for verbal communication would be. Whistling doesn’t vibrate the vocal cords as yelling would do, which would make prolonged speech, less of a strain for those that are tempting to communicate over a longer distance.

I know what you’re thinking. “Whistling? Yeah right.”

The whistled language ( isn’t as limited as you might think. In order to convey your message through whistling, you would have to make sure your whistling tone and articulation is correct. Besides tone and articulation; stress, length, and melody can also be a factor when whistling to someone else.

Besides the use of whistling for distance mountain communication, there are in fact a few languages within Africa that incorporate the use of whistles and “clicks” directly into their daily uses.

With everything combined, it turns just plain old whistling into a whole language.


The first thing you’re thinking about when it comes to written forms of long-distance communication is probably letters, and you’d be right. Conveying messages by scribbling something on something for other people to see and/or read. Though carving something onto the inside walls of a cave isn’t exactly long-distance communication, transporting a whole cave may be somewhat difficult.

Unless you were relying on the other person to walk by and see your cave scribbles, but then that isn’t exactly a long-distance method. This sort of communication was called petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs ( would sooner or later evolve into Pictograms, which were used in 6000-5000BC. People are more familiar with pictograms, as they were the more basic form of their more popular variant; the hieroglyphs.

Long distance communication for older systems of writing, would typically include the transportation of stone slabs where the petroglyphs and pictograms would be carved into the stone. Though soon, in estimated 4000 BC, early scripts and more advanced writing would take over.

As you can imagine, this would help speed up and make sending and delivering messages a whole lot easier.

Other variants of long-distance communication

Before we continue onto the more advanced communication forms, let’s explore a few of the more obscure methods that humans have used throughout history. Obscure methods such as; Drumming!


History has seen a long use of drums for communicating. In times of war; drums are often used alongside horns to convey orders and maneuvers to allies.

Tribes in Africa ( have been using a form of drumming called drum telegraphy, in order to communicate with one another across far distances.

Smoke Signals

A form of visual communication, smoke signals ( have been used all over the world throughout the ages. Smoke signals are commonly depicted, being used by Native Americans, as it was one of their primary methods of distanced-communication. Each tribe would have their own signaling system, but they weren’t the only ones to use smoke signals as a primary form of communication.

Chinese soldiers that were positioned on the Great Wall would use smoke signals to alert other soldiers along different sections of wall of potential enemy attacks.

Both drumming and smoke signals would eventually give birth to; and is generally considered a precursor to telecommunication systems, and thus more advanced technology after.

Early Technology

The earliest form of telecommunication was semaphore systems (, which appeared throughout Europe in the 1790s. This system was visual based and involved tall towers that used paddle-like shapes that would move and pivot in order to spell out text messages in its own code.

The idea is that the next tower along would see this, and either relay the message onto the next tower or respond to the first.

Electric telecommunication would start appearing later in the 1830s. Many experiments were made and prototypes were invented, but the first official working electric telegraph would be invented by Francis Ronalds in 1816. Other systems would appear, such as the Cooke and Wheatstone system, which became the first commercial electrical telegraph, and then later on in the century; Thomas Edison’s stock telegraph.

When electric telegraph became more prominent, an international standard of code was needed in order for countries to communicate with one another. This gave birth to the Morse code system.

Use of telegraphs expanded rapidly. As more and more railways were built, telegram lines expanded alongside them.

As mentioned before, different types and systems of the electrical telegraph would be invented. One or some of them would eventually lead to the next big (big is an understatement) step in the evolution of the communication.

That next big thing would be telephones, something that a majority of our population can no longer live without.




Cover illustration artist hyenacub-stock, DeviantArt


Cool links and references

Previous ArticleNext Article
A lover and advocate of all things Tech, Loy has had an exciting time learning about Blockchain and the possibilities it brings for the future.