Fifty years before the invention of the telegraph and almost 100 years before the telephone, the government of France was able to send messages to many parts of Europe at speeds of 1,500 miles an hour.
From Paris, the emperor of France could send instructions to his generals on the Rhine River 150 miles away, in six minutes. How?
Using a system invented in 1792 by Claude Chappe. Towers were built all over France and many other parts of Europe. On top of each tower were two giant arms that could be seen with the aid of a telescope at a distance of ten miles.
By placing the arms in different positions, the operator was able to spell out a message, which would be picked up by the next tower and repeated tower after tower until the message had reached its destination.
The towers were called semaphores, and a semaphore code is still taught and used by most of the armies and navies of the world.
A semaphore telegraph is also known as an optical telegraph, shutter telegraph chain, or Chappe telegraph. Semaphore lines led to the invention of the electrical telegraph.