16 Aug

April 1 – Getting the Message: The telegraph and the crystal radio

Telegraph 2
Telegraph 3
Sunday Funday learned that it took a lot of work to learn to communicate

Using the Telegraph and the Radio

Sunday, April 1, 1PM to 4PM – FREE

In or around 1900, the Cochran Family had telephone service installed at their house. Austin’s telephone network only required three-digit dialing at the time: the Cochrans’ phone number was 627. In imagining how much their lives changed once they could make a phone call from their home, we can also think about how much our lives are shaped by how easy it is to communicate at a distance using words, images, data, and sound.

Here’s where the lab comes in: all of the technology that goes into modern telecommunications (your internet connections, wifi, cable, cell service, and plain old telephone) has been more than 100 years in the making! We decided to find out more about how people first started communicating over long distances in real time (the telegraph) and communicating wirelessly (the radio). We were surprised how much guesswork went into the development of each!

How do you build a telegraph?

A telegraph is made out of three parts: a network of wires (like telephone lines), switches, and noise makers (to make the sounds the telegraph operator listens to in order to understand the message). We’ll be making our own telegraph switches (powered by 9V batteries and entirely take-home-able) and learning how to use them to send messages in morse code.

I thought radios were complicated…

While radio receivers can be quite complex, listeners have used designs for very simple radios for more than 100 years. A ‘crystal set’ (a radio which uses a simple circuit including a mineral crystal) requires no battery or mains electrical power and can even be improvised with found materials. This made it accessible to many people, including soldiers in the field during World War II (see the example above).

Our telegraph station will have the ability to communicate by radio, mimicking the advent of radiotelegraphy (wireless telegraph). Will wireless be better than cable? Let’s find out!

Questions about this or any other event? Contact us by wire or by wireless!