This is Mary Tillotson.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program
EXPLORATIONS. Today, we begin a series of three programs about
modern communications. Our first program tells about the history
Information always has been extremely important. Throughout
history, some information has had value beyond measure. The
lack of information often cost huge amounts of money and, sometimes,
One example of this took place near the American city of New
Orleans, Louisiana. Britain and the United States were fighting
the War of Eighteen-Twelve. American and British forces fought
near New Orleans on January eighth, eighteen-fifteen. The battle
of New Orleans is a famous battle. As in all large battles,
hundreds of troops were killed or wounded.
After the battle, the Americans and the British learned there
had been no need to fight. Negotiators for the United States
and Britain had signed a peace treaty in the city of Ghent,
Belgium, two weeks earlier. Yet news of the treaty had not reached
the United States before the opposing troops met in New Orleans.
The battle had been a terrible waste. People died because information
about the peace treaty traveled so slowly.
From the beginning of human history, information traveled only
as fast as a ship could sail. Or a horse could run. Or a person
People experimented with other ways to send messages. Some
people tried using birds to carry messages. Then they discovered
it was not always a safe way to send or receive information.
A faster method finally arrived with the invention of the telegraph.
The first useful telegraphs were developed in Britain and the
United States in the eighteen-thirties.
The telegraph was the first instrument used to send information
using wires and electricity. The telegraph sent messages between
two places which were connected by telegraph wires. The person
at one end would send the information.
The second person would receive it. Each letter of the alphabet
and each number had to be sent separately by a device called
a telegraph key. The second person would write each letter on
a piece of paper as it was received. Here is what it sounds
like. For our example we will only send you three letters: V-O-A.
We will send it two times. Listen closely.
(SOUND: Telegraph key)
In the eighteen-fifties, an expert with a telegraph key could
send about thirty-five to forty words in a minute. It took several
hours to send a lot of information. However, the telegraph permitted
people who lived in cities to communicate much faster. Telegraph
lines linked large city centers. The telegraph soon had a major
influence on daily life.
The telegraph provided information about everything. Governments,
businesses and individuals used the telegraph to send information.
At the same time, newspapers used the telegraph to get the information
needed to tell readers what was happening in the world. Newspapers
often were printed four or five times a day as new information
about important stories was received over the telegraph. The
telegraph was the quickest method of sending news from one place
On August fifth, eighteen-fifty-eight, the first message was
transmitted by a wire cable under the Atlantic Ocean. The wire
linked the United States and Europe by telegraph. This meant
that a terrible mistake like the battle of New Orleans would
not happen again.
Reports of the daily news events in Europe began to appear
in American newspapers. And the news of the United States appeared
in European newspapers. Information now took only a matter of
hours to reach most large cities in the world.
This was true for the big cities linked by the telegraph. It
was different, though, if you lived in a small farming town,
kilometers away from the large cities. The news you got might
be a day or two late. It took that long for you to receive your
On November second, nineteen-twenty, radio station K-D-K-A
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, broadcast the first radio program.
That broadcast gave the results of a presidential election.
Within a few short years, news and information could be heard
anywhere a radio broadcast could reach. Radios did not cost
much. So most people owned at least one radio.
Radio reporters began to speak to the public from cities where
important events were taking place.
Political leaders also discovered that radio was a valuable
political instrument. It permitted them to talk directly to
the public. If you had a radio, you did not have to wait until
your newspaper arrived. You could often hear important events
as they happened.
Some people learned quickly that information meant power. Many
countries in the nineteen-thirties began controlling information.
The government of Nazi Germany is a good example.
Before and during World War Two, the government of Nazi Germany
controlled all information the German people received. The government
controlled all radio broadcasts and newspapers. The people of
Germany only heard or read what the government wanted them to
hear or read. It was illegal for them to listen to a foreign
After World War Two, a new invention appeared -- television.
In the industrial countries, television quickly became common
in most homes. Large companies were formed to produce television
programs. These companies were called networks. Networks include
many television stations linked together that could broadcast
the same program at the same time.
Most of the programs were designed to entertain people. There
were movies, music programs and game programs. However, television
also broadcast news and important information about world events.
It broadcast some education programs too. The number of radio
and television stations around the world increased. It became
harder for a dictator to control information.
In the nineteen-fifties, two important events took place that
greatly affected the communication of information. The first
was a television broadcast that showed the East Coast and the
West Coast of the United States at the same time. The two coasts
were linked by a cable that carried the pictures. So people
watching the program saw the Pacific Ocean on the left side
of the screen. On the right side of the screen they saw the
It was not a film. People could see two reporters talk to each
other although they were separated by a continent. Modern technology
made this possible.
The other event happened on September twenty-fifth, nineteen-fifty-six.
That was when the first telephone cable under the Atlantic Ocean
made it possible to make direct telephone calls from the United
States to Europe.
Less than six years later, in July nineteen-sixty-two, the
first communications satellite was placed in orbit around the
Earth. The speed of information again greatly increased.
By the year nineteen-hundred, big city newspapers provided
the people of the city with news that was only hours old. Now,
both radio and television, with the aid of satellite communications,
could provide information immediately. People who lived in a
small village could listen to or watch world events as they
A good example is when American astronaut Neil Armstrong became
the first person to walk on the moon. Millions of people around
the world watched as he carefully stepped onto the moon on July
twentieth, nineteen-sixty-nine. People in large cities, small
towns and villages saw the event as it was happening. There
was no delay in communicating this important information.
Only a few years after Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon,
the United States Department of Defense began an experiment.
That experiment led to a system to pass huge amounts of information
around the world in seconds. Experts called it the beginning
of the Information Age. The story of that experiment will be
our report next week on EXPLORATIONS.
This Special English program was written by Paul Thompson.
It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Mary Tillotson.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week on the Voice
of America for our second program about the Information Age.
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com