In Greece Telegraphy emerged in 1859 with the laying of the submarine cables that connect Piraeus with Ermoupolis, the most important port in Greece until the end of the 19th century. The acceleration of the techno-economic infrastructure was followed by the expansion of telecommunications. As in many other countries, telegraph wires travelled alongside rail lines, although priority was also given to submarine cables because of trade, navigation, and the island nature of Greek territory.
The telegram marks the earliest electronic form of human communication. Lacking the detailed and emotional gravity of a letter, the telegram would never be able to convey deeper thoughts or the fragrance of a loved one. It was, however, the medium used to distribute short messages to all corners of the world with unprecedented speed. Its coded and intermittent flow of electrical current changed communication. Thoughts, feelings, and images are converted into dots and dashes only to be re-transformed into messages.
At the turn of the 20th century, telegram activity sky-rocketed to more than 1,000,000 telegrams. A constant rise which peaked in 1925 via the 1,638 telegraph offices operating throughout the country.
The Museum has a collection of more than 8,000 telegrams that date back to the years 1859-1992. Geographically, they represent almost all of Greece, while there are samples from the major telegraphy offices (Greek, English, French, Ottoman) that were active in Greece in the 19th and 20th century.
Electronic teleprinters (télétypes) emerge from private businesses’ and state agencies’ need for a fixed, closed telegraphic communication system. Their use spread throughout Europe in the 1920s. In Greece, in the 30s, the company ΤΤΤ sold English Creed and German Siemens teletype devices.
Special training was required to operate the teletype; therefore, in 1937, the Government set up classes in various telegraph offices to train telegraph operators in using the “Baudot and Teletyp” systems. The Baudot system could transmit 300 telegrams per hour compared to the 25 telegrams that could be sent using the Morse code system.
As a device, the teletype was abandoned with the spread of computers; however, it is still used in the army for encrypted messages using special protocols.
Thalis o Milisios (Thales of Miletus)
With respect to Greece's telecommunications sector, the cable-laying ship “Thalis o Milisios” is unique. “Thalis o Milisios” was a small cable-laying steamship that was built in Newport News, USA, in 1909, and was given the name Joseph Henry (the scientist who aided Samuel Morse in the development of the telegraph). It was built for the Army Signal Corps, and during World War II was used for controlled mine works at various coastal facilities.
It was granted to the Greek Government in 1947 offering great services in the field of submarine networks in Greece. It is said that it was “bought” by the Greek state for the symbolic amount of one dollar. It was used for laying and repairing cables for the Greek Telecommunications Company (OTE) as well as other similar organisations of other countries for 36 years.
At the end of the 1970s, Thalis o Milisios could no longer meet the developments of submarine telecommunications networks, since it was only able to lay and repair a smaller number of telegraphic cables, and could only transfer cables of a limited length. Thus, “Thalis o Milisios” was decommissioned up in 1982. In 1991, it was donated to the Aegean Maritime Museum by OTE. It is currently moored at the Flisvos Marina, next to the armoured cruiser “GEORGIOS AVEROF,” and can be visited.
Telegraphic Map of 1884
This telegraphic map was printed in 1884 at the Bavarian-born Grutman brothers’ lithography shop in Athens and depicts the telegraphic network the day after the annexation of Thessaly and Arta to the Kingdom of Greece in 1881.
The map consists of six sheets and is extremely detailed. It depicts not only the aerial and submarine lines, the seats of the telegraphic subdirectorates and the telegraph offices of all classes, but also the first telephone network being formed. The map also captures the commercial importance of Greece's specific geographic regions, such as Syros and Zakynthos, at the end of the 19th century.