Smoke Signals, Scribbles, Papyrus and Scrolls

We, humans, learnt to speak somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago and writing almost certainly came soon after. There is, of course, much uncertainty about this exact timeline but one thing we can be certain of, as a social species we have an overriding need to communicate with our fellow people, and it is possibly related to tool usage, pack hunting, or perhaps the need to tell the story. Just how that communication evolved from the clicks, screeches, and howls of the animal kingdom may also be uncertain but the why would have been driven by the need to work together.

Written records are known to have existed as early as 6,000 years ago in the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica and many were accounting records but they are in many ways the precursor to how we write today, albeit via much change and experimentation has occurred with letter forms, punctuation etc.

Egyptian hyrogliphic writing by Wiki Images CC0Public Domain PixabayCommunication via smoke signals, hoots, bird calls, whistles etc. were likely to have been developed a long time, but they have limited use, intended as a way of signalling basic information like danger, or all clear, but these devices could not help people communicate over long distances, nor keep a permanent record. In China, they wrote on “bamboo strips and wooden tablets were employed as writing materials, followed by silk fabrics” and were known to have made bamboo books. All this happened about the same time Mesopotamians and Egyptians used papyrus. Clay tablets, bark, leaves, and other materials were used in the place of paper, and the Egyptians are well known to have written on stone as a permanent means of recording history making use of hieroglyphs.

Paper was believed to have been created by the Chinese in the first or second century AD and has found its way to Europe by the 10th or 11th century. The modern printing press was invented in 1440  and underwent several enhancements over its lifetime including movable type, lithography, and most recently digitised printing. The printing press pave the route for the printing of books and the creation of the Newspaper in 1605 “Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien” published in Strasbourg, the first in English being “Berrow’s Worcester Journal” from 1690 which claims to be the world’s oldest surviving publication with weekly editions that continue today.

In the UK a new Post Office was introduced in 1842 which sought to improve the efficiency of delivering letters with a standard postage cost for all items delivered, giving us the postage stamp, used as a method of showing that postage had been paid.

At this point, the story of communications becomes multi-threaded with a myriad of new developments that all impact being that we see, hear, and read things today. Effective communications were essential for colonial European nations that required ways to spend messages speedily and effectively. The communications related inventions included:

  • Smith Premier Virtical by Iynnea CC0 Public Domain Pixabay1744 the mail order catalogue
  • 1761 the glass harmonica or glass harmonica, a musical instrument created by Benjamin Franklin.
  • 1795 the Wheel Cipher used for encrypting messages
  • 1810 Frederick Koenig Improves the printing press
  • 1814 The first photograph
  • 1821 Charles Babbage invents the Difference Engine, the world’s first calculating machine.
  • 1825 William Sturgeon creates the Electromagnet
  • 1827 the Microphone
  • 1829 Typewriter
  • Louis Braille invented printing for the blind in 1829
  • 1834 Babbage Analytical Engine, the first programmable computer
  • 1837 Telegraph based on Morse code, created in 1836, as a means of communicating effectively by telegraph.
  • The circuit breaker, created in 1836 to protect electric circuits from damage
  • 1843, the rotary printing press revolutionising the printing industry again.
  • 1843 Facsimile
  • 1846 the Printing Telegraph
  • 1854 Fiber-optics
  • 1858 Pencil eraser
  • Pony Express by 1860 spurred on by the need for faster communication with the West
  • 1861 the Post Card
  • 1866 the continuous feed rotary printing press
  • 1867 the paper clip
  • 1874 the Quadruplex telegraph to send four signals in a single wire
  • 1874 The QWERTY keyboard
  • 1875 Mimeograph for stencil printing
  • 1875 Telephone
  • 1877 the Gramophone
  • 1884 Eastman invents paper-strip photographic film
  • 1884 Waterman’s fountain pen
  • 1886 the Telephone Directory
  • 1888 the Ballpoint pen
  • 1891 Radio
  • 1895 Motion picture cinematography by the Lumiere Brothers
  • 1897 Cathode Ray Tube.

This is an impressive list of inventions that occurred during the course of the 19th century, most of which acted as the foundations for modern advancements in communications. Of course, there may be communications inventions that I have missed in this list but the point is that this should show how important communications are to the human race. The telephone, radio, photograph and the ability to send messages of increasing complexity over vast distances have driven change during the twentieth century with the computer encompassing any of these and later inventions, especially the creation of the Internet during the 1960s and each leap has in turn created new communications opportunities for us and today we hardly think about it when chatting to a person on the opposite side of the planet. The future may hold many new advances in communications, some easily perceived, such as colour fonts for emphasis but others are simply awaiting invention.

This is an extract of part part of Peter Giblett’s Book “Is your Business Ready for the Social Media Revolution?” which is available on Amazon.



Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for providing this information.





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One Reply to “Smoke Signals, Scribbles, Papyrus and Scrolls”

  1. […] starvation in the heart of Africa or by a politician looking to win your vote and we have been telling stories since the dawn of time. According to Limberg “stories engage a deeper part of our brains than any logical […]

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