James Madison Papers

To James Madison from St. George Tucker, 26 March 1813

From St. George Tucker

Williamsburg March 26. 1813.

Dear Sir,

I have the pleasure of forwarding by the Mail a Model of my Telegraph pursuant to your obliging request, with the enclosed explanation of the manner of using it.1

We have had no accounts from Norfolk, or Hampton since the last Mail. I am very respectfully, Dear Sir, your most obedt. Servt.

S:G: Tucker

RC and enclosure (DLC). For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The enclosure (4 pp.) stated that Tucker had invented his telegraph in December 1794, “when the first Information of such an Invention in France, reach’d the United States,” but that his differed “very considerably” from the French model. It consisted of “an upright post, and two movable arms, or Indexes,” which could be manipulated “so as to exhibit 28. different signs,” of which Tucker included drawings, representing the letters of the alphabet. He noted that he and the Reverend James Madison had used a model of such a device “not quite so large as that sent” to communicate over a distance of more than 1,500 yards “from the Cupola of the old Capitol in Williamsburg to the College with the aid of a common spy-glass only.” A post thirty to fifty feet high, with indexes fifteen or eighteen feet long, could therefore transmit messages up to twenty-five miles. Tucker explained how the system could keep confidential information secure and convey numbers as well as letters. He suggested that the telegraph structures be painted white with black spots to improve visibility, and that they incorporate lamps and reflectors to make communication possible by night. He proposed signals for beginning communication, ending sentences, and repeating signs not clearly seen, and stated that the system could send three signs per minute.

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