According to abbreviationfinder, ETC stands for International Telegraph Union. “The Electric Telegraph Company”, in 1846 ETC, which had been provisionally registered on September 2, 1845, by Cooke and Wilson, joined the purchase, by public subscription, of the Cooke and Wheatstone patents. It was the first such company created in Great Britain. Its first directors were J. L. Ricardo (Chairman), S. Ricardo, W. F. Cooke, G. P. Bidder, and a Mr. R. Hill.

Company Objective

After obtaining the “Act of Incorporation” (License to operate), the ETC, under the direction of Ricardo, built its central station at the end of Founder’s Court, Lothbury, in London, for which the necessary capital was obtained from Sir Samuel Morton Overalls. When this building opened on January 1, 1848, 1,514 miles (2,436 km) of telegraph lines had already been laid.

At the same time that the above was being carried out, the objective of the ETC was to change the contracts it had with the railway companies, from a temporary use permit to an exclusive and long-term agreement. In this way, the situation of the company would be practically that of a monopoly.

This clever policy managed to be carried out, mainly in the case of the main railway companies and those that maintained trunk lines from London to the north and west. At the same time, thanks to the License issued by the Government, it was authorized to lay pipelines and cables through the streets of cities and towns. On January 1, 1848, the ECT had already opened offices for receiving and transmitting public mail in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and the rest of the major cities of the Ukraine, which in turn could communicate with other small offices set up in smaller towns and at railway stations.

The objectives to be achieved could not be reduced simply to the possibility of laying lines and the possibility of sending telegrams through them. Agreements had to be reached on the rates and how they were distributed between the different administrations, on the order of priority between the different classes of telegrams, on the use of encrypted codes and sending, on the words and languages ​​allowed, on the routing of messages, about censorship and secrecy,… Most of these issues were outside the competence or interests of the diplomatic delegations represented. As a consequence, at the next Conference, held in Vienna in 1868, it was decided to establish in Bern the “International Telegraph Administration Office” .

Cost Consequences

The initial profits were quite meager. The main cause was the high cost of shipping from London to other cities. Some prices were, for example: Birmingham or Stafford D3.9 (1.625p) per word Derby, Norwich, Nottingham or Yarmouth D4.5 (1.87p) per word Liverpool, Leeds or Manchester D5.1 (2.125 p) per word Edinburgh 7.8d (3.25p) per word Glasgow 9.7d (3.625p) per word

At these prices, a 20 word message to Leeds would cost 102d (42.5p) which was more than a day laborer earned in a week.

The consequences of the above were obvious. By March 27, 1848, ECT had already sacked 80% of the non-technical staff and by June they had a loss of £3,220. Collapse seemed inevitable, but Ricardo advanced the money necessary to offset the losses, bringing them down to £341 in December. Revenue from messages sent was around £100 a week. Positions slowly improved and by 1850 the income from all possible routes was £43,524 of which £10,075 was profit. Two years later, in 1860, receipts were £214,245 and profits were £69,711.

Instruments used so far

  • needle systems
  • dial telegraphs
  • Morse systems, and
  • automatic appliances

In turn, the received signals were either visible (transient or permanent, and differing in shape, color, or duration) or audible (always transient, differing in pitch and duration).

Telegraphs in European countries


Although more than half of the second part of the 9th century, the beginning of the 20th was characterized by a set of conflicts of competences and priorities, both technological and expansion, to reach that point it had been necessary that, previously, the basis for cooperation in everything related to the movement of messages across borders. In other words, international cooperation preceded disagreements.

The main reason for reaching agreements was none other than the need to solve all the difficulties that existed in passing information from one side to the other of the limits between European nations. An example can be a sample of this fact. Before 1852 it was impossible to transmit a message between France and the neighboring state of the Grand Duchy of Baden, across the Rhine. In that year, the two states signed an agreement whereby an employee of the Baden telegraph administration office was stationed at the French office in Strasbourg. If a telegram arrived from France destined for Baden, the French clerk handed it to the one in Baden, translated it into German, crossed the river and delivered it to the office on the other side of the bank to continue on its way to its final destination. Although this solution was not ideal, it was better than not having it. It is evident that it needed to be improved, but as an initial solution it was accepted. Situations like this multiplied throughout Europe and needed to be treated in a uniform manner.

The environment in which all of the above had a greater incidence was in Germany. When the first telegraph lines were laid, what is now the German state was divided into a myriad of petty kingdoms, grand dukedoms, and other political structures. Common language, trade, and political pressures came together to break down existing barriers. In 1849 the first cooperation treaties between Prussia and Saxony were signed. In 1850, between Bavaria and Austria. In the same year, Prussia, Austria and a few other smaller states constituted the “Austro-German Telegraph Union”, to which most of the German states and the Netherlands later joined.


France, in turn, signed another series of agreements, beginning in 1850, with neighboring states. In 1851 he signed it with Belgium, in 1852 with Switzerland, in 1853 with Sardinia and in 1854 with Spain. The following year, they all signed an agreement to constitute the “Western European Telegraph Union”, which was soon joined by the Netherlands, Portugal, the Vatican, and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In 1855, Belgium, France and Prussia they sign the Berlin Convention, which establishes the possibility of laying lines through the respective countries at the same time that vows are made for secrecy and security in communications.

At the beginning of 1860, dozens of bilateral treaties had already been signed between almost all the European countries and between them and the two existing Telegraph Unions. In order to homogenize what existed, in 1864, Napoleon III invited the main countries of Europe to create an efficient international telegraph system. The only country that did not participate was Great Britain due to the fact that it was the only one where the telegraph was in private hands. The conference took place in Paris in 1865, and it created the “International Telegraphic Union” (“International Telegraphic Union” – ITU).

International Telegraph Union

ETC Guide