Watch a Teleprinter In Action From When It Was the Height of Technology
While unquestionably old-fashioned, a teleprinter in use may look somewhat familiar to the texters and instant messengers of today. The device allowed people to transmit printed messages to each other—think of computer-to-computer communication but with printers instead of monitors. Unlike Morse code, teleprinters and teletype machines featured keyboards that look somewhat similar to the ones used today.
The teletype machines in the 1932 British Pathé video above use a variant of Baudot code (named after its inventor, Émile Baudot), an early keyboard language that predates modern computing code. This particular model has shortcuts like “Who Are You?” and the ever-useful “FIGS” button (which stands for “figure shift,” not “more figs, please”).
For decades, newspapers got all the news that occurred outside the reach of their reporters from teleprinters. Starting in 1914, the Associated Press started using teleprinters to transmit stories to outlets around the world. Their staff of far-flung writers filed stories to their bureaus, and those stories would be uploaded into teletype machines and sent out to subscribing newspapers. (Wires were involved, hence "wire service.") Unlike the device seen above, newsrooms’ AP wire machines (and the machines used by services like Reuters, UPI, and government agencies like the National Weather Service) did not have keyboards or ways to send messages out; they were intended to receive data only.
Though now abandoned by news organizations, the teleprinter lives on as a sound effect frequently used in movies and TV shows to convey “we’re in a newsroom." Just try to listen to this without thinking, "Get me pictures of Spider-Man!"
Banner images via YouTube, British Pathé.