Milestone-Proposal:Printing Telegraph

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Docket #:2017-04

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on the edit button in toolbar above, indicated by an icon displaying a pencil on paper. At the bottom of the form, check the box that says "Submit this proposal to the IEEE History Committee for review. Only check this when the proposal is finished" and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? No

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? No

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? No

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? No

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1856 - 1859

Title of the proposed milestone:

Hughes Printing Telegraph, 1856 - 1859

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

From 1856 to 1859, David E. Hughes, a professor of Music and Natural Philosophy (Phusics) at St. Joseph’s College, Bardstown, KY, received three US patents for improvements to printing telegraphs. Initially, Hughes’ telegraph was widely used in Europe. Later, inventor George Phelps combined improvements of his own with those of David Hughes and Royal House to create an international standard printing telegraph called The Combination.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

Region 3 Bardstown, Kentucky

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

Milestone proposer(s):

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

114 N 5th St, Bardstown, KY 40004GPS 37.8109722 -85.47072777777778

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Spalding Hall, a former building of St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, KY (est. 1819), now the Whiskey Museum and Bardstown Historical Museum. The curator has indicated they would be willing to host the plaque.

Are the original buildings extant?

Yes, Spalding Hall, built in 1826, is still standing and doing business as the Whiskey Museum and Bardstown Historical Museum.

Details of the plaque mounting:


How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The historic Spalding Hall is located in the heart of Bardstown on 114 North Fifth Street and Xavier Drive with easy access off the Bluegrass Parkway and HIghways 31E and 62. All museums are located on the main floor of Spalding Hall and are handicapped accessible, with elevator access available.HOURS OF OPERATION November 1st - April 30th: Tues-Sat 10am till 4pm, and Sun Noon till 4pm. Closed Monday.May 1st - October 31st: Mon-Fri: 10am - 5pm, Sat: 10am - 4pm, and Sun: Noon - 4pm(If you will be in town after hours, or have a large group, please contact us at 1.800.638.4877 to schedule a showing of the museum.)*Please call for Holiday closings.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Whiskey Museum and Bardstown Historical Museum

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

The printing telegraph produced a direct, printed record of the message sent as opposed to standard telegraphs which sent and received Morse code, requiring a telegrapher with knowledge of Morse code to decode and transcribe the message. The printing telegraph was the forerunner of more modern teleprinters such as the Teletype machines of the 1920s and the Flexowriters of the 1950s. Some forms of these machines carried into the early computer age as input/output devices.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

There were "big guns" in the telegraphy industry and independents found it difficult to compete. As long as the information was transmitted in Morse code, an army of telegraphers skilled in Morse code was required and the information rate was limited by human operators who skills varied considerably. The field of inventors seeking patents for improvements to existing devices was large. Geographically, telegraph companies were also numerous and each area of coverage tended to have its own "standard" device.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

All printing telegraph development efforts broke from the convention of Morse code, hence they represented a significant improvement over earlier devices. The most significant aspect of this was the ability to use clerical operators in place of the highly skilled - and aggressively recruited - Morse code operators. Hughes, as a musician, began working on a music transcription device, then used what he learned from that effort to develop the printing telegraph. He, and other inventors, replaced the human operator's pacing skill with electromechanical governors that were necessary to synchronize the sending and receiving units so they could decode the transmitted information using elapsed time from a start symbol and the received character signal.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

TBD US Patent 14917 Telegraph David E. Hughes May 20, 1856 US Patent 22531 Duplex Telegraph David E. Hughes Jan 4, 1859 US Patent 22770 Printing Telegraph David. E. Hughes Jan 25, 1859

Encyclopaedia Britannica - Biography of David E. Hughes ...he took out a U.S. patent for a typeprinting telegraph instrument; its success was immediate... in some places continued in use until the 1930s.

Standage, Tom.  "The Victorian Internet":  Walker and Company, New York, 1998
  p. 189  Another popular automatic system was devised by David Hughes, a professor of music in Kentucky ...with a constantly rotating "chariot", driven by clockwork... printing a character on a paper tape.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.


Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.