Milestone-Proposal:Salva's Electric Telegraph, 1804

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Docket #:2018-03

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

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)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Salva's Electric Telegraph, 1804

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

On February 22, 1804, Francisco Salva y Campillo reported to the Barcelona Royal Academy of Sciences, in Spain, a brand new kind of electric telegraph based on the recently invented Volta’s pile to generate an electric current and on the electrolytic decomposition of water to detect the current flow. Salva also carried out some practical experiments to demonstrate the feasibility of his proposal.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

IEEE Spain Section

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

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

Unit: IEEE Spain Section
Senior Officer Name: Jesus Fraile-Ardanuy

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE Spain Section
Senior Officer Name: Jesus Fraile-Ardanuy

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

IEEE Section: IEEE Spain Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Jesus Fraile-Ardanuy

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Antonio Perez Yuste
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: Begoña Villanueva
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

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 of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Real Academia de Ciencias y Artes de Barcelona, La Rambla, 115, 08002 Barcelona (Spain) GPS coordinates: 41.384171° N, 2.170700° E

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. The intended site of the milestone plaque is the current headquarters of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, sited on the center of the City of Barcelona in a gorgeous building originally designed by the Spanish Modernist Architect José Doménech y Estapá. Salvá introduced his electric telegraph for the first time to the members of this pretigious scientific organisation, in a public address given on February 22, 1804.

Are the original buildings extant?

Yes, the original building remains in full operation currently.

Details of the plaque mounting:

The plaque will be mounted in the main hall of the Royal Academy premises.

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

The intended plaque site is an indoor space, under the Royal Academy protection, where visitors can freely wander and watch the plaque while enjoying the modernist architecture of the building. Not any arrangement is required in advance. Just, to check the opening hours of the Royal Academy is required. The contact information is:

    Tel: +34 93 317 0536

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

The present owner of the site is the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

Salvá was one of the pioneers in exploring the practical application of human-made (artificially generated) electricity [1]. After a deep review of the Benjamin Franklin's works, he repeated some of the experiments that were being carried out at that time by Galvani and Volta. As a result of that, he very soon devised the application of human-made electricity to the transmission of information at a distance, as a more reliable and cost-effective substitute for the optical telegraph systems then in use. He wrote a report titled "Electricity Applied to Telegraphy", addressed to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, as early as December 16, 1795, where he already unveiled his ideas on this topic [2].

In the following years, Salvá conducted some new experiments on galvanism that he duly reported again to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona in two in a row papers: a first one on February 19, 1800, titled of "On the Galvanism" [3], and a second one on May 14 of the same year, titled of "On the Application of the Galvanism to the Telegraphy" [4]. Just as a curiosity, in his last paper he proposed the use of frog-legs as a natural current detector for the receiver.

Meanwhile that was happening, some remarkable scientific advances were being done in Europe. On the one hand, in Italy, Alessandro Volta had just developed the electric pile as a way to artificially produce a steady electric current [5]; on the other hand, in England, William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle had discovered the electrolysis process leading to the decomposition of water [6]. Based on those two relevant facts, Salvá conceived a new method for conveying intelligence at a distance by means of electricity, which finally led to his 1804 electric telegraph. The equipment and operation for this new system was presented to the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona on February 24 that year, and was recorded in a paper titled "Second Report about Galvanism as applied to Telegraphy" [7].

As far as it has been documented until now, this 1804 electric telegraph was the first one in history operated by means of an electric battery to produce electricity and by using a fully under-control physical phenomenon to make its detection, so coming ahead of the electric models proposed by Morse, in the States, and Cooke and Wheastone, in England, over 3o years later.

Next, some literal paragraphs have been reproduced from works of different historians, recognizing the contribution of Salvá to the development of the electric telegraph:

Munro [10]: "Volta's great invention of the pile in 1800 furnished a new source of electricity, better adapted for the telegraph, and Salvá was apparently the first to recognise this, for, in the same year (sic), he proposed to use it and interpret the signals by the twitching of a frog's limb, or the decomposition of water".

Huurdemann [11]: "Salvá was the first one to make use of the electrolytic decomposition of water as a signal indicator".

Hawks [12]: "German anatomist Samuel Thomas von Sömmering demonstrated to the Munich Academy of Science the use of the development of Salvá was the inventor of the first electro-chemical telegraph".

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

Contemporary of such important French figures as Laplace, Coulomb, Lagrange, or Fourier, the Spaniard Salvá was also a prominent Enlightenment scientist who had to develop his career in the shadow of the more influential and powerful French science system at that time. Although his very first experiments with static electricity were supported by the Counselor of the King of Spain, Manuel Godoy [8], (position somehow equivalent to a Prime Minister nowadays), the War of the First Coalition in Europe at the end of the XVIII century, the rise of Napoleon to power in France, his invasion of Spain at the beginning of the XIX century, and the following bloody Peninsular War, almost paralyzed all the scientific activities in Spain and, particularly, brought a sad end to the work of Salvá, who could neither continue the development of his electric telegraph nor claim his priority in this field.

In relation to technical obstacles, Salvá was a Doctor in Medicine with a solid education in Physics but with not any institutional support to carry out his experiences on electricity. Anyway, he gained a seat in the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, on February 8, 1786, from where he could learn very much about the state of the art in this promising new field and obtain some support from both friends and colleagues [9]. In spite of that, he never produced an industrial model of his electric telegraph, neither he patented nor sold his prototype to any other person or company. As a consequence, his ideas were soon consigned to oblivion.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

In according to John Munro, "the first suggestion of an electric telegraph on record is that published by one C.M. in the Scots Magazine for February 17, 1753" [10]. The device consisted in a number of wires, one for each letter of the alphabet, so a static current was applied to a wire representing the letter to be transmitted. At the other end, the wires were arranged to attract a disc of paper marked with the corresponding letter, and so the message would be spelled.

After that, Anton A. Huurdeman claims the Genevan physicist Georges-Louis Le Sage be, in 1774, "the first to construct an electrostatic telegraph as proposed by C.M." [11]. Le Sage used 24 pith balls over 24 wires connected with an electrostatic generator to communicate at a short distance.

Even Salvá, in 1795, also conceived a more advanced electrostatic telegraph by using Leyden jars to transmit a spark across the wires [2] and, amazingly, by the twitching of a frog's limb as a way to signal the reception [4].

But, without a doubt, it was the system proposed in 1804, what gives Salvá the merit to be a pioneer of the electric telegraph. So it is recognized by some historians like Munro [9] , Huurdeman [11], or Hawks [12].

By following Salvá's steps, Samuel Thomas von Sommering, a distinguished Prussian anatomist, in 1809, brought out a telegraph worked by a voltaic battery, and making signals by decomposing water, in a very similar way to Salvá's [11]. There is reason to believe that but for the discovery of electromagnetism by Oersted, in 1824, the Salvá's electric telegraph could have come into practical use before the models of Morse and of Wheatstone and Cooke.

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.

[1] Pérez-Yuste, A., "Francisco Salvá's Electric Telegraph", Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 98, n. 11, pp. 1974 - 1977, Nov. 2010 [2] Salvá-Campillo, F., "Electricity Applied to Telegraphy", 1795 [3] Salvá-Campillo, F., "On the Galvanism", 1800 [4] Salvá-Campillo, F., "On the Application of the Galvanism to the Telegraphy", 1800 [5] Cecchini, R. and Pelosi, G., "Alessandro Volta and his battery", IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 34, n. 2, pp. 30-37, April 1992. [6] Nicholson, Carlisle, and Cruickshank, "Experiments in Galvanic Electricity", The Philosophical Magazine, vol. VIII, pp. 337-347, Sep. 1800, London [7] Salvá-Campillo, F., "Second Report about Galvanism as applied to Telegraphy", 1804 [8] Gazeta de Madrid, n. 96, p. 1018, Martes 29 de Noviembre de 1796 [9] Sánchez-Miñana, J., "Vida y Obra del Doctor Salvá i Campillo", Ed. Colegio de Ingenieros de Telecomunicación de Cataluña, Barcelona, Spain, 2005 [10] Munro, J., "Heroes of the Telegraph", Ed. The Religious Tract Society, 1891, rerpint edition by BiblioBazaar, 2007 [11] Huurdeman, A. A., "The Worldwide History of Telecommunications", Ed. Wiley-Interscience, New Jersey, 2003 [12] Hawks, E., "Pioneers of Wireless", Ed. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1927, reprint Edition by Arno Press Inc., 1974 [13] Pérez-Yuste, A., "Salvá’s electric telegraph based on Volta’s battery", 2008 IEEE History of Telecommunications Conference, 11-12 September 2008, Paris, France

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).