Telegrapher’s Switch Apparatus
Original dated August 5, 1880
Ink on Paper 32 x 22 cm
National Archives of the Philippines Collection
The document of the month shows ink illustrations of two telegraph apparatus on paper. A certain Francisco Eclaver drew the illustrations. The profile view (vista perfil) is a drawing of a selector switch with letters L, T and R. The view plan (vista plano) is a drawing of a terminal block for electrical wires. The sketches were made on August 5, 1880. The establishment of telegraph services from Manila to other remote southern Luzon provinces became a reality in 1873.
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THE FIRST LOCAL TELEGRAPH LINE
Telegraph service was introduced in the mid-1840s in the U.S. and in Britain. Spain established the Cuerpo de Telegrafos (Body of Telegraphists) in 1856. This was the office responsible for building and operating telegraph stations in the Iberian Peninsula and its colonies.
The house of Fisher and Riley of Singapore recommended the creation of a telegraph line from Manila to Corregidor Island. The island was an important corregimiento* then. Charles Bright and Company of London requested for a concession agreement and even submitted a plan.
By a Royal Order issued on January 6, 1867, a study for the establishment of a telegraphic service in the archipelago was done. Telegraph officer José Batlle Hernández, with Pedro Franco and Joaquín López Curiel as assistants, were sent to Manila for this purpose. A project draft was eventually made on October 28, 1867.
The first telegraph line was finally installed in 1873. This was the cable service line from Manila to Corregidor island. Don Pedro Franco y Blasco became the head of the Officina del Cuerpo Telegrapos and the Director de la Linea Manila al Corregidor on May 28, 1872.
In 1873, during the administration of Governor-General Rafael Izquierdo y Gutierrez, more local telegraph lines and stations were installed. At the end of the Spanish era, there were already 65 government telegraph offices in operation in the islands. Forty-nine in Luzon, nine in Panay, four in Negros and three in Cebu. All the stations were interconnected by 2,818 kilometers of telegraph lines.
Telegraph stamps with corresponding surcharges were issued from 1874 to 1897. Payments collected varied. The fee for a line service was twenty-five centavos, while payment due for a submarine cable service was one peso. These and other revenue stamps are considered rare items among philatelists.
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THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL TELEGRAPH LINK
Telegraphic service linking the western part of the world with the east was envisioned as early as 1862. The proposed line would start from the India telegraphic system in Rangoon to Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia. Receiving stations would be established in either Singapore or Saigon. Additional routes would be the communication lines between Hong Kong and Singapore. Other preferable sites selected were Sarawak, Borneo, and Manila. Except for Manila and Saigon, most of the countries with telegraph services were then part of the British empire.
The Spanish government in Madrid, in its desire to finally set up a link that will connect Manila with Hong Kong, invited interested parties regarding the plan in 1878. Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Company, a British entity, won the 40-year concession bid. Submarine telegraph cables from Bolinao, Luzon to Hong Kong were laid and completed on May 2, 1880. A landline system was built to connect Manila to Bolinao. In less than a week, international telegraph communication was opened to the public. In a similar way, inter-island submarine cable systems were finally laid between Manila and principal ports in the Central and Western Visayas by 1897. These were the growing ports of Cebu and Iloilo, respectively.
The Manila Observatory publicly announced the first local typhoon warning on July 7, 1879. The November 18, 1879 typhoon warning about the typhoon approaching Manila caused excitement among the local residents and forced the Port Captain to suspend ship traffic at Manila port, then situated at the left and right banks of the Pasig River.
The telegraph connection between Manila and Hong Kong paved the way for a first significant joint communication on sharing typhoon-related facts. The first international weather-related communication from Manila to Hong Kong commenced in 1880. Informed of the great value of storm warnings, the British government eventually established the Hong Kong Observatory. Now, global international weather cooperation is faster and more accurate with the help of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other meteorological agencies.
At the height of the Philippine revolt against Spain and the war that followed against the United States, Filipino guerrillas periodically destroyed many telegraph lines in Luzon. Communication lines that were affected included the Manila to Hong Kong connection.
When the Americans occupied Manila in May 1898, and during the final retreat of Aguinaldo’s forces to the north of Manila, the U.S. Signal Corps immediately re-connected compromised lines. The unit even installed new military telegraph lines connecting Manila to Caloocan in early 1899.
With the surrender of Aguinaldo, U.S. occupation of the archipelago was complete in 1901 and the Philippine Commission was created to govern the country. Many agencies were established including the Telegraph Division under the Bureau of Posts. Local and international communication links were restored. However, these were destroyed anew during the early phase of the Japanese occupation of the country in 1942. But that is another story to be told in another time.
Philippine telegraph history ended with the last local telegraph transmittal from Baguio to Manila, which was completed on September 20, 2013. Telegraph, the main mode of long-distance and inter-island communications, lasted for 141 years.
*It is a special term used for country subdivisions for royal administrative purposes, ensuring districts were under crown control as opposed to local elites. A corregimiento is usually administered by a corregidor.
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Archivo Historico Nacional. Expediente general de telegrafos de Filipinas y establecimiento de un telegrafo electrico desde Manila a la isla del Corregidor, Julio 2, 1864. Ultramar, 444, Exp. 2. (downloaded from Portal de Archivos Españoles / Pares)
National Archives of the Philippines. Telegraph apparatus destined for Tayabas Province. Correos. SDS 9855, S-451.
National Archives of the Philippines. Pliego de condiciones para establecimiento y explotacion de un cable telegrafico submarino entre la costa occidental de las Islas de Luzon y Hongkong, Abril 10, 1880. Telegrapos, SDS 2013, S – 46 to 55.
Bartels, J. Murrey. Postage stamps of the Philippines including a list of telegraph and revenue stamps issued under the Spanish Domain. By …, F. Apthorp Foster and Captain F.L. Palmer, U.S.A. Members of the Boston Philatelic Club. Boston, The J.M. Bartels Co., 1904.
Algue, Jose, Father, S.J. “The Manila Observatory.” National Geographic Magazine, Volume XI, No. 11, November 1900, p. 428.
“Telegraphic Projects.” The Electrician, Volume II, No. 36, July 11, 1862, p. 109.
Oquindo, Federico. Philippine Telecommunication History. By … and Rafael R. Oquindo (https://www.angelfire.com > telecommunication. Accessed November 4, 2022.