When Queen Victoria sent this telegram to her subjects to celebrate 60 years on the throne, it was addressed to nearly a quarter of the earth’s population – testament both to the extent of the British Empire in the late 19th century and the rapid development of communications technology that had accompanied Victoria’s rein. Queen Victoria received 1,310 telegrams of congratulation in return.
Wireless telegraphy had been in slow development since the mid-18th century. Based on the observation that electrical signals travel at great speed, physicists around the world began experiments to discover first how far a small current could be induced to travel through a wire and latterly whether these short electrical bursts could be used to communicate intelligible signals. This led to the development of several telegraphic alphabets, the most famous of which is Morse Code.
In Britain, the first telegraph wires ran alongside train tracks, with each telegraph pole working as an inductor to jolt the original signal further along to its destination. The first commercial telegraph in Britain was established in 1839 and ran 13 miles (21 kilometres) between Paddington Station and West Drayton. By the time Queen Victoria sent her message to the world, telegrams could be sent thousands of miles through undersea cables.