How did people communicate with one another in the 1800s?

Expert Answers
dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prior to the telegraph and telephone the primary source of communication between people other than direct conversation was the 'letter'. People wrote letters the way you and I would have a conversation over the phone. Obviously the content ranged from the simple 'hi, hello how are you to the most formal of documents. Although literacy rates continued to rise throughout the 19th century, those who could not read or write simply asked someone in their family or community to assist them. What I always found interesting as an historian is how letter writing was almost an art. While the beauty of the handwriting enhanced even the dullest of content, the intensity with which personal letters were written conveyed the importance people put upon the letter.

Although I enjoy and benefit from all the advances in communciation technology, on some level they do diminish the intimacy that letter writing holds, and for that reason I hope society never abandons the beauty and value of writing a letter in favor of the language called 'texting'.

F.Y.I. Anyone interested in reading the beauty of a letter written by an individual without any formal education, google the following...Letter written by Sullivan Ballou, 1st Battle of Bull Run, 1861.



joe30pl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As mentioned before, letters were the preferred, i.e. only, ways of conveying information across great distances before the invention of the telegraph. Technology at the time was limited to pretty much pen, usually a quill feather that had to be cut in order to sharpen it, and paper, a costly substance due to the nature of its production as well the different grades available (cheaper paper was more prone to rot, had more pulp, etc.). Writing was also considered a sign of education and status. Letters were sent for many reasons and by people from all walks of life. In the mid-1800's, however, new advances would be made that would change the way people talked.

The first real way to communicate with people across distances that did not involve the mail was invented around 1828. The telegraphwas a crude device that burned dots and dashes into paper to be translated at the other end. Think of it as a precursor to texting. 1830 saw new improvements as a message was sent over one mile.

dswain001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I know it is very difficult to imagine what life must have been like before telephones, text messaging and emails. However, communication between people living in separate cities or states was possible thanks in part to the telegraph machine. The telegraph machine worked by sending a coded message on a wire from one point to another. The most commonly used code was Morse code, which gets its name from inventor Samuel Morse. Morse is credited with perfecting the first telegraph machine in the 1830's. The codes were sent using electrical pulses.

Newspapers were also used to communicate. Papers cost a penny and were printed daily. Much like today, newspapers of the 1800's listed birth and wedding announcements, discussed local and national events and even estate auctions. Newspapers of that time were much smaller in comparison wit today's periodicals.

Most people of that time simply wrote letters back and forth do loved ones they wished to speak to.

lynn30k eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm looking at your question a little differently from the previous responders. Do you mean the style of conversation? Obviously, the language was somewhat different as language evolves constantly, so the words used were not the same as now. The thing that is striking, though, is the level of formality in some circles. It is hard to say, but it would seem that the way Jane Austen has her characters speak is probably a pretty accurate representation of how the upper (and aspiring to be upper) class people of her day spoke to each other. There are some things that you notice as you read any of her novels; for instance, that the oldest daughter of a family is referred to as "Miss Smith", while the younger daughters are addressed as "Miss Jane", "Miss Elizabeth", and so on.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
If you are speaking of technology, people used letters as the main mode of communication because other kinds were very expensive. Letters were slow, but the pony express made things faster. Telegraphs were used if you needed faster communication, but you could not say much because they had to be brief. In the latter part of the century the telephone was invented, but they were very rare. Most people did not have one, and most people in small towns were lucky if there was one in the town.
amy123abc | Student

I m doing my speech on alexander grahm bell and I had the same question 

atyourservice | Student

The people used letters to communicate with each other. Also the telegraph but only a few people had it back in the 1800s.

nisarg | Student

The telegraph, mail, newpapers and other people. Our lives now are much easier with email, the internet, and texting.

zumba96 | Student

In the 1800s, there were only few ways for people to communicate between each other. One of the most common ways to spread information was through the use of books. Mail was not very efficient during the early part of the 1800s and there was no guarantee that the message would arrive or get their quickly. During the 1840s, the invention of the telegraph by F.B Morse was able to send messages much more quickly.