I was actually curious how the Solar Coronal event of 1859 known as the Carrington Event affected the telegraph system. Wiki does not seem to have much detail of this but there is mention of it in a number of historical documents.

Was the telegraph powered by large batteries and I am curious if the effect of the storm was one of temporary disruption or was there physical damage to the electrical connections or other components that would have caused them to be replaced or repaired ?


1 Answer 1


Google really is your friend.

history.com says

E.W. Culgan, a telegraph manager in Pittsburgh, reported that the resulting currents flowing through the wires were so powerful that platinum contacts were in danger of melting and “streams of fire” were pouring forth from the circuits. In Washington, D.C., telegraph operator Frederick W. Royce was severely shocked as his forehead grazed a ground wire. According to a witness, an arc of fire jumped from Royce’s head to the telegraphic equipment. Some telegraph stations that used chemicals to mark sheets reported that powerful surges caused telegraph paper to combust.

On the morning of September 2, the magnetic mayhem resulting from the second storm created even more chaos for telegraph operators. When American Telegraph Company employees arrived at their Boston office at 8 a.m., they discovered it was impossible to transmit or receive dispatches. The atmosphere was so charged, however, that operators made an incredible discovery: They could unplug their batteries and still transmit messages to Portland, Maine, at 30- to 90-second intervals using only the auroral current.

Wired wrote

On Sept. 2, 1859, at the telegraph office at No. 31 State Street in Boston at 9:30 a.m., the operators' lines were overflowing with current, so they unplugged the batteries connected to their machines, and kept working using just the electricity coursing through the air.When a geomagnetic storm hits the Earth, it shakes the Earth's magnetosphere.[...] As the magnetized plasma pushes the Earth's magnetic field lines around, currents flow. Those currents have their own magnetic fields and soon, down at the ground, strong electromagnetic forces are in play. In other words, your telegraph can run on "auroral current."

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    $\begingroup$ Nice research , if this were to ever happen today it may be a real problem. The telegraph sounded like it was pretty bullet proof and I imagine partly due to it's simplicity. Not many interacting parts ....wires and batteries. $\endgroup$
    – Sedumjoy
    Jul 23, 2018 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see an actual answer to the question here. It doesn't say anywhere whether the system relied on AC or DC (it just mentions the place Washington D.C., which is something quite different. $\endgroup$
    – Outis Nemo
    Feb 14 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ @OutisNemo see that word "batteries" ? $\endgroup$ Feb 14 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft: I see it and understand the implication now that you clarify it, but as it stands it's not exactly a very clear answer, with the actual answer not highlighted in any way and only implied. I'd suggest at the very least editing it to highlight it and explain that it means it was powered by DC (and yes, I see the part asking about batteries specifically in the question body, but the main question is about AC vs. DC specifically). $\endgroup$
    – Outis Nemo
    Feb 15 at 10:54

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