Hamburg optical telegraph

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Schmidt's telegraph terminates at the pilot house in Cuxhaven

The Hamburg optical telegraph was a privately operated telegraph line between Hamburg and Cuxhaven using the optical telegraph . It existed from 1838 to 1849 and was primarily used to transmit information relating to shipping.


Based on reports about the establishment of an optical telegraph system in France (according to Chappe ), the Hamburg Senator Günther suggested on October 30, 1794 the construction of such a system of communication between Hamburg and the Hamburg office of Ritzebüttel (today Cuxhaven), located at the mouth of the Elbe . on. Although the usefulness of such a connection for the port city, especially the early notification of the approaching ships, was seen, the realization was rejected for reasons of cost.

A second submission to the Commerz Deputation by Edward Roß in 1818 was unsuccessful because the investment and operating costs were still assessed as too high. One was content with a now existing reporting service by a cavalry unit.

A third application by Johann Ludwig Schmidt, a merchant and vinegar manufacturer in the then Holstein- Danish Altona , was finally successful in 1836. The Commerz deputation was willing to help finance the operation through grants.


Hamburg harbor at baumall (left) with tree house (center / left with cross-like roof attachment)

In 1836, the entrepreneur Schmidt had received a concession from the Senate of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg , and on March 18, 1838 the telegraph line between Hamburg and Cuxhaven was opened.

Six intermediate stations ( Blankenese , Schulau , Brunshausen / Stade , Hechthausen , Dobrock , Otterndorf ) were selected and suitable, elevated locations equipped with semaphores on the route between Hamburg and Altona and Ritzebüttel-Cuxhaven, about 120 kilometers away . End stations of the line were in Cuxhaven the hotel "Belvedere" and in Hamburg, the " tree house " on Baumwall , later the tower of the new post office building ( Old Post ). From 1846 there was an expansion through the connection from Hechthausen to Bremerhaven , to the local optical telegraph line Bremen – Bremerhaven .

The special task of this optical telegraph line was the implementation of a ship reporting service on the Lower Elbe . The optical telegraph was also used effectively in the Hamburg fire of May 1842, when aid teams and fire brigades from the Hamburg area were called in at the instigation of Friedrich Clemens Gerke .

The Hamburg Altonaer Telegraph was in service successfully for eleven years before it was discontinued and dismantled on August 19, 1849. Its task was taken over by the electrical telegraph of the Elektro-Magnetische Telegraphen-Compagnie , which had existed since October 15, 1848 . Friedrich Clemens Gerke worked in both companies and played a prominent role in the introduction of the electromagnetic telegraph on this route.

Financing and working method

The Hamburg Altonaer Telegraph needed considerable financial resources to be able to pay the staff at the eight stations. A total of 32 telegraph operators were employed in a two-shift operation, two people at each station were on duty, one watching the other stations while the other operated the semaphores. The operating costs were considerable and could only inadequately be covered by the income. The conversion into a stock corporation and the inflow of private capital did not bring any significant improvement either. Schmidt was able to win subscribers for the ship reporting service, but despite the subsidies granted by the Commerz deputation, it remained a difficult undertaking to keep the operation going.

At a time of great difficulty, Friedrich Clemens Gerke joined the Hamburg Telegraph, which reformed the company.

On June 30, 1847, the Americans William and Charles Robinson announced the "American electro-magnetic telegraph " based on the Morse system in the Hamburg newspaper Börsen Halle . It was generally recognized that this was more economical to operate. It works in all weathers, day and night, and has fewer staff (only eight employees in total). Due to Schmidt's great merits in relation to the Hamburg fire, the Senate was undecided how to proceed and unsuccessfully urged him to work with the new company. In contrast to him, Gerke recognized the advantages of the system and switched to the newly founded Electro-Magnetic Telegraphen Compagnie in the summer of 1847 . Gerke became the company's inspector in 1847. The management consisted of Senator Carl Möring , the businessman Adolph Godeffroy and AW Hüpeden.

Both systems were operated side by side for a short time until Schmidt, who had lost all of his fortune in an unsuccessful attempt to save the telegraph, had to cease operations on August 19, 1849.


  • Horst A. Wessel: The optical telegraph line from Hamburg to Cuxhaven . In: As far as the eye can see: The history of optical telegraphy. (Publication by the Museum for Post and Communication , Frankfurt am Main, on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name from April 27 to July 30, 1995), ISBN 3-7650-8150-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. * March 1, 1791 in Wildeshausen; † March 29, 1854 in Oldenburg, see Wolfgang Haubold: Der Landkreis Oldenburg. People, history, landscape, Holzberg, Oldenburg 1992, p. 275
  2. D. Box: 100 years of the Hamburg Telegraph Office . Postal history sheets, Hamburg 1968.

Web links

Commons : Optical Telegraph  - collection of images, videos and audio files