During 1790-1795, at the height of the French Revolution, France needed a swift and reliable communication system to thwart the war efforts of its enemies. France was surrounded by the forces of Britain, the Netherlands, Prussia, Austria, and Spain, the cities of Marseille and Lyon were in revolt, and the British Fleet held Toulon. The only advantage France held was the lack of cooperation between the allied forces due to their inadequate lines of communication.
In the summer of 1790, the Chappe brothers set about devising a system of communication that would allow the central government to receive intelligence and to transmit orders in the shortest possible time. On 2 March 1791 at 11am, they sent the message "si vous réussissez, vous serez bientôt couverts de gloire" (If you succeed, you will soon bask in glory) between Brulon and Parce, a distance of 16 kilometres. The first means used a combination of black and white panels, clocks, telescopes, and codebooks to send their message.
They developed the system over the next couple of years, eventually covering France with a network of 556 stations stretching a total distance of 4,800 kilometres (3,000 mi). Le système Chappe was used for military and national communications until the 1850s.
At its most efficient the system could transmit two or three characters per minute, equating to 0.3 bits per second – most domestic internet connections today usually achieve at least 10,000,000 bits per second.
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