Jonathan Grout Builds America's First Telegraph

Jonathan Grout Builds America's First Telegraph

Jonathan Grout was an American Founder who constructed the first Telegraph System in the United States.

Grout was also one of the original members of the Unites States House of Representatives.

Jonathan Grout

After serving as a young man in the French and Indian War, Jonathan Grout studied law in Massachusetts.

He again took up arms during the Revolutionary War but left when he was chosen to serve in the Massachusetts General Assembly.

Grout spend much of the early years of the Republic in the General Assembly before being selected as a Delegate to write a new State Constitution in 1788. After this was complete, he was elected to the State Senate.


Jonathan was not a big fan of the United States Constitution and made his complaints known.

Due to his excellent reputation in the State Government, Grout was selected as an inaugural member of the United States House of Representatives. This is despite the fact that Massachusetts was a heavily Federalist State.

Of the eight Congressmen sent to the House from Massachusetts, only two were Anti-Federalists. One was Grout and the other was Elbridge Gerry (who was at the Constitutional Convention but refused to sign a document he didn’t support).


Grout attended every session of Congress during his tenure but only served one term.

Although he was fairly quiet during the proceedings, Jonathan took a stand against a tax on salt. He felt this tax would disproportionately effect farmers and fishermen.

Unfortunately, it seems most people disagreed with him and Grout was not elected to a second term.

Visual Telegraph System

Jonathan returned to his law practice but soon thereafter heard of a Visual Telegraph System which had been built in France. This System was a precursor to Samuel Morse’s more famous telegraph.

Instead of beeps, however, the visual telegraph consisted of a tower with two movable arms on top. These arms would be positioned to send a semaphore code (think the cover of the Beatles’ Help album).

More specifically, the System used multiple towers on hilltops several miles from each other. Each tower would be manned by two people who used a spyglass to watch for a signal.

Once received, the code would be repeated for the next tower.

Grout’s Telegraph

Jonathan Grout became fascinated with this idea. He received permission and assistance from the State of Massachusetts to build America’s first Visual Telegraph System.

Grout built a string of towers between Martha’s Vineyard and Boston. This System was able to transmit messages seventy miles in only ten minutes, an astounding feat at the time.

This means that a vessel carrying cargo could announce its arrival to the merchants it worked for and receive updated instructions on where to go in less than half an hour…with having to traverse the rocky trip past Cape Cod.

Do you want to read more about Founders who brought new technologies to America?


Try these articles on Josiah Hornblower and Paul Revere.

Want to learn more about the telegraph?


‘The Telegraph’ is a great book on the subject which discusses Grout’s work briefly. Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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