Did you know that glass was being drawn into fibers since Roman times? However, it was not until the 1790s that two French brothers used fiber optics to create the first optical telegraph. This telegraph was made of towers outfitted with a series of lights that operators could use to send messages back and forth. Ever since that day, people all over the world continue to create new inventions using fiber optic cables.
Throughout the 1800s, many physicists continued to research fiber optics to better understand how they work. In 1870 John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, demonstrated that light could travel through a curved stream of water. He shone light into a jug of water and when he poured water out of the jug, the light curved, following the water’s path. This example of “bending light” is exactly what happens in fiber optics.
Then in the 1930s, people began using fiber optics in their inventions. Two German students, Heinrich Lamm and Walter Gerlach attempted to use light pipes to make a gastroscope to look inside people’s stomachs.
In the 1950s Physicists Narinder Kapany and Harold Hopkins sent a picture down a light pipe made from thousands of glass fibers.
Then in 1957, American scientists accomplished what two German students in the 1930s attempted; they successfully used fiber optics to make the world’s first gastroscope.
In the 1960s, physicist Charles Kao and his colleague George Hockman discovered that impure glass would not work for long-range fiber optics. Kao suggested that telephone signals could only be carried over long distances if it was through the purest of glass. He later won a Nobel Prize in 2009 for this discovery.
In the 1960s, the first fiber optic cable that could carry telephone signals was created by researchers at Corning Glass Company.
In 1977 the first fiber optic telephone cable was laid between Long Beach and Artesia, CA.
In the 1980s Sprint was founded on the first nationwide, fiber optic network.
Then in 1997, a transatlantic fiber optic telephone cable, FLAG (Fiber optic Link around the Globe) was laid between London, England and Tokyo, Japan.
The advances of fiber optics don’t end here. Fiber optic cables are used today in several industries and in a variety of ways. Not only are they used by the military and NASA, but without their developments over the years, we wouldn’t have the internet, phones, or television. We keep finding new and life-changing uses for fiber optics, like the Internet of Things. It’s exciting to think what else fiber optics will make possible in the future.