Artist Jamie O’Shea decided to embark on a wilderness experiment to see if he could build a telegraph from materials and tools he finds and makes in the woods. Armed only with modern information (from online, of course), watch as he makes rope, creates fire, and produces copper. He calls the project Immaculate Telegraphy.

Some people have viewed this project through the lens of sustainability. While self-sufficiency and locally sourced material would certainly seem to be sustainable, my methods fail quite spectacularly in environmental analysis. For one, I used an estimated 20 kg of charcoal to produce perhaps 20 g of metal. Much of this was wasted in the learning curve, but it was used just the same.

I had zero emissions control. While roasting my copper ores, I directly vented all the gases being produced. The noxious sulphur dioxide, chief precursor to acid rain, gagged me when I got too close. Moreover, I got sick twice after this phase of the process. At first I assumed this was from the sulphur, but after further reading, my symptoms more closely resembled mild arsenic poisoning. Arsenic is a heavy metal usually found in ores of copper that sublimates away during the roasting process. So I have to issue a “don’t try this at home” warning. The only way I can see this process being described as sustainable is that I was distracted from more effective activities of consumption for 6 weeks. But this is easily canceled out by the 3 round-trip cross-continental voyages taken to complete the project.

immaculatetelegraphy Building a telegraph from scratch

From the pages of MAKE Volume 23:

m23 telegraph thmb 193x257 Building a telegraph from scratch

Stone Age Telegraph by Jamie O’Shea. Read now in the digital edition or subscribe.

becky stern headshot Building a telegraph from scratch

Becky Stern

Becky Stern is director of wearable electronics at Adafruit Industries. Her personal site: sternlab.org


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