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Communications. From the Revolutionary War to the present, the American military has used communications in order to command and control its forces and other assets, but the technology has changed dramatically. Methods employed during the nation's war for independence (messengers, signal lights, and voice commands) differed little from those used by ancient armies.

During the Civil War, visual signaling remained the primary communications method. The utility of the electric telegraph (invented 1837) had been amply demonstrated by European armies since the 1850s; but Albert J. Myer gave it little attention when designing the nation's first military communications organization, the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Established by an act of Congress on 21 June 1860, the Signal Corps employed Myer's “wigwag” system. Using an adaptation of the Bain telegraph code, movements of flags (and at night, torches) transmitted tactical communications within visual range. Although army signalers operated “telegraph trains” (communications wagons with telegraphs and field wire), fixed wire communications were beyond Myer's purview. With regular trips to the War Department, President Lincoln read the latest telegraphic reports on the progress of the war. The conduit for that information, more than likely, was the rival U.S. Military Telegraph, a contract firm that used commercial lines and civilian employees to meet the administrative and strategic needs of the army.

After the war, the Signal Corps assumed responsibility for the electric telegraph and used it to create a national weather service as well as a military communications network. Although visual signaling—wigwag, sun‐powered heliograph, and observation balloons—remained important to the U.S. military, the Spanish‐American War found commercial and military telegraph enjoying extensive use. Commanders in widely dispersed theaters of war—Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines—made use of both military and commercial telegraph. Telegraph and ocean cable connected the front lines of Cuba with defense planners in Washington. Wire communications facilities across the Philippine Islands linked the archipelago by submarine cable. At the same time, Adolphus W. Greely (chief signal officer 1887–1906) adapted and equipped the army with emerging late nineteenth‐century technology, such as the telephone (invented 1876), to command and control its forces. Its use was demonstrated by the telephone system in Cuba that enabled Gen. William Shafter's Fifth Army to communicate within yards of the front line, as well as with the admiral of the U.S. Fleet.

While providing a communications network and trying to quell the Philippine War (1899–1902), the Signal Corps simultaneously supported the army on another frontier. Signal Corps celebrities such as then Lt. Billy Mitchell helped to construct the Washington‐Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS). The network, which connected the region's isolated military posts, helped the army coordinate its peacekeeping efforts in the territory during the Alaska gold rush. Renamed the Alaska Communication System in 1936, it remained under military control for over sixty years. Radio replaced Alaska's telegraph system in 1928, owing much to the efforts of George Owen Squier (chief signal officer 1917–24), who tested Marconi's invention, the wireless (1895), for military use.

The U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy both employed the wireless. In 1904, a radio station in the Boston Navy Yard transmitted the first official Naval Observatory time. Although experimentation continued and the navy employed wireless to transmit time and weather reports, the navy's admirals had little faith in its tactical uses.

The Army Signal Corps introduced the first portable wireless sets into the field in 1906, and began experimenting with radio telephony (voice radio) the following year. In 1914, it tested a radio set mounted in an automobile. Parallel efforts by the navy during this period included in‐house experimentation and support of the commercial development of radio. Regarded as a novelty, however, radio remained largely unused. Army land forces in World War I relied on the telephone, telegraph, and even homing pigeons for communications in the era of trench warfare.

Supporting the American Expeditionary Forces, the army was also responsible for combat photography and aviation. Nevertheless, the Signal Corps' grandest achievement was the establishment of a massive wire communications system that ran from the seacoast to the American battle zone in France. The system consisted of literally thousands of miles of administrative and combat lines: 134 permanent telegraph offices and 273 telephone exchanges, facilitated by 200 bilingual American telephone operators. Multiplex printing telegraph equipment linked Tours, Chaumont, Paris, and London.

The army's communications arm also oversaw the adaptation of the airplane to military use. With its genesis in Civil War and Spanish‐American War observation balloons, the Signal Corps purchased a Wright brothers' flying machine in 1908. James Allen (chief signal officer 1906–13) and his immediate successors perceived the airplane as an observation platform and vehicle for courier service. When aviation's role as a fighting and bombing force expanded during World War I, the army created the Army Air Service (1918), separating aviation from the Signal Corps.

Experimentation before and during World War I contributed to the Signal Corps' development of radio for military purposes. Stepping stones included the achievements of Signal Corps captain (later major) Edwin H. Armstrong. Armstrong invented a major component of amplitude modulated (AM) radio—the superhetrodyne circuit—during World War I. His next invention, frequency modulated (FM) radio, came during the interwar years. Chief Signal Officer Squier facilitated the standardization and mass production of vacuum tubes. He established the first Signal Corps Laboratory at Camp Alfred Vail, New Jersey. Introduction of the SCR‐68, an airborne radio telephone, and its companion ground set, the SCR‐67, were significant steps in the development of radio communications.

During the interwar years, developments in both wire and radio technology set the stage for communications support for World War II. Naval research included experimentation with the radio compass, airborne radio, and radio remote control. The teletype, remarkable for its accuracy, speed, and simplicity of operation, came into the arsenal in the 1930s. The battery‐powered field telephone was developed as the Germans improved both the switchboard and communications cable. The War Department Radio Net (established 1922) became the genesis for an elaborate command and control communications system that enveloped both army forces and navy ships during World War II. About the same time, the International Radio Convention (1927) adopted the navy's plan for worldwide frequency allocation.

A 25‐pound army walkie‐talkie, developed in 1934, made its debut in the army maneuvers of 1939. A truck‐mounted long‐range radio, with a 100‐mile voice range and several times greater range for Morse Code, was introduced in the 1940 Louisiana maneuvers. Captain Armstrong helped Col. Roger Colton develop his invention into the army's first FM pushbutton, crystal‐controlled, tactical radio in the Signal Corps Laboratory at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Although the army's armor and artillery branches communicated via FM radio (proven feasible by 1936), the infantry (as well as the navy) failed to integrate the new technology until after World War II.

Numerous countries claimed ownership of radar, developed during the 1930s. Its significance in World War II communications cannot be overstated. By 1943, the Germans were effectively using radar as an early warning and weapons‐directional device. In the United States, navy research and development paralleled that of the Army Signal Corps. Prewar, the navy installed it on ships (1940), while the army used it as a short‐range radio locator for directing searchlights. A new, long‐range aircraft detector radar, on Oahu, Hawaii, issued a warning (unfortunately ignored) when Japanese aircraft approached the island on 7 December 1941. By early 1942, the Signal Corps SCR‐517 microwave radar was used in aircraft to search for ships in the Atlantic. In 1944, a microwave SCR‐584 helped aim U.S. weapons in combat at Anzio, Italy. By the end of the war, such communications advances as the bi‐service advancement of radar, navy perfection of sonar, army development of FM radio, and overall miniaturization of electronic components laid the groundwork for the electronics and space ages to follow.

The Signal Corps used a modified SCR‐271 long‐range radar set (1946) to bounce radar signals off the Moon to test the properties of radio communications in space. Postwar navy technological achievements included over‐horizon VHF radio communications, the use of radar waves to reflect signals off the Moon (1951), and Moon‐relayed messages between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Washington (1956). Both services contributed to the development of artificial space satellites and communications. By the 1960s, rockets of the U.S. Air Force were sending manned and unmanned vehicles into space.

Improved radar supported land and air forces and naval batteries in the conduct of the Korean War. The Signal Corps played a major supporting role in that conflict. Although doctrine dictated wire as the primary means of communication, the exigencies of Korea—distance, terrain, primitive roads—led to a dependence on very high frequency (VHF) radio. VHF, effective far beyond its 25‐mile range, carried teletype as well as voice traffic. It proved adaptable to the frequent infantry moves characteristic of the fighting in the first two years of the conflict. But line‐of‐sight properties restricted its usage; VHF station components, weighing hundreds of pounds, often required transportation to—and operation and maintenance from—high, remote communication sites. In spite of the difficulties, army communicators proclaimed VHF the backbone of communications during the Korean War.

Between Korea and Vietnam, military efforts again focused on the peaceful uses of communications. The army, in 1958, used its technology to explore outer space. The Signal Corps' Space Sentry bounced signals from the Moon, developing the ability to ensure the close tracking of satellites. The same year, Vanguard II's infrared scanning devices mapped the cloud cover over the Earth.

Technological advances in communications during the Vietnam War were the end product of twenty years of research and experimentation by the army, navy, and air force. Miniaturized electronic components increased the payloads of U.S. communications satellites propelled into space by air force boosters. One notable benefit was initiation of the first operational satellite communications system in history when the Army Satellite Communications Command established two clear channels from Tan Son Nhut, South Vietnam, to Hawaii (1964).

Radio transmission had improved as well. Line‐of‐sight wave transmission was surpassed by tropospheric scatter or troposcatter propagation radio with a maximum 400‐mile range. The new technology enabled radio waves to travel long distances by using special antennas to bounce them off clouds of ionized particles in the higher ionosphere before they returned to Earth hundreds of miles away.

Military communications support in Southeast Asia proved that advanced electronics could master the geography. Although Vietnam's Integrated Wideband Communications System (established and funded by the air force and operated jointly with the army) never fulfilled the promise of a regional civil‐military network, it demonstrated the need and effectiveness of a high‐capacity area telecommunications system in an undeveloped region. More important, the wideband system reflected a permanent move to an area‐oriented communications doctrine. Improved technology was directly responsible for the shift in focus.

As a joint‐services endeavor, Vietnam communications included numerous examples of inter‐service cooperation. For example, army field commanders enjoyed rapid aircraft response because of connectivity with air force support centers. Joint army‐navy mobile riverine forces, using command and communications boats, had well established internal as well as external communications with the South Vietnamese army. A continuing problem in Vietnam, security was addressed first by the navy's “Talk Quick” system which preceded the army's automatic secure voice system (1967).

Major communications systems in Vietnam included the 1st Signal Brigade's Southeast Asia Defense Communications System and the Southeast Asia Automatic Telephone Service (1968). The latter comprised 9 switches connected to 54 automatic army, navy, and air force dial exchanges. Overall, communications support for the Vietnam war could be characterized as the beginning of an ongoing trend toward the use of commercial‐type facilities for both strategic and tactical communications. While mobile multichannel radios, switchboards, and teletype centers linked headquarters throughout the chain of command, strategic and administrative networks comprised a variety of commercial sets.

Changes in military strategy and tactics such as the long‐range and heavy logistical requirements of modern weapons, and reliance on coordinated air‐ground operations, both prevalent in Vietnam, dictated more flexible and extensive communications support than that offered by traditional chains of command. Technical advances in communications made it possible—indeed, imperative—to create interconnecting area networks. The merger of tactical and strategic communications became official in 1966 with the formation of the 1st Signal Brigade. As part of the Strategic Communications Command, area networks linked fighters with intelligence, personnel, and logistical centers in the United States. At the same time, combat commanders kept organic tactical communications to respond to military requirements.

Higher‐echelon advances did little to change Vietnam's combat communications from those of previous conflicts. Field telephones connected by single‐strand wire linked artillery battery, guns, fire direction centers, and commanders. Infantry platoon command posts used small field switchboards and wire lines to connect squads, sentries, and listening posts. The 173rd Airborne Brigade, in 1965, deemed the PRC‐25 (transistorized FM voice radio) its greatest communications device. Hand‐held, vehicle‐, and aircraft‐mounted PRC‐25s were the primary means of combat communication for army units from squads through division level.

The Vietnam conflict demonstrated the interdependence of the army, navy, and air forces in the conduct of mid‐twentieth‐century warfare. The secretary of defense acknowledged this fact in such cooperative efforts as the Joint Tactical Satellite Research and Development Program (1965). At the same time, the communications arms of the various military branches continued to invest in their own unique information systems.

Post‐Vietnam technology further changed the face of military communications. The 1970s development of the semiconductor dramatically decreased size and power requirements of communications systems. The microprocessor revolution, in turn, led to the development of modules rather than discrete systems. Miniaturization, greater standardization, and modules all made commercial equipment cheaper, more adaptable, mobile, and secure.

The U.S. military's post–Cold War operations revealed major weaknesses in the Department of Defense's (DoD) efforts to weld its various communications assets into a cohesive whole. Communicators in Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada, 1983) encountered major obstacles in the coordination and provision of support for the Joint Task Force. Both the DoD and Congress took positive steps to strengthen cooperation among the various service components—DoD through the establishment of the Joint Tactical Command Control and Communications Agency (1984) and Congress with the Goldwater‐Nichols Act (1986). The positive results of these and other actions became clear in Operation Just Cause (Panama, 1989–90).

Operation Desert Storm (1990–91), a major joint operation directed by the U.S. Central Command, provided a true test of service cooperation. The Persian Gulf War demonstrated that military communications had expanded and transformed into information technology. In the few years between Panama and the gulf, joint training had become the rule.

As information systems achieved equal footing with military hardware in the conduct of the Gulf War, all of the services incorporated numerous commercially produced systems. The Army Signal Corps' network, connected with those of the other services and Allied Coalition forces, spanned the geographic area with commercially developed cellular telephone and a single‐channel ground and airborne radio system.

Operation Desert Storm left little doubt that late twentieth‐century military communications embraced all aspects of information management. Using multimedia sources, communicators need to get the right information to the right people almost instantaneously. At the end of the twentieth century, information activities in war have equaled and in some cases supplanted industrial activities.

Military communication—or more accurately, information management—presents a seamless network on the late twentieth‐century battlefield. As a result of technological advancements, the centerpiece of the battlefield is no longer simply the weapons platforms but also an information grid into which weapons are plugged.

Information technology will continue to transform military communications. Because the value of information increases exponentially through dissemination, its potential is virtually limitless.
[See also Combat Support; Command and Control; Satellites, Reconnaissance.]


U.S. Naval Communications Chronological History, 1961.
Carroll V. Glines, Jr. Compact History of the United States Air Force, 1973.
Paul J. Scheips , Military Signal Communications, 2 vols., 1980.
John D. Bergen , A Test For Technology, 1986.
John G. Westover , Combat Support in Korea, 1987.
Kathy R. Coker and and Carol E. Stokes , A Concise History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1995.
Rebecca Robbins Raines , Getting the Message Through, 1996.

Carol E. Stokes

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Communications in Business


Communication, stated simply, is the act of conveying a message, through a channel, from one person to another; that is, connecting or sharing thoughts, opinions, emotions, and intelligence. Communication is a mechanism for all types of interaction and connectivity: communication can instantaneously bring people together, link ideas and things, deliver news and facts, and impart knowledge. Because communication can be expressed as words, letters, pictures, gestures, signals, colors, and so forth, it is credited with being the single element that has brought the world closer together.

People communicate for one of four reasons: to inform, influence, persuade, or entertain. In business, effective communication will influence outcomes and it is the critical backbone of an organization's ability to operate internally and externally as well as nationally and internationally.


Communication, in its most basic definition, involves a sender (encoder) and a receiver (decoder). The sender encodes a message, deciding what content and relationship codes to use, and sends it via a communication channel such as face to face (verbal and nonverbal) and written (frequently using electronic technology). The receiver takes the message and, in the decoding process, attempts to understand its content and relationship meaning. After decoding, the receiver then may respond, via a communication channel, to the sender with a new message based on the receiver's perception of what the message imparted in terms of information and the relationship with the sender. It is at this point that one-way communication becomes two-way communication.

To be most effective, the feedback loop (the receiver's decoded interpretation of the original message) should go forward; that is, the receiver should respond to the sender. The feedback loop provides the sender with two vital pieces of information: (1) if the original message was correctly understood as sent and (2) the new message. The feedback loop allows for early correction of incorrectly decoded messages. The decoding, encoding, and feedback loop continue as the parties communicate.

In the decoding of a message, miscommunication and/or missed communication can occur. In the feedback loop, the receiver must clarify how that message was perceived. The greater the number of people involved in the message exchange process and the greater their differences in values, beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge of the subject matter, the greater are the chances that the message will be decoded improperly and a communication breakdown will occur.

Communication is most successful when it is understood by all persons involved in the process. That is, good communication is free from social colloquialisms, cultural mores, and gender biases. Because communication may be conveyed in many forms, it is frequently described in two general categories: verbal and nonverbal. Nonverbal communication includes body language, gestures, and signals. In general, successful communication depends on how well a sender conveys a message to a receiver relying on the six senses (seeing, speaking/hearing, intuition, smelling, touching, and tasting) and feedback.


Several rules facilitate successful communication. The following checklist provides a guide to creating successful communication:

  • Make messages clear, correct, comprehensive, and concise
  • In messages that require a response, include an action step with a deadline
  • Select correct channels of communication based on message content and relationship components
  • Structure the message so as not to overload the receiver with information
  • Develop sensitivity to the receiver's communication style and create the message accordingly
  • Be aware of how cultural patterns affect communication style and take this into consideration when sending and receiving messages
  • aware that people operating in a second language may still encode/decode messages based on their first culture's communication patterns
  • Enhance listening skills as an aspect of effective use of the feedback loop
  • Recognize that a positive attitude enhances the effectiveness of the communication process


Technology-mediated communication has become the norm in today's worldwide business environment. Messages are communicated regularly via easy access to a wide variety of sophisticated electronic technologies, including electronic mail (e-mail), fax, and phones. People still meet face to face, but they also use express mail and courier services, messaging and paging systems, caller identification and transfer/forwarding telephony systems, and many other combinations of message transfer and delivery methods. Signaling, biometrics, scanning, imagery, and holography also have a place in business communication.

Additionally, many professionals work in virtual groups using satellite uplink/downlinks, video streaming, videoconferencing, and computer groupware. In using these technologies, one should recognize the limits of the channel of communication selected. For example, e-mail is efficient but does not convey the nuances of a message that can be gained from facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice. The use of multiple channels of communication may be critical if the content is quite complex; thus, an oral message may not be sufficient.

The importance of using the feedback loop becomes more critical as the content and/or relational aspects of the messages expand. Also, as more workgroups operate globally in a virtual medium, cultural patterns must be considered in the quest for clear and effective communication. The expansion of global business, combined with advances in technology, has created more cross-cultural opportunities. When working in a cross-cultural, multinational/multicultural environment, it is necessary to understand that culture influences people's behavior as well as their attitudes and beliefs. People encode and decode messages with perceptions learned from their cultural filters. In intercultural situations, the professional must use the feedback loop to clarify understanding of the received message. Just because a message has been received rapidly or with use of high-level technology does not mean that the receiver has decoded it properly.


Written communication usually takes such forms as letters, memos, e-mails, reports, manuscripts, notes, forms, applications, résumés, and legal and medical documents. Spoken communication includes presentations, oral exchanges (e.g., one on one or to a group), and voice messaging. Speaking distinctly, with appropriate speed, as well as paying attention to voice inflection, tone, resonation, pitch clarity, and volume are important to the way a spoken message is received. Frequently, the way a spoken message is delivered is as important or even more important than the content of the message (a good example is a joke that has perfect timing). More than 90 percent of what a message conveys may actually be based on nonverbal elements; communicating a positive attitude also is helpful.

Nonverbal communication includes body language (e.g., facial expression, eye contact, posture, standing or sitting position, distance between sender and receiver, and gesturing), which can send signals to the receiver that may be much stronger than the message itself. If a picture truly speaks louder than a thousand words, communication by means other than the spoken and written wordsuch as clothing, signals or mannerisms reflecting personality or preferences, and gesturingcan make a big difference in the message that is conveyed.


Communication in a society, whether it is personal or business communication, is essential. Individuals and organizations depend on it to function. Most businesses need both internal and external communication to be productive. Internal communication is communication that is exchanged within an organization. Usually it is less formal than communication that goes to those outside the business. Informal communication may range from chats in the hallway and lunchroom, team and group meetings, casual conversations over the phone or e-mail, and memos and preliminary reports to teleconferencing, brainstorming idea sessions, department or division meetings, and drafting documents. Informal communication also includes gossip, which relies on people passing on messages to coworkers, friends, and others outside of the organizational hierarchy.

External communication usually refers to messages that extend beyond the business organization. Because it reflects the organization's image, external communication is usually more formal. External communication is an extension of the organization and can be an important channel for marketing the company's image, mission, products, and/or services.


The selection or type of business communication takes many factors into consideration, including (1) the nature of the business (e.g., government, commerce, industry, private or public organization, manufacturing or marketing firm); (2) the mission and the philosophy of the organization (open versus limited or closed communication patterns); (3) the way the business is organized (small or large company, branch offices, subsidiaries); (4) the leadership styles of the organization's managers and supervisors (democratic, authoritarian, dictatorial, pragmatic); (5) the number and types of personnel as well as the levels of employees (hierarchy or status of positions, managerial or laborers, supervisors or team leaders); (6) the proximity of work units (closeness of departments, divisions, or groups that depend on information from each other); and (7) the need for communication (who needs to know what, when, why, where, and how for informed decision making to take place.


Every group (whether it is formal or informal, and regardless of its size) has a communication system or network. Some are very effective and efficient while others are just the opposite. Even if communication appears to be (or is) dysfunctional within an organization or group, the group has a communication system. That is, poor or dysfunctional communication still conveys a message. When dysfunctional communication is taking place, there is a lack of exchange of information or messages within the group.


Without realizing it, most people communicate with others (verbally as well as nonverbally) according to a dominant style. Essentially, people communicate in one of four basic styles: (1) directly or authoritatively (an in-charge person or one who is a driving force to get things done); (2) analytically or as a fact finder (a person who plans, researches, and analyzes the facts and weighs the alternatives carefully); (3) amiably or as a coach (a supportive team builder who gets people to work together toward a common goal); or (4) expressively or flamboyantly (a cheerleader with a positive attitude who has an abundance of ideas and motivates others toward taking action).

Communication styles are developed over time and with practice, and they can be influenced by many environmental factors. They also may reflect cultural norms. It is important to understand one's own preferred communication style as well as those of others in order to maximize one's communication interactions.


Effective communication relies in part on eliminating as many communication barriers as possible. Some ways to avoid common barriers to communication include the following:

  • Stay focused on the topic
  • Adhere to the deadline, when timing is important
  • Be willing to use a communication strategy appropriate to the situation; listen, negotiate, compromise, modify, and learn from feedback
  • Avoid relying on the grapevine as a source of facts, even though it may have been an accurate communication channel in the past
  • Be sincere, empathetic, and sensitive to others' feelings; one's voice, confidence, actions, and other nonverbal cues speak loudly
  • Seek out information about unknowns, especially when cultural and gender differences are involved
  • Be tactful, polite, clear, prepared, and, above all, strive to display a positive attitude with all communication


Professional communicators should review federal legislation that provides strict parameters for direct-marketing campaigns using unsolicited faxes, e-mail, and telephone calls. The Junk Fax Prevention Act, the Can Spam Act, and the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Lists are all examples of such legislation. While direct marketing continues to be an effective sales tool, some consumers demand privacy protection from unwanted solicitors. Federal legislation of privacy protection also extends to employees who use company phones, computers, and Internet capabilities.

Businesses must be clear and upfront about how employees' internal and external communications are monitored. Equally, employees must realize that their e-mail correspondence, phone conversations, and other communications may be used as evidence in a court of law, pending legal action that involves their employer.

see also Communication Channels; Electronic Mail; Videoconferencing; Voice Messaging; Writing Skills in Business


Locker, Kitty O. & Kaczmarek, Stephen Kyo. (2007). Business communication: building critical skills (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Guffey, Mary Ellen (2006). Business communication: process & product (5th ed.) Mason, OH: Thomson/South-Western.

Sharon Lund O'Neil

Jerry S. Evans

Heather Bigley

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The Need. Transatlantic migration and trade stimulated the development of a variety of communications throughout the colonial period. Investors in joint-stock companies often staked large sums of money on the success of early colonial ventures and were anxious for news of the settlements progress. Family members who remained in Europe longed for word from loved ones separated by three thousand miles of ocean. Planters and traders in America needed reliable ways of exchanging information with European merchants concerning prices, crop yields, shipments, and supplies. Shippers, merchants, and insurers needed accurate information about piracy, outbreaks of conflict on the high seas, and important political developments so that they could calculate risks and make adjustments. Military officers needed to communicate with their superiors in Europe and with various colonial posts. This widespread need to know created an increasing demand for profitable new ways of delivering information. The growth of trade also aided communication as various forms of information accompanied goods throughout the Atlantic world and made their way inland from port cities like Quebec, Philadelphia, Charleston, and New Orleans.

Overlapping Networks. Seventeenth-century colonists kept abreast of personal and public affairs in a variety of ways. Ships arriving in the colonies with passengers and supplies also carried public communications and private letters from family or business associates. Special couriers and traveling government officials were entrusted with official correspondence and notices of royal edicts or recent acts of Parliament. Captains usually carried an official mailbag bearing correspondence. Private letters sometimes came by a trusted family member or friend who had taken passage across the ocean. Other times letters came by a more distant acquaintance who had embarked for the colonies or London and had agreed

to carry them. Some information made its way around the Atlantic by word of mouth as persons on shipboard gleaned bits of news from port to port, hailed passing ships for news at sea, or witnessed or participated in hostile encounters with pirates or ships of foreign powers. Dockside taverns provided communications nodes where sailors could dispense such tidbits, and African Americans took special advantage of this method of communication as black sailors conveyed information among the slave communities of North America and the Caribbean. Information arriving at the coast moved inland in similar ways. Friends or acquaintances traveling to particular destinations carried letters with them, stopping at taverns along the way to dispense whatever news they had heard, to leave letters for pickup, and to catch up on the latest local happenings. Sunday gatherings at the church or meetinghouse provided another form of communication where people could exchange local news before or after worship, deliver letters to their recipients, or hand letters to a courier for delivery elsewhere. Ministers read royal proclamations or governors edicts from the pulpit, made announcements of important public matters, and kept people abreast of important transatlantic religious concerns by summarizing or reading aloud correspondence from fellow ministers in the British Isles. People continued to use all these traditional forms of communication throughout the colonial period even as new forms began to arise.

Postal Service. A reliable postal service was well established in the British Isles by the end of the seventeenth century, but it took longer for such a service to arise in the colonies. Postal services usually followed the model begun in Massachusetts: in 1639 Boston officials designated the tavern kept by Richard Fairbanks as the official site for depositing and receiving ship letters. It took much longer to establish regular postal services to inland towns or even over land between important cities such as Boston and New York. Only in the 1690s did a regular overland postal route arise to link New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts with riders that initially followed a monthly schedule and then increased to a weekly one as the volume of mail grew. Colonies followed the mother country in passing special postal acts that set rates and specified procedures for appointing postmasters and issuing patents that authorized private operators to set up services and hire carriers. Rates varied widely from colony to colony. Massachusetts, for example, set the charge for an overseas letter at two pence while New York set it at nine. A letter from Rhode Island to Boston at this time cost six pence, the equivalent of a half-days pay for a sailor. In spite of their cost, however, postal routes played an important part in stimulating the economic growth along colonial coasts and rivers. Reliable postal service made it possible for artisans, shipbuilders, and merchants to establish themselves in smaller ports and market towns, where the cost of living and doing business was cheaper, without having to sacrifice regular communication with customers and suppliers in larger cities. As the eighteenth century wore on, the office of postmaster was frequently filled by prominent printers, such as Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, who often expanded postal routes to deliver their newspapers to ever-wider colonial audiences.

The Press. Between 1660 and 1695 newspapers were rare even in England. Their publication was tightly controlled by the Crown through legislation known as the Licensing Act because royal officials feared that the papers could be used to spread rebellious ideas throughout the realm. Consequently, when in 1690 the Boston printer Benjamin Harris published the first newspaper in America, Publick Occurrences, colonial officials quickly suppressed it. By 1695, however, such fears had diminished sufficiently that when the Licensing Act expired, neither the king nor Parliament attempted to renew it. English printers responded immediately by experimenting with a variety of new publications designed to make money from the demand for news. Many of these pub-lick prints, as they were called, made their way to the colonies. In 1704 the Boston postmaster and printer John Campbell borrowed freely from the format and news articles of these English newspapers to publish one of the first successful newspapers in America, the Boston News-Letter. Over the next three decades no fewer than seventeen additional English-language papers appeared in the colonies, along with one in German. Six of these appeared in Boston, where rival printers competed for readership by trying to outdo each other with interesting essays and features. They also took rival positions on various issues of the day, often lampooning each others material as they carried on fierce debates between papers. The controversy helped publishers sell even more papers as people on each side bought the latest issues to see what debaters would say next. In Philadelphia young Benjamin Franklin purchased a struggling newspaper in 1728 from a former employer, renamed it the Pennsylvania Gazette, and built a fortune through witty writing, keen business sense, and shrewd competition with the rival Philadelphia paper, the American Weekly Mercury. Franklin diversified by printing books, government documents, and the popular Poor Richards Almanack. He also built a network of publishers across the colonies, extending his own influence as a publisher as far away as Charleston, South Carolina, through partnership in Peter Timothys South Carolina Gazette. Franklins own paper benefited greatly because these contacts in other colonies gave him access to even more news. In Pennsylvania the large German population provided a market for the one non-English newspaper printed in the British mainland colonies, which ran from 1739 to 1746. The printer, Christopher Sauer, kept his German audiences abreast of events by translating some English news into German. He also published news from German lands, thus helping to maintain a vital transatlantic cultural link with the homeland of German immigrants.

Culture of Newspapers. Early colonial newspapers initially targeted a well-to-do readership, merchants, planters, and government officials who needed to know what was happening in England and Europe that might affect trade or political affairs in the colonies. For this reason the papers usually focused on European news, often reprinting articles directly from London newspapers or publishing excerpts dealing with European affairs from private correspondence. European news was often two to three months old, yet in most cases it was still useful to persons who needed to plan for the next shipment of goods to Europe or who wanted to keep up with the latest English fashions and the latest gossip from the royal court in London. Colonial newspapers also provided an important forum for public debate, carrying essays and controversies on issues of the day. News from the colonies themselves rarely occupied much space, since business and politics depended more on happenings overseas and since word of mouth usually conveyed local news faster than weekly newspapers could circulate it. Yet newspapers quickly became an important tool for sellers to advertise their goods to buyers, for people to publish important notices, for owners to recover lost goods, and for masters to track down runaway servants or slaves. By 1740 at least two pages of an ordinary fourpage newspaper were occupied with advertising a rapidly increasing range of imported British goods, colonial services, local real estate, printed material, public notices, and lost-and-found items.

Literary Community. With various methods of communication becoming more reliable, literature from Europe was more widely available. As more colonists read European books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, they began to think of themselves as members of a vast community or Republic of Letters that extended across the Atlantic to incorporate both Europeans and Americans. For educated New England Puritans this literate community had existed since the early seventeenth century through correspondence and the exchange of books and ideas. The eighteenth-century religious revivals known as the Great Awakening brought many more people into the transatlantic religious community. Colonists who had experienced a revival in one colony began identifying in a new way with those who had enjoyed the same experience in other English colonies, as well as with similar people in the British Isles and the European Continent. Anglo-Americans also sought to participate in the great European scientific and philosophical discoveries known as the Enlightenment through reading the works of great figures such as the philosopher John Locke, the great physicist Isaac Newton, and the chemist Robert Boyle. Some wealthy merchants and planters, such as the Virginian William Byrd II, traveled to Europe for their education, studying law at prestigious English institutions and touring Continental Europe to gain firsthand exposure to Old World achievements, manners, tastes, learning, and company. Some Americans, such as the Puritan minister Cotton Mather, became members of the Royal Society, an English organization founded by Robert Boyle for the advancement of scientific learning, and regularly contributed scientific papers. Some American scientific papers, such as Benjamin Franklins findings on electricity, were published by the Royal Society. These papers enhanced the reputations of their American writers in learned circles of Europe.


Richard D. Brown, Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989);

Christopher Clark, The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665-1740 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994);

Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic, 1675-1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986);

Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).

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Communications As A Career


Communication graduates help public health professionals by creating persuasive messages to reach goals. They offer practical application of communication theories to improve the sending and receiving of verbal and nonverbal messages between and among target audiences. The audiences include the public, health providers, families, community groups, organizations, and policy makers. Some graduates create and produce public relations, television, radio, print, and Internet campaigns to educate the public on problems such as drug abuse and HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Others train health professionals and patients in communication skills to make informed choices on preventing diseases and treating illnesses.

Carolyn M. Anderson

(see also: Careers in Public Health )


Mogel, L. (2000). Careers in Communications and Entertainment. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Noronha, S. F. R. (1999). Careers in Communications. Linwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons.

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communications Processes for sharing information and ideas. Facial expressions, hand signals, writing, and speech are examples. The 15th-century invention of the printing press revolutionized communications. The 20th century witnessed a communications revolution, primarily in terms of increased access. Telecommunications inventions, such as the telephone, radio, television, and computer network, facilitated rapid, global, mass communication. The Internet is the latest in a long line of technological innovations.

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"communications." World Encyclopedia. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

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