In 1870 Emil Baudot invented the 5-bit Telegraph code that would replace Morse Code.

By being 5-bits, it became the first fixed-width character encoding and arguably the first time the world translated written language into binary for electric storage and transportation.

His code was used with his teletype machine which could multiplex multiple messages simultaneously over the wire and be operated by unskilled cheap labor “typist” (women of 1800, establishing their historical involvement in the birth of the computer). In a few years we would also see the first control character “carriage return” (aka “enter”) introduced to send machine instructions to the typewriter on the other side of the line.

This ushered the era of telecommunications and became the foundation of the Information Age, spreading of knowledge, and eventually the internet. Even today, we’re reading this text in utf-8 encoding, a variable-width super-set of 7-bit ASCII encoding, which is a hybrid of half a dozen pre-1960 6-bit American encodings, which all evolved from the 5-bit Baudot Code.

An invention has to make sense

in the world it finishes in, not

in the world it started.

–Tim O’Reilly