The key technological invention was the telegraph, which, for the first time in human history, effectively detached communication from transportation. Until the invention of the telegraph, the speed and reliability of communication depended on different means of transportation available at the time, for example, foot messenger, horseman, or ship, to name but a few.
On the diplomatic side, the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna laid the foundation for modern diplomacy – including the introduction of diplomatic precedent and diplomatic ranks. The period between the Congress of Vienna and World War I was often described as a golden age of diplomacy, which managed to secure one of the most peaceful periods in recent history.
During this period, structural developments took place in both communication and diplomacy. Communication inventions became part of daily life, gradually becoming integrated into global telecommunication networks. Diplomacy was transformed from ad hoc meetings into an organised system consisting of diplomatic services, international organisations, and habitual international gatherings.
As an illustration of the interplay between diplomacy and technology, one could conjecture that history between the Congress of Vienna (1814) and the First World War (1914) would have been different, if it were not for two important telegrams: Ems and Zimmerman. The Ems Telegram sparked the Franco-Prussian war, and led towards the establishment of Germany as a unified state. The Zimmerman telegram triggered the USA’s entrance into the First World War. The historical importance of these two telegrams, as well as other telegraphic exchanges, will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.
The impact of the telegraph on diplomacy will be analysed in three contexts including: changes in the environment for diplomatic activities; the introduction of new issues on diplomatic agendas; and the use of new tools.