Teletype teleprinters in use in England during World War II
Example of teleprinter art: a portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld, 1962

A teleprinter (teletypewriter, teletype or TTY) is an electromechanical device that can be used to send and receive typed messages through various communications channels, in both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configurations. Initially they were used in telegraphy, which developed in the late 1830s and 1840s as the first use of electrical engineering,[1] though teleprinters were not used for telegraphy until 1887 at the earliest.[2] The machines were adapted to provide a user interface to early mainframe computers and minicomputers, sending typed data to the computer and printing the response. Some models could also be used to create punched tape for data storage (either from typed input or from data received from a remote source) and to read back such tape for local printing or transmission.

Teleprinters could use a variety of different communication media. These included a simple pair of wires; dedicated non-switched telephone circuits (leased lines); switched networks that operated similarly to the public telephone network (telex); and radio and microwave links (telex-on-radio, or TOR). A teleprinter attached to a modem could also communicate through standard switched public telephone lines. This latter configuration was often used to connect teleprinters to remote computers, particularly in time-sharing environments.

Teleprinters have largely been replaced by fully electronic computer terminals which typically have a computer monitor instead of a printer (though the term "TTY" is still occasionally used to refer to them, such as in Unix systems). Teleprinters are still widely used in the aviation industry (see AFTN and airline teletype system), and variations called Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDDs) are used by the hearing impaired for typed communications over ordinary telephone lines.

  1. ^ Roberts, Steven, Distant Writing
  2. ^ Nelson, R.A., History Of Teletype Development