How The First Ever Telecoms Scam Worked

  • Published on Oct 1, 2018
  • In the 1830s, two French brothers, François and Joseph Blanc, pulled off the first telecoms scam in history. The optical telegraph, a line of semaphore towers stretching from hilltop to hilltop, was for government use only: but something as simple as the law wasn't going to get in their way.
    Thanks to Victoria Harrison for all her research and translation skills! Pictures of the original documents are uploaded here:
    CG effects by Mat Hill:
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Comments • 841

  • Tom Scott
    Tom Scott  4 months ago +4058

    Quick tip if you ever go to France: don't let the rental car company give you a free upgrade to an SUV. SUVs do not fit well on tiny rural French roads.

    • Left Right
      Left Right 2 days ago

      Makes you wonder how the Nazis made blitzkrieg work on such roads.

    • Sparrow
      Sparrow Month ago

      When ever a company offers you something for FREE (in bill burr's voice), it's probably not for your benefit.

    • Stan Vincent
      Stan Vincent 2 months ago


    • 57thorns
      57thorns 3 months ago

      Depends on where you are going. SUV were created not as SubUrban impractically huge Vehicles, but as Sports Utility Vehicles. So if you go somewhere where you have to get through some rough unpaved roads (just make sure they are not narrow roads in the woods) with a decent amount of outdoor gear, an SUV might be the right vehicle.
      They are however too large for European villages, many of the towns and parts of the most cities, and they are about as fuel efficient as an all terrain vehicle (which they are not, so if you plan on going seriously off road in Europe, get a real ATV or a Citroën with gas hydraulic suspension, the places I took our family car are unbelievable), but slightly more comfortable.

    • Sari Al Shammari
      Sari Al Shammari 3 months ago


  • CNCcamon1
    CNCcamon1 8 days ago

    So what you're saying is...
    The semaphore beacons are lit, and Gondor calls for aid.

  • c182SkylaneRG
    c182SkylaneRG 10 days ago

    What I can't figure out, is if this signal system is so much faster than any other form of transmission, then how did clothing packages get selected, purchased, assembled, shipped, and arrive in Tours, all before the Semaphore signal arrived at the relay station?

  • pancudowny
    pancudowny 11 days ago

    Imagine if Trump's Tweets could only be sent by this method!😄

  • ben Jovi
    ben Jovi 17 days ago +1

    so "The Clacks" from Pratchett's Diskworld is a real thing?

  • BurningIceCube Productions

    Francois ***BLONK***

  • mynameismynameis
    mynameismynameis Month ago

    Vsause 4

  • Julian Danzer
    Julian Danzer Month ago

    also adapted in parody in Terry Pratchetts discworld series

  • TheMightyKinkle
    TheMightyKinkle 2 months ago

    I still don't get what message they were sending

  • erg0centric
    erg0centric 2 months ago

    The Clacks!

  • Dimitris Andreou
    Dimitris Andreou 2 months ago

    Vodafone was not involved? What a surprise

  • Muhammad Shuaib
    Muhammad Shuaib 2 months ago

    This goes at the speed of light

  • Winston Smith
    Winston Smith 2 months ago

    Didn't they have Semaphore towers in the Discworld novels? I remember something like them featured in "Going Postal".

  • Shock TNC
    Shock TNC 2 months ago

    There is a great book that explains how this fits into the gradual invention of telephone lines.
    The book is called: The Victorian Internet.

  • Chakib Baiker
    Chakib Baiker 3 months ago

    Is that why they say "Do you copy?"

  • Edwin Custo
    Edwin Custo 3 months ago

    Surely very interesting

  • Ip sissimus
    Ip sissimus 3 months ago


  • Al Ford
    Al Ford 3 months ago

    the ingenious part of this they took time to learn the system and that allowed them to exploit that rogue messages were never recorded in the official records so patterns would be very difficult to spot to an investigator - it's a similar approach to that used by 21st century terrorist groups who used incomplete draft messages in shared accounts in GMail as a communications medium. until their practice came to light drafts were not routinely scanned for illicit content

  • Abdul Mateen
    Abdul Mateen 3 months ago

    Why didn’t the brothers just move to Paris rather than send signals down to Bordeaux?

  • Arturas Karbocius
    Arturas Karbocius 3 months ago

    in Amsterdam dutch used spyglasses to see incoming ships into harbor to bet on prices.

  • 1973Washu
    1973Washu 3 months ago

    It's the clacks... GNU Terry Pratchett

  • Devil Average
    Devil Average 3 months ago

    Reacher Gilt approves.

  • TheBushdoctor68
    TheBushdoctor68 3 months ago

    Yes, but can it send selfies?

  • TheBushdoctor68
    TheBushdoctor68 3 months ago

    So, there's a lot of seemingly-reliable English sources, ALL with different details, but somehow this red shirted TVclipr managed to get a direct translation from the original and thereby beat all those journalists and sources at their own game? Chapeau!

  • Christian Goudy
    Christian Goudy 3 months ago

    This feels like the Count of Monte Cristo

  • Nisco Racing
    Nisco Racing 3 months ago

    So much research, and only so little time in the video!
    This should have been a 4 part mini documentary!

    Marvelous CGI :)

  • 72speedway
    72speedway 3 months ago

    Are private semaphores still banned?

  • Kygeis27
    Kygeis27 3 months ago

    I'm having trouble understanding how the scam worked, they delayed the message for others but if they cant decode it themselves then what?

  • tyler roberts
    tyler roberts 3 months ago

    what is it with European governments and crushing an ant with a sledge hammer?

  • Myotis Welwitschii
    Myotis Welwitschii 3 months ago

    The romans had those towers but with people with flags and torches.

  • Daan
    Daan 3 months ago

    This is so cool

  • Badger BadgerBadger
    Badger BadgerBadger 3 months ago

    What is wrong with this man's throat? I cannot listen to this.

  • Aseem Lalfakawma
    Aseem Lalfakawma 3 months ago

    No matter what the topic is, I light up when I see this guys face.

  • Thiefree
    Thiefree 3 months ago

    that's fascinating, I had no idea Pratchett's clacks towers were based that closely on reality!

  • Nameless Guy
    Nameless Guy 3 months ago

    Thanks tom, I just learnt something I dont want to know.......again.....

  • Meme Maker 9000
    Meme Maker 9000 3 months ago

    1:20 just looks like half a swastika to me.

  • Alex Beltz
    Alex Beltz 3 months ago

    Ik semophore 😁

  • Trey Forest
    Trey Forest 3 months ago

    LMAO They made the clacks from Discworld into a real thing 😂😂😂

  • Michael Higgins
    Michael Higgins 3 months ago +1

    As an Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) Operator, I find this super interesting. Well done!

  • John Berkley
    John Berkley 3 months ago

    I SO have to go and watch "Going Postal" just now...

  • Pata Crêpe
    Pata Crêpe 3 months ago

    Please add proper localization of the original documents used in the description

  • Lambert Brother
    Lambert Brother 4 months ago

    Don't you mean 19th and with century?

  • Jonah Sobol
    Jonah Sobol 4 months ago

    Did you change your camera? The frame rate/shutter on this video is super distracting compared to your other videos.

  • clockworktartarus
    clockworktartarus 4 months ago

    it is hard to masturbate to this

  • Tyron Morgan
    Tyron Morgan 4 months ago

    Green screen

  • tigercake558
    tigercake558 4 months ago

    Tom just abandon the red in the thumbnail you idiot, i keep thinking I've already watched your videos when i haven't

  • Antonin Lavigne
    Antonin Lavigne 4 months ago

    The ''C'' in Blanc is mute. You should say ''Blan''

  • DrewIsSharing
    DrewIsSharing 4 months ago

    looked like you were sat on a horse in the beginning

  • wat swat5
    wat swat5 4 months ago

    French Gondor calls for aid!

  • Nathan Buster
    Nathan Buster 4 months ago

    I love this because it is in count of monte cristo

  • laromande
    laromande 4 months ago

    huge transmission dely, no propagation delay.

  • TomBenBel
    TomBenBel 4 months ago

    Just wondering:
    What was the maximum data transmission rate on these things?

  • Jacob Davis
    Jacob Davis 4 months ago

    How a Gardener may get rid of the Dormice that eat His Peaches

  • Tobias Sample
    Tobias Sample 4 months ago

    The clacks is a real thing? :O

  • Morgan Sinclair
    Morgan Sinclair 4 months ago

    And if you've ever read Terry Pratchett, this kind of thing is a real world version of the Clacks Towers.

  • The_New_IKB 4472
    The_New_IKB 4472 4 months ago

    sounds like the french government missed a trick by not letting people pay to send personal messages , that could have made a lot of money for the government.

  • Corey Adams
    Corey Adams 4 months ago

    Always enjoy your videos, Tom. Interesting history for sure.

  • Bradley Callaway
    Bradley Callaway 4 months ago

    Did the Roman empire have stations like these? I feel they ought to have, but at the same time I don't know...

  • Steve Pugh
    Steve Pugh 4 months ago

    1830 would be 19th Century not 18th dude

  • Håkan Bengtsson
    Håkan Bengtsson 4 months ago

    That ban on private semafore systems feels like it might still be in laws.
    Can anyone confirm or debunk my feeling?

  • Ben Mitchell
    Ben Mitchell 4 months ago

    The beacons of Gondor are lit!

  • Martial Fox
    Martial Fox 4 months ago

    But how did they make money from using it?

  • Julius Reiner
    Julius Reiner 4 months ago

    I'm confused how the parcel of clothes fits in. And also what the wrong signal told them. Could someone summarize in bullet points pls?

  • CZHO
    CZHO 4 months ago

    Tours or Tor

  • Olivier Vincent
    Olivier Vincent 4 months ago

    Interesting story, but it takes you 2.5 minutes to start telling the actual story. We are in 2018 - a bit more efficient story telling would be welcome, please.

  • RogerWilco
    RogerWilco 4 months ago

    This is one of your best videos.

  • jamesdavies25
    jamesdavies25 4 months ago

    Tom Scott you are such a dude. Love this channel. Fascinating stuff 👍🏻

  • purgruv
    purgruv 4 months ago

    Makes me think of Terry Pratchett’s clacks towers.

  • Benjamin Davis
    Benjamin Davis 4 months ago

    I think my lack of understanding of stocks and trading means I didn't fully understand this story, but the semaphore towers are fascinating!

  • Gregory Chen
    Gregory Chen 4 months ago +1

    I don't really get it; could someone explain?

  • Jeanvic Gaete
    Jeanvic Gaete 4 months ago

    So this was the inspiration for "Going Postal - A Discworld Novel"!

  • Skyler Mckdoe
    Skyler Mckdoe 4 months ago

    Why 50fps?

  • Frankjc3rd
    Frankjc3rd 4 months ago

    How to run a wire without the wire.

  • Xileer Torias
    Xileer Torias 4 months ago

    720/50? Why 50? Targeting the Console market?

  • Miner 2049er
    Miner 2049er 4 months ago

    How could these be faster than the telegraph? The code compression?

  • 970357ers
    970357ers 4 months ago

    HFT will destroy the stock market.

  • Jock McBile
    Jock McBile 4 months ago

    Yaaaaay to Victoria Harrison. What a GREAT story.

  • mavos1211
    mavos1211 4 months ago

    The floodlight tower at the start of the video I think was at Upminster tube station.

  • Hamil Patel
    Hamil Patel 4 months ago

    Surprisingly interesting, as always. Great work.

  • Yanik Kolomatski
    Yanik Kolomatski 4 months ago

    Well, correct me if I am wrong, but isn't telecom a type of communication where an electrical medium is used (such as wires, radio, etc.)?

  • Zach Cooper
    Zach Cooper 4 months ago

    That system was in The Count of Monte Cristo!

  • William Desportes
    William Desportes 4 months ago

    Coucou aux abonnés Français !

  • Paul Berry
    Paul Berry 4 months ago

    I knew about the semaphore tower network. I did *not* know about their misappropriation for stock market manoeuvrings. Nice work, Tom!

  • odd135
    odd135 4 months ago

    Okay, for the record, this is not anything new to anyone who has read a later Terry Pratchett novel. The word "semaphore" makes me a little sad now, though, because it was about at that point in his novels that the author's mind really started fading.

  • zebr1011
    zebr1011 4 months ago

    did you know that was part of the poly of the film/book "going postal" by Terry Pratchett

  • agun17
    agun17 4 months ago

    Did these work at night?

  • Dr. Horse
    Dr. Horse 4 months ago

    A semaphore line running all the way from Lagos, Nigeria...

  • GwresYnKernow
    GwresYnKernow 4 months ago

    Wasn't there something similar to this in the Count of Monte Cristo? I vaguely remember reading something I didn't understand about telegraphs and bribery.

  • alexjav21
    alexjav21 4 months ago

    Gondor calls for aid!

  • d gregory Tobey
    d gregory Tobey 4 months ago

    Great Wall of China?

  • Eugen Afanasjev
    Eugen Afanasjev 4 months ago

    No other youtuber's video makes me so happy to see in my feed as yours. I can't even out a finger on what exactly is so appealing in them, I just know i love them!

  • inkbotkowalski
    inkbotkowalski 4 months ago

    Crime on the clacks!

  • Kan Rup
    Kan Rup 4 months ago

    going postal.

  • Go0se
    Go0se 4 months ago

    I'm in IT and I happen to know this is a current issue today with respect to Tier 1 providers being bribed or explored. It drastically can affect the amount of time advantage certain broker firms have. The FCC doesn't investigate this yet imposes harsh penalties on service vendors and customers. Net neutrality is a massive issue.

    CMCMLIX 4 months ago

    Austin, Texas USA how towers similar to this one near the beginning of your video.. They were meant to keep the city safer and to replace standard street lights. They would well, mostly built in the 1870s to 1900s I believe, but don't quote me on that. They came to be called Moon Tower. There few a few left in Austin, and still woking well. One of them had a big part in the movie "Dazed and Confused." Remember the line "Party at MoonTower!"

  • Semi-Relatable Rants
    Semi-Relatable Rants 4 months ago

    Can I have lämp bröder

  • Wires Dawson
    Wires Dawson 4 months ago +1

    0:29 That is one excellent transition!

  • Chris Marshall
    Chris Marshall 4 months ago

    What an amazing video / story.

  • louis silvers
    louis silvers 4 months ago

    Better version of the clax...

  • TakeruDavis
    TakeruDavis 4 months ago +3

    GNU Terry Pratchett