Moonlight Express 1598

The yearbooks of Franz Christoph Khevenhüller (Earl of Frankenburg) were asked to be written by II. Ferdinand and are among the most referenced Austrian historical resources.

The writer was only 10 years old when Győr was taken back from the Turkish, but he still wrote one chapter about this year when Ferdinand was archduke and he was 20 years old. Aladár Pirovits, an engineer and technological scientific writer, found something really interesting in this volume that made him research more.

The messenger started his journey with the news from Győr as always after the winning fight on the 28th March in 1598. He travelled nearly 500 km and arrived to Prague to meet Rudolph Emperor on 3rd or 4thof April. According to Khevenhüller’s story he could not give any new news to the Emperor because he already knew all the information. He knew even more that was not in the message of Schwarzenberg, which he did not even open. The king and his counselors astonished the messenger when they told him that they know how and when Pálffy and his people blew up the Fehérvári Gate and other details about the following street fights.

Rudolph the Emperor was famous for being paranoid, being committed to body desires, art and science, and his passion for alchemy but he was not famous for being a determined or gifted king. That time of the most unique and progressive thinking sciences were invited to his courtyard. One of the king’s counsels stated to the doubting messenger that they learnt the use of the moon light that makes it possible to send messages miles away.

Pirovits narrowed the circle of the English mathematics astronomers to dr John Deé who was at the courtyard of Rudolph in Prague at that time. He showed this mode of the mirror telegram. You just needed a needle – or compass as they called it at that time – and mirrors. Just to explain the working method of it in everyday language, they just used Morse codes with the lights from height points.

Fun fact that the heliotrope (sunshine writer, later it is called heliograph) was invented in 1820, nearly one and half decades later. It was Gauss’ invention and it worked the same way and used the sunshine. The machine that was called “Selentrope” by Pirovits could be more efficient – especially at that time when there was no light pollution during the night – than the heliotrope that used the sunshine. You could see the light signs from 30-40 kms away when the sky had no clouds even if the moon was not full (according to Khevenhüller Earl it was full moon on the victorious night, it was on the 23rd of March 1598 according to the perpetual calendar).

Ede Lósy-Schmidt was an engineer and technology historian who was working with this question also. He drew the line of the telegraph’s points between Győr and Prague. He planned 13 stations between the two towns. It is supposed to be easy to learn a few signs that can be used and to share information about different events easily.

We can get to know from the study of Aladár Pirovits that it was the first time to use the moonlight telegraph. It was a main point not only in the Hungarian but in international science history also. And it does not only show that Rudolph Emperor’s obsession with new inventions, but this helped to take the news also.

Eyes of Rudolph, of Prague and of Vienna were focused on Győr trying to get relief from the Turkish regiment and the success or failure of that would influence the destiny of the Austrian Empire and Europe also. It is not a surprise that they wanted to get information about it as soon as possible if they needed to get prepared for protection against the Turkish army.

Instead of that, the Moonlight Express brought lots of good news to Prague, and the celebration had been going on already when the messenger arrived.



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