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Telegraph Essay

1865 words - 8 pages

Telegraph and its Impact on Social Interaction
Phakaphol (Bom) Chinburi
Rhode Island School of Design

Telegraph and its Impact on Social Interaction

Competition was fierce, and not only from the many companies using the electromagnetic technology and the Morse code. In the early years, optical telegraphs were a competing technology. Though visual sighting is a form of instantaneous communication over long distances that has been around as long as there have been human societies, the messages transmitted were severely limited. Smoke could signal trouble with an invading enemy, but little more. In France in 1791, Claude Chappe developed an optical device for signaling ...view middle of the document...

By 1846, just two years after Morse's demonstration, there were nine telegraph companies with 2,000 miles of wire stretching from Portland, Maine, to New York to Cincinnati to Chicago to New Orleans. To me, this fact is astounding when you realize that more than 150 years ago instantaneous communication was available among these cities. The great telegraphy boom occurred between 1847 and 1852 when, spurred by the demand for instantaneous communication, telegraph companies flourished. With no central planning of the system, and guided by private profits, the country became criss-crossed with telegraph wires of widely varying quality.
There was also competition from the Bain chemical telegraph and the House printing telegraph. The House telegraph, for which a patent was granted in 1846, "instead of recording messages in the form of dots and dashes that had to be laboriously translated, printed the message directly upon a paper tape in Roman letters". Unlike the Morse telegraph, which mostly relied on electric current to do the work, the House telegraph relied largely on manual power, air, and a variety of springs and frictions to achieve its results. An experienced House telegraph operator could transmit between 1,800 and 2,600 words per hour, considerably faster than a Morse telegraph operator. What was the problem with the House telegraph? It was more complex and worked imperfectly on the wires of the day. In 1855, David Hughes invented a printing telegraph that significantly improved upon the House telegraph.
According to H. H. Goldin, in the decade following 1844, there; were hundreds of small telegraph lines thrown up, often haphazardly and under the various patents. Though there was a large demand for the telegraph, it was difficult to find investors because of skepticism on the economic feasibility of the technology, the fear that the government, as in England, would take over the industry, and partly because of conflicts between the patent holders and the potential investors over divvying up shares in the enterprise. The telegraph was frequently financed by the sale of subscriptions to ordinary individuals who lived in communities that would benefit from a telegraph.
One unintended consequence of the invention of the Morse code was that it stimulated a competing optical telegraph technology: the heliograph that was invented in 1865. The heliograph was a means of sending signals using reflected light. If you have ever seen a movie about naval battles during World War II, you have seen the heliograph in action. Though the use of reflected light was a means of signaling used by the ancients, it was the universal acceptance of the Morse code that stimulated the expansion of this technology.

Impact of telegraph on social interaction and culture
The telegraph had an enormous impact on culture. Prior to the telegraph, time in the United States was not standardized. Western Union, together with the federal government, was "responsible for...

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