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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

The Electric Telegraph; its Influence
and Geographical Distribution

by Marshall Lefferts (1856)

Introduction: Reproduced from Bulletin of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, Vol II, for the year 1856, New York. The paper was read at the meeting of the Society on 24 April 1856.

Marshall Lefferts (1821-1876) is listed in this volume as Librarian of the Society. In 1849 Lefferts became president of the New York and New England Telegraph Company, and he remained one of the leading figures in the American telegraph industry until his death in 1876.

Lefferts was also a member of one of the committees which organized the 1858 cable celebration in New York, and was listed as Honorary Consulting Engineer in America for the Atlantic Telegraph Company of 1866 (source: History of the Atlantic telegraph by Henry M. Field).

-- Bill Burns

The Electric Telegraph; its Influence
and Geographical Distribution


THE prosperity and duration of a nation depend upon its application of progressive science to the arts. The lamp of the scholar may burn brightly over his philosophy, and the pencil of the artist give beauty and color to the scenes he would depict: Rome and Greece were not excelled in their poetry, painting, sculpture, and fine arts. But these only serve to embellish the history of their fallen greatness, while the civilization of our times bespeaks its duration, in the steamers, railways, and telegraph. They give substantial happiness to our people, and mark it as the age of the "power of thought."

Marshall Lefferts

Had men been created savages, they would have remained savages forever. The history of the world does not present a single instance of a nation of savages having become civilized by their own spontaneous exertions. But a variety of climates were ordered; a variety of soils and productions of vegetable and animal life. Did all possess the same climate and the same productions, the same length of day and night, whence would come either the necessity or the desire to possess and trade, and whence the commerce, and interchange of the nations of the world, in the path of which follow civilization, wealth, and power, science and art?

The great city of Tyre, described in the sacred volume "as a joyous city whose antiquity is of ancient date, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honorable of the earth," was possessed of a rich commerce. But in those days man was not master of those auxiliaries which now multiply his skill and muscle an hundred fold. He had not then learned the arts by which the products of thought and labor could be transferred from nation to nation with the greatest facility and least expense, an art upon which the social condition of the world depends.

The distribution of the races of men on the globe, imposes the necessity of intercommunication; and for this we are no longer dependent upon the watery highways of nature, but fly with the wings of steam upon the road that binds us together with its sinews of iron, and flash our thought with lightning speed upon the telegraphic wires. These are the present highways for the interchange of exalted labor, and upon which the growth of cities, the cultivation of barren wastes, the diffusion of spiritual knowledge, the development of science and art, and the well-being of nations depend.

Our national characteristic of seizing with avidity upon every new development of science or art, and reducing it to the practical and economic wants of man, is more readily seen in the application and use of electricity and magnetism to the telegraph, than perhaps any other of the world's great achievements; and no one can see and hear of the wonderful, nay magical effects of the telegraph without a desire to learn its history and operation, - a desire only heightened by the observation of the poles and wires that interlace and extend to the very borders of our far-reaching settlements.

I am not, however, to consider the many modes or machinery of operation, nor to discuss the rival claims of inventors, nor can I entertain you with explanations of the beautiful phenomena of electricity and magnetism. To do so, would require not only diagrams, but machinery and apparatus. But my purpose is to consider the application of electricity to the telegraph, its influence, and the place it holds as the prime minister of this society in the field of physical geography. For, casting our eyes to the maps, we cannot be otherwise than impressed with the importance of these telegraphic connections, in their political and social relations, their power and agency in the future extension of knowledge, civilization, and truth.

The successive steps in the discovery of the physical laws upon which this invention depends, are the results of the watchings by day and night, deep study, thousands of experiments, reasonings, models and plans without number, and the most patient toil, - not of one man, but of many thinkers in many generations. A host of names claims our notice and praise. But I may be permitted to mention the names of Grey, Oersted, Hausteen, Sturgeon, Arago, and Henry, without whose industry and genius the present electric telegraph would never have existed. These are names that are rarely pronounced in connection with the mechanical inventors who have profited by their labors.

In order to elucidate our subject more clearly, I must make a passing reference to electricity, the great power which actuates and gives life to the system of communication we propose to consider. Electricity exists in every thing and everywhere, upon the surface of the globe. Space itself requires but excitation to develop its hidden energies. The earth forms a gigantic and powerful magnet, showing its electrical power by the mere disturbance of molecular matter. The wise men of Greece taught that fire, air, water, and earth were the primary elements of nature; but it was left for modern science to reduce these compounds, and with more truth to claim that the Almighty fiat went forth clothed with electricity to create nebula and space. However, this may be, since the time of Newton physical science has received no such important additions as have been added by the now known laws of electrical phenomena. In the contemplation of its sublime and mysterious power we watch its operation with the deepest interest, as on the one hand we see it active in the decomposition of bodies, on the other in their re-formation and growth, - now disturbing the constituents of water, and making them assume their gaseous form, and anon causing these very gases to reunite and become water; now flashing its brilliant rays in the form of light, now defining its rainbow tints on heaven's broad arch; now flying with a speed almost beyond belief as our trusty amanuensis, bringing us good tidings of distant and much-loved friends; now putting forth its strength as it rides upon the whirlwind and the storm, to shatter and rend to atoms the object which impedes its course. The sturdy oak of an hundred years bows its head before its piercing touch as the sapling to the woodman's ax; and yet in the midst of its fury, while dealing its bolts of death and terror, one single, insignificant point of metal - the lightning rod - will attract it from its fiery course and carry it harmless to the earth.

We find it the trusty watchman to sound the alarm-bells of the city, to open the throttle of the screaming whistle. We find it peaceably at work at Hurlgate, descending fifteen feet or more below the surface of the water, and scattering by its magic power the rocky bed of the river. We find it in the workshop, plating your household articles with silver and gold; while again it is flying through each town and city, bearing the President's message, to be read simultaneously throughout the country. It returns at a bidding to the sick man's chamber, and smooths his pillow of pain. It is the companion of the man of science in the laboratory, silently and gently working in the development of beautiful and delicate crystals.

This is no fancy sketch. It is but a feeble enumeration of some of the phenomena of electricity. And although its application to the telegraph may not be considered the most beautiful or interesting in a scientific point of view, it must be considered the most practical of its applications and the most beneficial to man. With what wings of light would it bear the tidings of the safety of "the Pacific" o'er thousands of miles of wire to every city of the Union, before the echoes of the cannon of her announcement died away in the Highlands of the Hudson!

Let us for a moment consider its discovery and progress, and we will better understand its application to the present telegraph. The electric property of amber, called by the Greeks "Electrone," is said to have been noticed by Thales some six hundred years before the Christian era. The property here referred to is the same as that produced by rubbing a stick of sealingwax upon the sleeve of the coat, when it will attract small bits of paper. History furnishes, however, but few records of its progress until the seventeenth century.

We then find, in 1650, that Dr. Gilbert published a work -on magnetism, in which he mentions several new facts as to electric agency.

1730. Stephen Gray made many experiments.

1740, Or thereabouts, Winklee of Leipsic discharged a Leyden jar through wire of considerable length.

1747. Dr. Watson, of England, ascertained the passage of electricity through water, sending shocks across the Thames, and using a wire more than two miles long. These experiments were afterwards repeated by Dr. Franklin (1748), across the Schuylkill at Philadelphia.

1764. Arthur Young in his "Travels through France," describes an electric telegraph, thus:- "Mr. Lomond has made a remarkable discovery in electricity. You write two or three words upon paper, he takes them with him into a chamber, and turns a machine in a cylinder case on the top of which is an electrometer having a pretty little ball of pith suspended by a silk thread; a brass wire connects it to a similar cylinder and electrometer in a distant apartment, and his wife on observing the movements of the corresponding ball writes the words which it indicates. From this it appears that he made an alphabet of movement; and, as the length of the wire makes no difference, you could correspond at a great distance, as, for example, with a besieged city or for purposes of more importance."

1795. Mr. Cavallo, proposed an electric telegraph, giving signals by firing a gas pistol at the distant end of a wire.

1798. Betancourt established a telegraph between Madrid and Arangues, twenty-six miles, through which a current of electricity was passed and gave signals for letters. It is a singular fact, that Spain who thus constructed the first long line, has since that period extended the line only from Madrid to Saragossa, and thence to her frontier to connect with France. What a lesson in her history!

1809. Soemering constructed the first galvanic telegraph at Munich, which operated by the decomposition of water. He also rang a bell at the opposite end of the wire. Preceding this, Galvani and Volta had constructed and demonstrated their pile or battery.

1816. Dr. J. R. Cox, then Professor of Chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania, thus speaks of galvanic electricity:- "I have contemplated this important agent as a probable means of establishing telegraphic communication with as much rapidity and perhaps less expense than any hitherto employed. I do not know how far experiments have determined galvanic action to be communicated by means of wires; but there is no reason to suppose it confined as to limits, certainly not as to time. * * * However fanciful in speculation, I have no doubt sooner or later it will be rendered useful in practice." This was in 1816; and all his speculations have been more than realized.

1819. In this year Professor Oersted, of Copenhagen, discovered electro-magnetism or magnetic motion; and it is to this discovery more than to any other that we are indebted for the present telegraph.

1823. Francis Reynolds, of England, proposed a telegraph the operation of which was not unlike those now in use in that country. In the same year Ampere of France constructed the first electro-magnetic telegraph, using as many wires as there are letters of the alphabet.

1825. Professor Barlow, of England, made a galvanic telegraph; but could not succeed on long circuits, from the diminution of the current, a difficulty afterwards overcome by Prof. J. Henry.

1825. The same year. Mr. Sturgeon, of England, constructed an electro-magnet, winding copper wire around a piece of soft iron bent in the form much used at the present time, and found that when a current of electricity was passed through the wire, the enclosed iron became magnetic, and again demagnetized on breaking the circuit.

1826. Harrison G. Dyer erected poles and wires on Long-Island race-course, and made marks by electricity on chemically prepared paper.

1831. Professor Jos. Henry, then of Princeton College, now Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, discovered a method of forming magnets of intensity and quantity from equal batteries, making it practicable to produce mechanical effects at a great distance; and this is the description of magnet exclusively used upon lines working upon mechanical principle.

1832. Baron Schelling of St. Petersburgh constructed a needle-deflecting telegraph.

1833. Gauss and Weber constructed a much simplified telegraph, and used seven or eight hundred feet of wire, carried on the tops of the Houses of Gottingen.

1837. Steinheil of Munich constructed and put in use in July of that year, his registering electro-magnetic telegraph; and was the first to use the earth as part of the circuit. In June of 1837, Cook and Wheatson of London, took out patents for the deflecting-needle telegraph now in use there. And in October of the same year our Professor S. F. B. Morse, entered his "caveat" for an American electric telegraph; since which period there have been a variety of plans patented and projected.

The House and Bain instruments, so called, deserve notice, the first the most ingenious and beautifully constructed printing telegraph, and the latter the chemical telegraph, both in use. You will therefore notice, that up to the year 1798 all the plans were based upon statical, or electricity by friction. But in 1800, Galvani discovered the chemical action of acids upon metals to produce electricity, which added largely to the stock of knowledge; in 1809 Professor Oersted made his discovery of electro-magnetism; and Professor Henry, in 1831, of his intensity magnet, the three great points to which the telegraph is indebted for its utility and practical operation.

Time will not permit the extension of this notice to those who have displayed such untiring industry, perseverance, and genius in perfecting the mechanical details, and rendering practicable the discoveries referred to. Conspicuous among these last, stands Professor Morse. He is known wherever a telegraph extends, his name respected, his work eulogized, and his fame acknowledged, in every part of the civilized world.

Step by step has the electrical power unfolded itself. From point to point it has progressed with a steady purpose, until the tickings of the register - talking from Maine to Georgia - foretold the hour when, plunging to the reefs of coral and sand, over mountain and valley of the great deep, it would register the greetings of Europe and America.

Let it be borne in mind that although the progress of electric and magnetic discovery covers very many years, yet its practical application is of very recent date. No further back than 1844, only twelve years since, the first line of wires in this country was erected, between Baltimore and Washington, by Professor Morse and associates, with an appropriation of $30,000 from Congress; and from that small beginning do we now possess a greater number of miles of line than any other country on the globe.

Referring to Europe and Asia, we have a distribution of about 37,000 miles of line, divided thus:

In England, about 9,200 miles of line. But it is to be remembered that they have more wires to each line. than we have in the States. For instance, their miles of wire is about 45,000, their lines of connection being as I before said, only 9,200 miles. The line from London to Rugby has nine wires, from Newton Junction to Liverpool eleven wires, York to Newcastle ten wires, and so on. The greatest length of any one line in England is about 600 miles, from Inverness to Plymouth. A large portion of their lines is laid underground. The first constructed was in 1845. For several years they were confined principally to the railways, which is no longer the case. The instrument almost exclusively used, is Cook & Wheatson's deflecting needle, and seems to be worked with great facility. The House printing instrument is also used, but I do not know to what extent.

Germany and Prussia at an early date systematized their system and connections, laid the largest portion of their wires underground, and have now in operation about 5,000 miles of line; the longest continuous one being from Basle to Memmel, about 1,000 miles, and the instrument used that of Professor Morse.

France stands next in order, possessing about 4,500 miles, her longest line from Brest to Grasse, about 900 miles.

The Austrian Empire has about 3,500 miles, her longest line being from Milan, in Lombardy, to Tarnople, in Galicia.

Turkey has about 1,200 miles, not the result of her social progress but of the war. Of this 1,200 miles, 250 is in submarine cable under the Black Sea, connecting Varna and Balaclava. Her longest line is from Belgrade to Constantinople.

Russia has 2,800 miles, comprised in two continuous wires, the longest, from Revel to Sebastapol, about 1,600 miles.

Holland and Belgium have about
Denmark and Sweden  

altogether making an aggregate of about 37,000 miles.

In our country the rapid extension of the telegraph system has no parallel in history. Since 1844, we have erected and put in operation about 35,000 miles of line. The wires are to be found on almost every traveled road, giving telegraphic communication to some 800 towns and cities. In fact, every town and city in the United States has telegraphic connection with New York. Citizens, as a general thing, have no conception of the amount of business daily transacted over the wires. Contracts to buy and sell, pledges of indebtedness, balancing of accounts, all involving millions of dollars, are entered into freely and without fear. From morning till night, day in and day out, are the trembling wires busy with the concerns of an entire nation. How great must be that influence, so quietly, so unobtrusively at work, annihilating time and space, and bringing our distant cities in close relationship for the transaction of business and interchange of the social attentions and courtesies of civil life! Our longest line is from Halifax to New Orleans, a distance following the wires of about 2,400 miles; and it is over this line the steamer's news is sent to all the principal cities.

If we take the lines of Europe, 37,000 miles, and add our own, about 35,000 miles, we have a length of wire that would reach nearly three times around the globe; more than Shakspeare bargained for when he made Puck say,

      "I'll put a girdle round about the earth
        In forty minutes."

For science has demonstrated that the distance I have mentioned can be traversed in less than forty seconds.

While surveying the innumerable lines which cross and recross each other, spanning mountains, rivers, and seas, binding together the distant parts of Europe and Asia, and spreading over the face of our happy land a labyrinth of iron network, our minds are directed to the link yet wanting to complete the chain which is to hold the civilized nations in the bonds of heavy penalties to keep the peace one towards another.

The old and the new world must be connected. The difficulties to be overcome are great, and at the present moment may appear almost insurmountable. But energy, perseverance, and skill have overcome greater obstacles, and many of them will disappear upon a review of the work already done. It was asserted with equal positiveness that it was impracticable to lay a cable between Dover and Calais; and when the first cable, after its use but a few days, gave out, there were plenty of those industrious and far-seeing people who are always ready with "I told you so." But if they did, a second cable was laid, and has continued to work ever since; while, this once accomplished, others soon followed, and no difficulty was experienced in laying the one under the Black Sea, a distance of 250 miles.

There are two lines projected to connect Europe and America. One starting from St. Johns, now a station on the present Halifax line, and running thence to Cape Tormentine, thence by submarine cable (already laid) through the straits of Northumberland to Prince Edwards Island, a distance of about 11 miles, thence to Cape Breton, and from Cape Breton by submarine cable again to Cape Ray, the Southwestern Cape of Newfoundland, and thence over Newfoundland to St. Johns, where it is to connect with the transatlantic cable.

You are perhaps all aware of the unfortunate circumstances which prevented the completion of so much of this line as I have described, during last year. But I am informed that a new cable will soon be in readiness to renew the attempt, which we all hope will be successful. The distance in question is only about 75 miles; and when completed the length of line of the company from St. Johns, New Brunswick, to the terminus on Newfoundland will be about 700 miles.

In England there is already formed a company who have entered into a contract, by the terms of which and their charter they are to finish the line, and operate it between Newfoundland and Ireland by January 1858. The undertaking is indeed one of vast magnitude, a distance of 1,800 miles, and requiring, on account of the inequality of the bed of the ocean on which it is to rest, a cable not less than 22,000 to 25,000 miles long. The manufacture and laying of such an immense rope will be no easy task. Of course it must be made in pieces, and spliced on board the vessel at the time of its being laid. This, however, is practicable, having been done in other cases. The cable between Dover and Ostend weighs seven or eight tons to the mile. Supposing the cable in question to weigh the same, and we have a total weight of 17,600 tons, requiring quite a fleet of steamers to transport and lay it.

Soundings have been made under the direction of Lieut. Maury, extending from Newfoundland to the coast of Ireland. He remarks: "The bottom consists of a plateau, which seems to have been placed there especially for the purpose of holding the wires of a submarine telegraph, and of keeping them out of harm's way. It is neither too deep-nor too shallow. Yet it is so deep that the wire, once landed, will remain forever beyond the reach of vessels, anchors, icebergs, and drifts of any kind; and so shallow that the wires may be readily lodged upon the bottom. The depth of the plateau is quite regular, gradually increasing from the shores of Newfoundland to the depth of from 1500 to 2000 fathoms, or say 10,000 feet, as you approach the other side." Lieutenant Maury concludes that this line of deep sea soundings is quite conclusive of the question as to the practicability of a submarine telegraph between the two continents, in so far as the bottom of the ocean is concerned. He says the waters on this plateau are "as still as those of a mill-pond."

There are other questions, however, which present themselves, as, the required strength of such a cable, increasing with its bulk to a difficult point. For at or near the Irish coast the perpendicular stretch will be nearly or quite two miles. Also, what will be the effect of the pressure of the water upon the cable at this depth, affecting the current of electricity; and lastly, the ability to pass a current over such a length of wire, unaided in its passage by relay magnets.

These are presented as the points of greatest difficulty, and perhaps only to be tested by the operation of the cable itself.

The other projected line to which I referred, will start from Quebec, running to a point on the coast of Labrador, 800 miles; from Labrador, by submarine cable, to Greenland, 650 miles; from Greenland to Iceland, 600 miles; across Iceland, 250 miles; from Iceland to the Faro Islands, 240 miles; from the Faro Isles to Shetland Islands, 200 miles; from the Shetland Isles to Orkney Islands, 50 miles; across the Orkneys and to northern Scotland, about 50 miles; a total of 2,900 miles from Quebec to Scotland. Of this 2,900 miles there would be about the same number of miles of submarine cable as by the other route. But it is claimed, that a decided advantage is found in the cables being short, or broken from point to point, no one stretch being greater than 650 miles; and, of course, greater facility afforded both in laying and repairing.

But little, however, is known of the configuration of this portion of the ocean's bed; but there is no doubt the depth of water is much greater than by the other route. The greatest depth of the ocean is said to be just south of Greenland.

The cable of the Black Sea is laid at a depth exceeding 300 fathoms; and of the cable between Spezzia and Corsica it is remarked, "that after paying it out, as supposed, on the top of a submarine mountain, at a depth of 180 to 200 fathoms, it suddenly came to the edge of a precipice, making a total of 350 fathoms running out with fearful velocity;" showing the strength of the cable to resist such a strain.

The cable between Sardinia and Secali will be laid at a depth exceeding 500 fathoms.

The difficulties to which I have incidentally referred, are not, in my opinion, to remain as permanent obstacles to the accomplishment of the work. If science has given birth to those agencies which have enabled us to accomplish so much, how reasonable is it to suppose that lesser difficulties will be overcome! The best talent of the world is more deeply engaged in the study of electrical and magnetic effects than in any other branch of science; and hardly a day passes without witnessing some new and important result. The most serious question is really the transmission of the current over a wire of 2,600 miles. I have myself telegraphed over a distance of 1,000 miles on iron wire connecting through some twenty-five offices on the line, the imperfections of which must have caused a very considerable loss of current. But I found no difficulty in recording the signals; and I have seen it stated that messages have been sent from London to Lemberg in Galicia, a distance of 1,800 miles.

Now, the conducting power of iron wire is only about 18, copper being 100; and as the volume and strength of currents increase with the size of wire, a solution of at least a portion of the difficulty may be found.

The galvanic battery is claiming its full share of attention; and as it holds the same relation to the telegraph as steam does to the engine, we may expect now revelations of its power.

Supposing this submarine line accomplished, what would be the effect? Reaching Galway, in Ireland, we have a line to Dublin, and thence by submarine cable to Holyhead on the English coast, 70 miles. Or going north from Dublin to Belfast, we have another cable crossing the channel to Portpatrick, 27 miles. In fact, between Belfast and Portpatrick there are two distinct cables, so that England and Ireland are at this time joined by three distinct cables. The cable between Dublin and Holyhead contains but one conducting wire; but the cables between Belfast and Portpatrick each have six conducting wires. From these two points you cross England by more than half a dozen different routes to reach either Dover or Orfordness, connecting through the former with Calais, 25 miles, and, by another cable, with Ostend, 70 miles; and, through the latter, with the Hague, 135 miles; thence, following the sinuosities of the wires, you reach any or all of the principal cities of the continent. In one array you have Dublin and Cork, London and Liverpool, Paris, Madrid, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Munich, Vienna, Geneva, Milan, Venice, Naples, Trieste, Belgrade, Constantinople, Cracow, Dantzic, St. Petorsburgh, Moscow, Odessa, Balaclava, and Sebastopol, all enjoying direct telegraphic communication with each other.

I now wish to call our attention to another important link. I have already referred to the submarine cable between Spezia and the island of Corsica, 75 miles; across the island, 128 miles; by submarine cable, to Sardinia, 10 miles; and across Sardinia, 200 miles. From a southerly point of the island it s proposed (and will perhaps be done this season) to carry the line by cable 125 miles, to Secali on the African coast. From this point France will carry it underground to Algeria; while England, to reach her eastern possessions, will carry it by way of Alexandria, to connect with her extensive lines already constructed in India.

The cable laid between Spezzia and Corsica has six conducting wires. The two cables between Belfast and Portpatrick, and that between Dover and Ostend is the same, weighing about eight tons per mile. The cable between Dover and Calais has four conducting wires. The lightest cable s that between Dublin and Holyhead, having one conducting wire, weighing about one ton per mile, and laid in about 70 fathoms water.

Let us for a moment retrace our steps, and observe the grand scheme embraced within the lines already constructed and projected. We start from New Orleans, and passing through the seaboard cities of the Union to Halifax; thence, by submarine cable, to Galway; thence to Dublin; thence, by able, to Holyhead; thence, by way of Liverpool, Manchester, and London, to Dover; thence, by cable, to Calais, Paris, Marseilles, Genoa, Spezzia; thence, by cable, to Corsica, Sardinia, and Secalia; thence to Alexandria, Suez, Damascus, Bagdad, Bassra, along the coast of Persia; and thence to Bombay, Madras, Calcutta; and thence to Singapore, Batavia, and the small islands, to Australia;-and thus we have a continuous telegraphic line of over 20,000 miles. As the lines from Bombay to Calcutta are finished, and the connection of Sardinia and Africa nearly so, it only requires the distance between Newfoundland and Ireland, 1,800 miles, and from Secalia to Bombay, 5,000 miles, to be constructed, to bring the ancient capitals of India and Persia within hailing distance of New York.

Still another line has been projected between the old and new world. Starting from San Francisco, and passing through Oregon, Washington Territory, and the British Possessions, to Behring's Straits, having about thirty (30) fathoms water; and thence, by cable across the Straits, to the Russian Empire; and so on, by many turns, to Moscow. It is not necessary for me to tire you with the details of this route, believing it to have too many disadvantages for an early accomplishment of the project.

It would be impossible, even within the limits of two or three evenings, to refer to the various lines now in operation, an analysis of their business, and the extent to which they are used by the different nations. Such tables, carefully prepared, would be a history of the present condition, prosperity, and progress of their people. A few years since, the person who should have ventured upon the suggestion of such results as we have been considering, would have been declared insane; and no attainments, however profound; no reputation, however respected, could have saved him from the imputation of a dreamer; and I hardly dare draw even the most probable inferences as to the result of having such a messenger between individual man and nation and nation. The many useful and wonderful inventions which are daily springing into life, seem to blunt our curiosity and blind us to their merits.

We seem to take them as a matter of course, and when any one more prominent than the rest is publicly brought to notice, busy heads and hands are at work to bring it to a useful standard. Franklin possessed this spirit, and we find a comical allusion to electricity in one of his letters to Mr. Collinson, of England, in 1749. He thus expresses his disappointment: "Chagrined a little that we hitherto have been unable to produce any thing in this way of use to mankind, and the hot weather coming on, when electrical experiments are not so agreeable, it is proposed to put an end to them for the season in a party of pleasure on the banks of the Schuylkill." "Spirits are at the same time to be fired by a spark sent from side to side through the river, without any other conductor than the water, an experiment we some time since performed to the amusement of many. A turkey is to be killed for dinner by the electric shock, and roasted by the electric jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle; when the healths of all the famous electricians of England, France, Holland, and Germany, are to be drunk in electrified bumpers, under the discharge of guns from the electrical battery." Although dealing thus playfully with the truths thus demonstrated, and without a knowledge of their tendency, he within a short time thereafter made his brilliant discovery of the identity of electricity and lightning. The world has done him homage, and electrical science, in her delicate manipulations, fabricates the rarest of her offerings to perpetuate his memory.

Could we do without the telegraph, is a question I suppose but seldom asked; and yet when a steamer is announced as at Halifax, and the wires break or other interruption occurs, business for the time stands still and anxious faces bespeak their disappointment. Or when a merchant has allowed the day of remittance to pass by and the telegraph saves him from protest, or the husband or friend who has missed a train and quiets all fears at home by a message, should prove how intimately it is blended with our everyday wants, and how necessary for our condition. To sweep it from existence would paralyze trade and commerce.

As a farther illustration of the uses of the telegraph I will take the business of the two lines between this city and Boston, which for their regularity of working and dispatch are not excelled. They frequently send and receive during one day from seven to eight hundred messages, besides doing the business of the press. Taking a month's business, that of November last, I find they transmitted



messages to buy goods.


  sell goods.


  making appointments.


  relating to sickness.




instructions to pay money and notes.


messages for railroads.


reports of markets.


social messages.


messages respecting freighting and shipping.


  in cipher.


on general mercantile matters.


or a total of 


messages for that month.

If we take this as an average, we have 244,800 messages per annum between Boston and New York. Suppose the 35,000 miles of line distributed over the States to give but half this average, and this is considered it low estimate, we have 17,136,000 messages, producing a gross revenue of not less than $7,000,000.

Want of skill and judicious management, the loose manner in which lines have been constructed, calling for enormous repairs, and the want of harmony in the working system, dissipates all this large income, leaving but a nominal profit. In this respect, however, the telegraph system is not unlike the railway, and the returns are not to be found in dividends, but in the enhanced value of real estate, and higher prices for the productions of the soil, by increased facilities of transportation and communication. In all these the telegraph is not behind the railway. In fact it now forms a part of their outfit, enabling them to accomplish a larger amount of business by regulating trains and preventing disaster; an instance of which occurred in England in 1850. "A collision had occurred to an empty train at Gravesend; and the engineer having leaped from the engine, the latter started alone at full speed to London. Notice was immediately given by telegraph to London and intermediate stations; and, while the road was kept clear, a buttress was prepared to receive the runaway. The superintendent also started down the road on an engine, and on passing the runaway he reversed his engine and had it transferred at the next crossing to the up line, so as to be in the rear of the fugitive. He then started in chase, and overtaking ran into it with speed, and the driver of his engine took possession of the fugitive, when all danger was at an end. Twelve stations were passed in safety, and when caught it was going at the rate of 15 miles an hour and within two miles of London." Most of our principal railways have each a telegraph line, for which they find constant employment; and I suppose it would be next to impossible for the Erie road to do its enormous business without the aid of its telegraph wires.

To resume the consideration of the mercantile and social messages, I stated the yearly business at 14,688,000 messages. This would give at least 146,880,000 words, which it is necessary to spell out letter by letter, each letter composed of one or more arbitrary signs, or dots and lines. Can it be expected that this work can be performed without mistakes? On the contrary when the difficulties and embarrassments of the clerk are understood, the correctness with which the immense number of dispatches is sent will excite our wonder. There are many persons who rush into the office; for it is conceded that the man who wants to use the wires is in a hurry. But he writes in hieroglyphics, or about as hard to decipher, and expects the telegrapher to find out in some way his meaning. If a canary bird had its foot dipped in ink and was made to walk across the paper, the resemblance to the writing would be quite good.

Some houses send their messages always in cipher, or a dictionary of words known only to the parties interested. In this way a saving is effected, and a monkey is made to stand for a barrel of flour, while a cat expresses its value in dollars. A donkey is made to convey or express a backward movement in stocks; and Reynard, stringency in the money market, - &c. &c. This is also done for the sake of secrecy, - a precaution I do not for a moment consider necessary. The clerks are, as a whole, a highminded and honorable set of men. Besides the business to them becomes mechanical in its routine, and the family concerns of a nation, day by day brought under their notice, soon lose all interest. A man may telegraph to stop his runaway wife; but the receiving clerk simply passes it to the operator, with the remark, "Message in a hurry, man wants to stop his wife," and will seldom raise a smile. It is the duty of the telegraph to stop her; and, very much to her surprise, it does stop her. It is the terror of thieves, as well as the messenger of peace. Not an hour or a minute is passing without its co-operation, in supplying the wants and administering to the necessities of mankind.

The newspapers have been the most generous promoters and supporters of the telegraph, from the first hour of its existence it has received their aid and encouragement; and at the present time the leading papers of this city expend annually for telegraph news alone the sum of sixty thousand dollars, while the, papers of the interior and different States expend about ninety thousand dollars. It is only a fair statement to say that collectively the newspaper press of the country expend annually not less than $200,000, of which $60,000 is disbursed in this city. It is not unusual for their regular daily dispatch to contain 8,000 words; and when any important debate is going on in Congress, or other exciting cause, they will receive 15,000 words for one edition. It is not only an evidence of their enterprise and liberality, but of the sound minds that direct this great machinery of power.

If we stand amazed at the speed of the locomotive engine, as it rushes past us at the rate of forty miles an hour, our wonder ceases upon the contemplation of the mysterious ticking of a telegraph register. Take your stand for instance in a New York office, and talk with your friend in Buffalo 500 miles away. Each thought is no sooner uttered than received. If you take for comparison the circumference of the globe, and suppose a railroad round it. An engine traveling incessantly night and day, at twenty miles an hour, would take forty-two days to make the passage. But electricity with its speed of 100,000 miles in a second would sweep the distance ere the first revolution of the engine-wheel took place. If it speaks in poetry and romance, it also fulfills the prayer of the Spartans to their God, "to grant them the beautiful with the good."

No sooner were the deadly cannon pointed before Sebastopol and the rattle of muskets foretold the carnage of the battle-field, than a telegraph was needed to herald the tidings of defeat or victory. The flashing eye of exultation, which penned the dispatch to electrify all Europe with the fall of Sebastopol, was followed by others to bedew the graves of the heroes with a nation's tears.

Thanks to the telegraph, a mother could mourn her son while "the muffled drums were beating funeral marches to his grave."

Holding in your hand the telegraph-key, enabling you to converse in the distances of hundreds of miles, you experience an immortality of nature to be found under no other circumstances. Time and space are annihilated, and "as quick as thought," is no longer a proverb.

With a submarine cable joining Europe and America, our merchants would hold "high change" indeed, - discussing the day's transactions with the cities of London, Vienna, and Paris. A sale of "Illinois Centrals,"or New York sixes, made in London at 5 P. M. will be discussed at the New York board at 12 o'clock. Or a message sent from New York to San Francisco at 12 o'clock, will reach its destination at a quarter before nine in the morning of the same day; and a message from New York at 12 o'clock will reach St. Louis at eleven. This all seems strange, and it becomes necessary to pause and reflect before it can be realized as truth. But truth it is; and "old father Time," hour glass and all, is completely beaten.

It will be observed on reference to the maps, that both in England and the United States the lines are diffused all over the country, showing the commercial spirit which called them into existence. While in France, Paris is the center from which the lines radiate, and are made subservient to the government. The same may be said of Italy. While Russia's two long lines touch only her garrisons and naval stations, essentially performing a warlike and despotic mission.

But "there is a good time coming." As the morning mist is dispelled by the rising sun, so will civilization and commerce herald a brighter day for the ignorant and oppressed. Says Humboldt, - "There are nations more susceptible of cultivation, more highly civilized, more enobled by cultivation than others, but none in themselves nobler than others. All are in like degree designed for freedom; a freedom which in the ruder conditions of society belongs only to the individual, but which in social states enjoying political institutions, appertains as a right to the whole body of the community." "If we would indicate an idea which throughout the whole course of history has ever, more and more widely extended its empire, or which more than any other testifies to the much contested and still more decidedly misunderstood perfectibility of the whole human race, it is that of establishing our common humanity, of striving to remove the barriers which prejudice and limited views have erected amongst men, and treating all mankind, without reference to religion, nation, or color, as one fraternity, one great community. This is the ultimate and highest aim of society, identical with the direction implanted by nature in the mind of man towards the indefinite extension of his existence. He regards the earth in all its limits, and the heavens as far as the eye can scan their bright and starry depths, as inwardly his own, given to him as the objects of his contemplation, and as a field for the development of his energies."

By the continued conquests of science, the mind is enlarged and expanded, and the sluggard must press on with the crowd or stand aside. The Steamboat, the Locomotive, the Printing Press, and Telegraph are doing their work. The forests are leveled and made the paths of thought; while the song of the reaper, and music of the anvil and hammer roll in echo from mountain to mountain, to tell of the progress of religious truth, freedom, and morality.

To the mariner's compass, the telescope, the microscope, and chronometer we owe much, for they have contributed to the happiness of the world. But they weigh light in the balance against the printing-press, the steam-engine, the electrical light, the lighting of our houses with the gaseous element of coal, or the telegraph with its lightning speed. For it is by these, born in our own generation, displaying the power and high mission of man, we see the future mapped out, ancient barriers destroyed, the elements subjected to his will, and the world brought into familiar intercourse.

I cannot, I would not, rob the many brilliant lights of science which shine upon our path, of a single ray. But I would point to the telegraph, the subject of our paper, and ask for a just appreciation of its merits. For if electricity and magnetism now stand brilliantly conspicuous, their further development and application will make them appear as the star of first magnitude; while the gigantic power of the steam engine may dwindle into insignificance before the powers of nature which are yet to be revealed.

On every hand we perceive the truth of the general advancement of the human fancily to a condition far superior to any thing conveyed by mere civilization in the common acceptation of the term. We recognize this progress step by step towards a social condition in which nobler feelings, thoughts, and actions, instead of antagonism will produce a more refined and fixed condition of happiness. Man's course has not been regular, but constant; and so it will continue, marking his tread onward and upward in the sublime and appointed path whither time and destiny seem to call him.

Copyright © 2007 FTL Design

Last revised: 21 March, 2022

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