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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
to pay money and notes.
freighting and shipping.
general mercantile matters.
for that month.
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
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
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.