Monday, February 6, 2012

Victorian Internet

"The Atlantic Telegraph is the instantaneous highway of thought between Old and New Worlds." ~Scientific American, 1858.

In January 1838 Samuel Morse demonstrated the telegraph device that used electric impulses to transmit encoded messages over a wire for the first time at Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, NJ. It would revolutionize long-distance communication more than anything since the printing press.

In 1843 Congress appropriated $30,000 to fund an experimental telegraph line from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. On May 24, 1844, after the line was completed, Morse made the first public use of his telegraph by sending a message from the Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to the B&O Railroad outer depot in Baltimore.

The Americas' first telegram, transmitted via a repeater:
"What hath God wrought", sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844.

By 1862 the transcontinental telegraph joined the east and west lines in the United States at Salt Lake City, UT. In the early 1870's a patchwork of telegraph networks, submarine cables, pneumatic tube systems, and messengers combined to deliver messages within hours over much of the globe.

The Song of the Talking Wire, 1904,
Henry F. Farny (American, 1847–1916), oil on canvas
Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, OH

In his book, The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage discusses the similarities between the telegraph and the Internet. He states that time-traveling Victorians would not be impressed with our Internet. They would surely find space flight and routine intercontinental air travel far more impressive technological achievements because they already had their own internet.

Morse's invention reached the height of its popularity in the 1920's. Telegraph messages were largely replaced by cheap long-distance phone service, faxes and email. Western Union delivered its final telegram in January 2006.

Today the use of mobile phones and text messages extends the telecommunications changes started by the telegraph. They're really not as new as we might think. And hard copy mail has continued from the late 1800's on up through today's forms of technological messaging. The mail is still here, and it's still relevant.

1 comment:

Derrick said...

Here, Here!

Nice write up.