Tag Archives: telegraph

Northeast Blizzard of March 11-14 1888

The Great Blizzard that struck the Northeast of the United States on 11 Mar 1888  resulted in one of the most deadly blizzards to strike in the 19th century.. With massive snow drifts, powerful winds and 55 inches of snow in some places, virtually everyone between Washington D.C. and Maine was effected.

Blizzard of 1888, Park Place in Brooklyn NY. March 14, 1888.
NOAA Photo Library
Public Domain

No one was prepared for the blizzard. March 10 had been a pleasant day with temperatures in the mid-50’s Fahrenheit. Arctic air from Canada collided with Gulf air on March 11 resulting in a massive temperature drop. Wind quickly began to churn and soon reached hurricane-strength levels in places like New York City. Heavy snow fell everywhere and in New York residents awoke on March 12 to find their city in a complete whiteout. The snow drifts were so high in some cases that they nearly reached the second story of buildings.

Despite this, many did try to get to work using the elevated trains. Alas snow drifts blocked the rails and so trains could not go anywhere. Getting off the platforms proved formidable in some cases as snow drifts blocked exits. Some took advantage of this to offer assistance with ladders for a fee. It is estimated up to 15,000 were stranded. But the problems in New York City multiplied. With telegraph lines, water mains and gas lines all above ground, they were covered with snow and ice made inaccessible. Telegraph lines snapped as well making communication with the outside world difficult impossible.

Getting to work on foot proved perilous as well. With so much snow and ice, many businesses could not open since no one could reach them. Only 30 made it to the New York Stock Exchange. It remained closed for three days. Many people also were injured walking and some fell into small drifts and died (including a New York state senator).

Stereoview picture of Grand Street in New Britain, Connecticut, published by F. W. Allderige in 1888
Public Domain/Wikimedia

Outside of New York, it was just as bad. The wind and snow covered train tracks stopping trains. People had to endure freezing conditions as they awaited for assistance. Hundreds of boats were sunk due to the high waves and winds. Historic amounts of snow fell throughout the Northeast making it difficult for anyone to move about. Telegraph lines were knocked down as well cutting off areas from the outside world.

Aftermath

The storm resulted in $20-25 million in property damage. It took days to clear the railway lines of the snow drifts. Cities and towns had to deal with massive snow that had to be cleared and people were stuck in their homes in many places. Additionally emergency services such as fire and police were unable to respond or assist much in many places during this period. Fires in some places could not be put out as a result. Ships caught out at sea during the blizzard suffered badly; many that survived had to be fixed and lives were lost as well. Food deliveries were delayed since trains could not run for up to eight days until the snow was cleared from the tracks. 

Broken telegraph lines had become a hazard in New York City and like the snow took days to clear. With the telegraph down, communication went down between Washington D.C. and the Northeast including Canada. This would begin the start of moving critical infrastructure underground. New York City would begin construction of a subway line, telegraph lines and other important infrastructure would be moved underground as well.

This was the second major blizzard that had hit the United States in 1888. The first one occurred in January1888 and is often called the Children’s Blizzard over the number of children that died in the midwest as a result of it. The Weather Bureau, run by the U.S. Signal Service, did not see this blizzard nor the one that hit the Northeast in March. With all the damage that resulted from the Northeast blizzard, it was clear a change would have to be made. The New York press criticized the bureau for not manning weather reporting stations 24 hours a day. That was changed after this event but did not mollify a lot of critics. In 1890 the Weather Bureau was removed from the U.S. Army Signal Corps and put under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It would be moved over to the Commerce Department during the Roosevelt Administration. In 1970 it was moved to the National Atmospheric Administration and renamed the National Weather Service in 1970.

Sources: 

History.com
National Museum of American History
Thoughtco.com


Remembering History: Alexander Graham Bell Patents Telephone

The old reliable rotary dial phone. The basic rotary dial had different looks but remained the same until the 1980’s when touch tone replaced it. A remarkably simple device that needed no batteries or internet connection.
Photo: R Sull (Wikimedia Commons)

It is hard to remember a time without telephones. Important messages and correspondence was limited by foot, horse and sail. Mail sent overseas could take, depending on the distance involved, weeks or months (and even longer when you depended on wind to power your sails). When the railroad arrived, mail could be loaded onto trains but still had to be delivered at the end. The telegraph had speeded things up enormously. Messages could be sent fast from point to point but it had its limitations as well. It required hand delivery of messages from the telegraph to its recipients. Enter Alexander Graham Bell and his invention called an harmonic telegraph that would combine the telegraph and a record player so that people could speak with each other over long distances.

On 7 March 1876, his patent for this device was registered. He had begun work on the device in 1871 and was able to get investors to back his idea. By 1875 with the help of his partner Thomas Watson, he had come up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound. Two other scientists, Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray, were working on similar technologies as well.The prototype that he and Watson developed allowed sound waves to create an electric current causing a soft thin iron plate (called the diaphragm) to vibrate. It was these vibrations when transferred magnetically to another wire connected to another diaphragm in another distant instrument that would replicate the original sound. A few days after the patent was filed, Bell called his assistant and uttered the now famous “Mr Watson, come here, I need you.”

Aftermath

The Bell Telephone Company was founded in 1877 (now AT&T) to market the new product. The first telephone line from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts was completed in 1877 and by 1880 there was an estimated 49,000 telephones in the United States. It would spread to major East coast cities and by 1915 transcontinental service had begun. Bell Telephone grew quickly and bought out competitors or merged with them to form American Telephone and Telegraphy Company. Since they held the patent on this technology, they had a monopoly on the industry. And one they would not give up until a 1984 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice requiring them to end control over state markets.

Litigation by those who claimed to have invented the telephone before Bell would last for over 20 years. At one point there was an attempt by the U.S. government to withdraw the patent over the numerous claims in 1887. However the Supreme Court ruled in 1897 that the U.S. government lacked standing. Simply put the patent had been duly registered as required by law with the Patent Office. In order cancel a patent, it must show that the patent had been fraudulently obtained requiring such fraud to be proved by testimony. Since the case lacked that determination, the Supreme Court told the government you have no standing to cancel a patent. 

The telephone system that was created resulted in major changes, large and small. It was easy in many places to now call for a doctor, the police, or fire department. Likewise other important business and government information could be done by phone rather than by sending a messenger or a telegraph. Speaking long distance was possible as well instead of telegraph. And dialing O for the operator meant a live human person would respond to assist.

Telephone technology would continually change over time. Calling long distance sometimes took a while depending on where you were located in earlier times (direct dialing was not yet possible due to many local exchanges, so the local exchange would set up the long distance call with other exchanges and that would take sometime to do that). In some rural locales, you had party lines where everyone was on the same line. So when you picked up the phone, you might find someone already talking! Dialing a number meant just that, you dialed a number on the old rotary phone. Speed dialing was not really possible except by mechanical means.

When touch-tone came into being, it made dialing a whole lot faster and easier. Phones changed as well from the old standard wall and desk types to more functional and even stylish types. And technology changed how phone calls were made too. Direct dialing ended the need for having to go through local exchanges for long distance calls. Now you just dialed an area code and the local number to speak with your favorite relative who lived far away. And as predicted by some futuristic science fiction, we now have wireless phones these days without the need of a phone line. Bell’s invention has certainly had an impact on us all. We cannot imagine a world without a phone.

Sources

History.com:
Alexander Graham Bell
Samuel Morse
This Day in History

Thought.co
Supreme.Justia.com

 


Remembering The Telegraph

Samuel Morris,Paris,1840 Public Domain(Wikipedia)

For many of us it is hard to conceive a world without television, telephones, and the Internet. Sending important communications took time if significant distance was involved. And would increase exponentially if the recipient was on another continent. The speed of the horse, the foot, and how good the wind was would determine how quickly the message was delivered. Samuel Morse on 6 Jan 1838 demonstrated for the first time how electric impulse could transmit messages. He was not the only one who was working on the same concept but the first to get it beyond a concept to a working means of communication.

His prototype demonstrated the use of using dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. In the demonstration of 1838, he showed that this method of communication was possible. Morse, who had attended Yale University interested in art and electricity, became intrigued when he learned coming home from Europe about the newly discovered electromagnet and decided to work on the telegraph. Convincing skeptics took some doing. Not many were convinced sending messages in this fashion were possible or practical. It required the use of telegraph lines that would transmit the data over long or short distances. And it meant people would have to be trained to understand this Morse code. Morse convinced U.S. Congress to fund construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. The first telegram sent in May 1844 said: “What hath God wrought!”

Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection Public Domain (Wikipedia)
Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Soon private companies would emerge using Morse’s patent to set up telegraph lines all over the American Northeast. Western Union, formerly called the New York and Mississippi Valley Company, completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. Telegraph systems would spread in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Underwater cables would connect both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Messages of all kinds could be sent by telegraph. Since telegraph companies charged by the word, messages became succinct no matter whether it was happy or sad news. The period was replaced in most messages with the word “stop” as that was free.

One of the chief constraints of the telegraph is that it relied on the telegraph line and undersea cables. Thus messages could be delayed or lost by downed poles, military actions, weather related issues, or problems in the receiving office. Radio telegraphy was developed by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. Sending the same messages over the air meant they were no longer restricted to telegraph lines. But it too could have its problems as what happened with Titanic. You have messages get mixed and mashed up resulting inaccurate information being reported. Radio telegraphy would lead to radio transmission allowing voices to be heard for the first time and the radio would be born. Wireless telegraphy would continue for business and governments and develop ultimately into the radioteletype networks.

The old fashioned telegraph continued on. Western Union introduced the singing telegram in 1933 and was still a means of communication until after World War II. During the war the sight of a Western Union courier became dreaded because the War Department sent telegrams to families informing of a death or sometimes a serious injury. The scene in A League of Their Own where Tom Hanks grabs the telegram from the messenger so that he could deliver it was not made up but reflected what most knew telegrams would announce.

The old reliable rotary dial phone. The basic rotary dial had different looks but remained the same until the 1980’s when touch tone replaced it. A remarkably simple device that needed no batteries or internet connection.
Photo: R Sull (Wikimedia Commons)

The telephone though ultimately replaced the telegraph for most communications. When you could pick up a phone and tell someone important news, there was no need to go down to the Western Union office and pay by the word for a short succinct message when an inexpensive phone call would do it. Telegraph companies folded up, were bought up by larger companies, or completely rebranded. Today Western Union primarily transfers money (money orders, money transfers, and commercial transactions) and no longer performs any telegraph service.

The development of the telegraph allowed for more rapid dissemination of information unlike anything before. No longer were messages tied to the speed of ships, horses, trains and even feet. Major events could be learned quickly rather than weeks or months. It was a major technological step that unlocked other technologies that has changed the world dramatically.

Sources:
Samuel Morse (Encyclopedia Britanica)
Morse Code & the Telegraph (History.com)

Almost Forgotten Technology: The Telegraph

Samuel Morris,Paris,1840 Public Domain(Wikipedia)

For many of us it is hard to conceive a world without television, telephones, and the Internet. Sending important communications took time if significant distance was involved. And would increase exponentially if the recipient was on another continent. The speed of the horse, the foot, and how good the wind was would determine how quickly the message was delivered. Samuel Morse on 6 Jan 1838 demonstrated for the first time how electric impulse could transmit messages. He was not the only one who was working on the same concept but the first to get it beyond a concept to a working means of communication.

His prototype demonstrated the use of using dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. In the demonstration of 1838, he showed that this method of communication was possible. Morse, who had attended Yale University interested in art and electricity, became intrigued when he learned coming home from Europe about the newly discovered electromagnet and decided to work on the telegraph. Convincing skeptics took some doing. Not many were convinced sending messages in this fashion were possible or practical. It required the use of telegraph lines that would transmit the data over long or short distances. And it meant people would have to be trained to understand this Morse code. Morse convinced U.S. Congress to fund construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. The first telegram sent in May 1844 said: “What hath God wrought!”

Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection Public Domain (Wikipedia)
Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Soon private companies would emerge using Morse’s patent to set up telegraph lines all over the American Northeast. Western Union, formerly called the New York and Mississippi Valley Company, completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. Telegraph systems would spread in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Underwater cables would connect both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Messages of all kinds could be sent by telegraph. Since telegraph companies charged by the word, messages became succinct no matter whether it was happy or sad news. The period was replaced in most messages with the word “stop” as that was free.

One of the chief constraints of the telegraph is that it relied on the telegraph line and undersea cables. Thus messages could be delayed or lost by downed poles, military actions, weather related issues, or problems in the receiving office. Radio telegraphy was developed by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. Sending the same messages over the air meant they were no longer restricted to telegraph lines. But it too could have its problems as what happened with Titanic. You have messages get mixed and mashed up resulting inaccurate information being reported. Radio telegraphy would lead to radio transmission allowing voices to be heard for the first time and the radio would be born. Wireless telegraphy would continue for business and governments and develop ultimately into the radioteletype networks.

The old fashioned telegraph continued on. Western Union introduced the singing telegram in 1933 and was still a means of communication until after World War II. During the war the sight of a Western Union courier became dreaded because the War Department sent telegrams to families informing of a death or sometimes a serious injury. The scene in A League of Their Own where Tom Hanks grabs the telegram from the messenger so that he could deliver it was not made up but reflected what most knew telegrams would announce.

The telephone though ultimately replaced the telegraph for most communications. When you could pick up a phone and tell someone important news, there was no need to go down to the Western Union office and pay by the word for a short succinct message when an inexpensive phone call would do it. Telegraph companies folded up, were bought up by larger companies, or completely rebranded. Today Western Union primarily transfers money (money orders, money transfers, and commercial transactions) and no longer performs any telegraph service.

The development of the telegraph allowed for more rapid dissemination of information unlike anything before. No longer were messages tied to the speed of ships, horses, trains and even feet. Major events could be learned quickly rather than weeks or months. It was a major technological step that unlocked other technologies that has changed the world dramatically.

Sources:
Samuel Morse (Encyclopedia Britanica)
Morse Code & the Telegraph (History.com)