I’m David Veech and this is Elevate Your Performance.
I intended to share some thoughts about the birth of aviation today, but I didn’t want to neglect a very important late 19th century set of developments that rapidly accelerated the growth of the economy of the United States and fed a second industrial revolution that further enabled the success of Henry Ford and other automobile manufacturers at the dawn of the 20th century.
I hear a lot of talk today of disruptive technology. But every useful technology has its own ability to disrupt the lives of people everywhere. The one I want to focus on today is the telegraph.
Most of us are familiar with the name Samuel F. B. Morse. He is the inventor of a particularly successful type of telegraph machine. What’s strange, though, is that up to this point in his life, he was an accomplished artist, having painted several portraits of prominent people in American history such as John Adams and the Marquis de LaFayette.
The story is interesting. Apparently, while away from his Connecticut home, Morse received word, presumably through the Post Office, that his wife was gravely ill. He immediately left to return home only to arrive well after his wife’s death and burial. The delay in receiving the message became a burning interest for him.
On a ship returning from Europe in 1832, Morse met Charles T. Jackson and shared conversations about electromagnetism and wire transmission signals. From this encounter, Morse had the idea of the single-wire telegraph and got busy trying to make it work.
Over the following few years, several inventors in Europe were developing telegraph machines and trying to figure out how to transmit signals over longer distances. In 1837, working with Leonard Gale (a chemistry professor) and Alfred Vail (a wealthy and enthusiastic young man), Morse was finally able to array the right switches and relays to transmit a signal further than ten miles.
On January 11, 1838, they made their first public demonstration of the telegraph at the Speedwell Ironworks in Morristown, New Jersey to a small and mostly local crowd.
Morse went to Washington DC to try to get federal funding of a larger telegraph line, but it wasn’t until 1843 that Congress granted funding of $30,000 to build a telegraph line from DC to Baltimore, Maryland, about 38 miles along the right-of-way of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad – What Monopoly game fans will recognize as the B&O Railroad.
On May 1, 1844, the first impressive demonstration occurred when the results of the Whig Party Convention in Baltimore were transmitted to the US Capitol. Henry Clay was their nominee for president.
The Official opening of the line was on May 24, 1844 when, in the presence of VIPs, Morse transmitted the words “What hath God wrought” from the Supreme Court chamber in the basement of the US Capitol building to the B&O’s Mount Clare Station in Baltimore.
Morse received a patent in 1840 for the electric telegraph, and a second patent in 1846 for local circuits, but these were aggressively contested by several parties, despite being renewed in 1848. It wasn’t until a supreme court case – O’reilly v. Morse in 1853 that definitively identified Morse as the inventor granting full royalties and license fees owed in the interval…a sum of almost $2 million dollars.
Over 20 companies raced to string telegraph cable across the northeastern US and further west. In 1852, the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company began consolidating these companies and in 1856, acquired the bankrupt New York and Western Union Telegraph Company and created the new and current Western Union Telegraph Company.
By the end of 1861, telegraph wires ran from coast to coast and rendered obsolete the 5-year-old Pony Express (from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California) the US Postal Service had established.
About 15 years later, Western Union was offered a new technology for sale by a young inventor, but refused, leaving the rights to the Telephone to what would become the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, or AT&T. More on the telephone tomorrow!
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.