Ch7.telephone telegraph

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Information about Ch7.telephone telegraph

Published on February 15, 2014

Author: wkovarik



From Ch 7 of Revolutions in Communication by Bill Kovarik published by Bloomsbury. See

Brief lectures in Media History Chapter 7 Telephone & telegraph (10 of 15)

The electronic revolution Rapid communication was divine: Nike, Hermes and Mercury carried messages for the gods  For mortals, it moved at the speed of a running horse or fast ship.  Example: Battle of New Orleans fought Jan. 8, 1815, but peace treaty signed in Paris days before Christmas 1814. Seven weeks.  Yet by 1866, same message one hour. 

Telegraph & telephone as mass media   Both known primarily for person-toperson communication But both were backbone for mass communication as well ◦ Telegraph allowed “wire services”  Associated Press in US,Havas in France, Reuters in UK, Wolff’s in Germany, EFE in Spain ◦ Telephone allowed radio networks  NBC, CBS in US, BBC in UK  “Convergence” is a constant condition in mass media history.

Cycles of tech development Open Monopolies stagnate Inventors try to circumvent old technologies Alternatives Experimentation, competition, innovation Closed Patents & regulations are used to protect profits

Optical / mechanical “telegraph” Claude Chappe developed semaphore system for French revolutionary army 1792  “Telegraph” also used to describe naval signals, British optical system 

Electric signaling Electric phenomena fascinated scientists 1700s – 1800s  Steven Gray first sent electric current 700 feet through a line in London in 1727.  Benjamin Franklin famous for experiments with electricity 1750s. 

First telegraph in UK 1837 William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented electric telegraph in 1837  A five wire system, difficult to build and hard to use.  Morse worked with a single grounded wire 

Samuel Morse Motivation: Wife died before message could reach him – Led to search for better message system  Morse identified software as the key problem, not hardware  ◦ Tried number system for words ◦ Tried signals on paper t ape ◦ Eventually tried dot – dash signal set based on letter frequency

Morse code based on print technology Most frequently used letters were given the simplest corresponding code  Typical type font, printers stocked 12,000 Es and 9,000 Ts. ◦E= .  T= - Printers also stocked 400 Qs and 200 Zs because they were rarely used: ◦ Q = --.- Z = --.. ◦   An elegant software solution to the hardware problem that others like Cooke and Wheatstone had not really solved. Morse code adopted internationally by 1865

__ ___ ._. … . “It is obvious, at the slightest glance, that this mode of instantaneous communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to be wielded for good or for evil . . .” —Samuel Morse, 1838. Morse wanted telegraph to be “nationalized” - owned by government. European nations did just that, but the US allowed telegraph to become a monopoly called Western Union

Not everyone was impressed… The telegraph is little more than an “improved means to an unimproved end.” We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Henry David Thoreau, 1854, Walden

News before & after Before the telegraph: If the exhibition of the most brilliant valor, of the excess of courage, and of a daring which would have reflected luster on the best days of chivalry can afford full consolation for the disaster of today, we can have no reason to regret themelancholy loss which we sustained in a contest with a savage and barbarian enemy. (William Howard Russell, The Times, London, November 13, 1854) News sent by telegraph: Our troops, after taking three batteries and gaining a great victory at Bull Run, were eventually repulsed, and commenced a retreat on Washington. (Henry Villard, New York Herald, July 22, 1861)

Associated Press formed • • • • 1846 express news from Mexican war 1848 Harbor News Assn (NY city) Became a monopoly with Western Union telegraph company in 1860s Blocked competition and managed news

Telegraph lines link US, UK First lines laid down in 1858  Permanent lines in place by 1866  Special AP – Reuters deal 1890s 

European wire services Unlike US, telegraph was nationalized This meant there was net neutrality  Paul Reuter (Havas employee) – UK ◦ ◦  Formed Reuter’s in London 1851 Second largest international wire service today (after AP) Charles Louis Havas – France, 1835 ◦ ◦  Original wire service / Reuter and Wolff worked there Became Agence France Press 1945 after WWII Spanish wire service EFE formed 1939 ◦ Fourth largest wire service today  Bernard Wolff (also Havas employee) ◦ Formed Wolffs in Berlin 1849; Nazis destroyed it 1930 ◦ Replaced by Deutsche PresseAgentur (DPA) in 1945

AP criticized, investigated • Congress -- 96 bills, 48 committee reports on AP and Western Union, 1866 – 1910 • AP monopoly meant that news of regional controversy would come from biased sources. • Cartoon (above) from The Masses pictures AP poisoning the well of news about the West Virginia mine wars around 1912.

Opposition to monopoly • • • • 1890s – 1915,states& USgov’tpass “anti-trust” laws AP-Western Union was one of dozens of trusts they tried to break up United Press (Scripps), International News (Hearst) formed to compete with AP 1907 AP finally loses anti-trust suit 1945

Invention of telephone • • • • • Main idea was to circumvent Western Union monopoly Gardiner Hubbard was the “national nemesis” of Western Union monopoly He financed Alexander Graham Bell telephone experiments in 1870s Bell telephone patent filed 1876 Hubbard became Bell’s father-in-law in 1877

Famous last words  “The idea is idiotic on the face of it… Why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United State States?” ◦ Western Union to Alexander Graham Bell, 1876

Telephone also a monopoly From 1890s – 1980s, AT&T had forced most competitors out of business.  Public relations campaign helped stave off a breakup until 1980s  Kingsbury Commitment with US Justice Dept. allowed AT&T to continue as a regulated monopoly.  The deal also forced Western Union to carry competing wire services such as United Press and International Press at the same rate, allowing them to compete with the Associated Press. 

Public relations campaign claimed telephone was a “natural” monopoly By 1912, telephone was regulated rather than broken up into competing companies Only by 1982 were US phone servicesbroken up into regional carriers with much lower rates

Bell in 1922, listening to radio

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