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Power StrugglesScientific Authority and the Creation of Practical Electricity Before Edison$

Michael Brian Schiffer

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780262195829

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262195829.001.0001

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“What Hath God Wrought!”

“What Hath God Wrought!”

(p.137) 12 “What Hath God Wrought!”
Power Struggles

Michael Brian Schiffer

The MIT Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter deals with all the challenges faced by Samuel Morse in making a functional and commercially viable telegraph system. Morse returned to America, where he was successful in getting the recommendation of Joseph Henry for laying the foundations of his electromagnetic telegraph, and finally, on February 23, 1843, a bill was passed in favor of Morse’s setting up of the telegraph system. Initially, Morse set up a system where copper wires, insulated in lead pipes, would be laid underground for the passage of electromagnetic messages; however, this setup did not function well during winter, when the ground froze with ice, and due to the leakage of the lead pipes. Finally, Ezra Cornell devised a new setup whereby copper wires would be strung on poles over long distances. This setup was more economical, durable, and widely accepted.

Keywords:   Samuel Morse, electromagnetic message, Ezra Cornell, telegraph system, Joseph Henry, electromagnetic message

In March 1839, after spending nearly a year in England and France, his hopes for telegraph sales repeatedly buoyed and dashed, Samuel Morse returned to America by steamship. The discouraged inventor was broke and falling deeply into debt, his affairs in disarray. A possibility remained that the House of Representatives would act on the Commerce Committee’s recommendation to fund an experimental telegraph line, but in the meantime Morse might need a new vocation.

With an eye toward the future, Morse sought a meeting with Joseph Henry. Capitalists, he may have reasoned, were likely to consult Henry when seeking answers to questions about the practicality of a full-scale telegraph. In a very deferential letter, Morse inquired: “Have you met with any facts in your experiments, thus far, that would lead you to think that my mode of Telegraphic communication will prove impracticable?” Henry’s reply was all that the inventor could have desired: not only did he invite Morse to visit; he also asserted that “science is now ripe for this application and … there are no difficulties in the way but such as ingenuity and enterprise may obviate.”1 However, Henry did suggest that telegraphy over longer distances might require more power.

Bearing a series of electrical questions, Morse soon called on Henry at Princeton. The quality of the questions indicates that Morse had boned up somewhat on electrical principles. Concerned as ever about long-distance telegraphy, he asked: “Have you any reason to think that magnetism can not be induced in soft iron at the distance of 100 miles or more?” Henry responded with an encouraging “no.”2

While waiting for the telegraph to find buyers, Morse embarked on a new career. During his lengthy stay in Paris, he had visited the studio of Louis Daguerre, inventor of a remarkable new technology, photography, which was all the rage in the French capital. In the Daguerre system, positive images were formed directly on copper plates coated with a light-sensitive silver salt. Even in photography’s first year, 1839, the detailed images were simply stunning; Morse could scarcely believe his eyes. Photography soon became an art in itself, and also offered new possibilities for the painter. Morse grasped at once that a daguerreotype image could capture a scene (p.138) that might be painted later at leisure, allowing a rendering more faithful than a hasty sketch.

Morse bought one of the first copies of Daguerre’s photography manual and had a camera made according to the Frenchman’s design. His first results were mediocre, so he enrolled in a course taught by one of Daguerre’s associates. He also began experimenting with John William Draper, a professor at New York University whose interests were in optics and photochemistry. Morse and Draper laboriously perfected their techniques and set up a studio on the roof of the university building where, with benefit of sunlight, they practiced portraiture, a challenging application because it required long exposures. After many trials, they succeeded in reducing exposure times from 15 minutes to 2 minutes or less.

His collaboration with Draper having ended amicably, Morse built a studio atop a building owned by brother Sidney, who was now prospering quite nicely. Morse was able to get out of debt by selling daguerreotypes and enrolling people in his photography lessons, which emphasized composition as well as chemical processes. Among his students was Mathew Brady, who would become famous for photographing Civil War carnage. Enjoying success as the major practitioner of the Daguerre method in America, Morse surely wondered—with his painting neglected and the telegraph a money pit—whether photography was, after all, his true calling.

“What Hath God Wrought!”

Apart from Morse’s contacts with Henry, the telegraph project was essentially dormant. Consultation with the company’s proprietors was exceedingly difficult, as they were scattered in New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.3 Morse became preoccupied again with anti-Catholic politics and lost another mayoral race by a devastating margin. Most dispiriting of all, Wheatstone and Cooke, who had established a 13-mile telegraph line along the Great Western Railway in England, invited Morse to secure for them an American patent.4 The terms were generous—a half interest—but the Englishmen could not have begun to grasp how deeply their offer offended Morse. French inventors were also busy in America, seeking to sell Congress a trial semaphore system for only $5,000. Competitive juices now flowing and still convinced of the superiority of his recording telegraph, Morse determined to pursue his project with renewed vigor. First he would have to attend to the stalled request for federal funding by lobbying a lethargic Congress.

Morse now played the Henry card, asking the Princeton professor to endorse the experimental line, and he did: “I have not the least doubt, if proper means be afforded, of the perfect success of the invention.” But Henry also predicted that the telegraph might meet with some resistance because of the bad taste lingering from the “chimerical projects” to apply electromagnetism “as a moving power in the arts.5 Significantly, (p.139) Henry expressed his preference for the Morse telegraph over its European counterparts. Scientific authority had again spoken definitively, and this augured well for Morse’s enterprise. Of course, conjuring the “proper means” would take much time, money, and inventiveness. An invigorated Morse resumed tinkering and achieved a distance of 33 miles. He also obtained power of attorney from his partners in the essentially moribund company; now he could proceed without having to consult Smith, Vail, and Gale.

On the advice of Representative William Boardman, Morse again publicized his invention, exhibiting it in New York during the summer of 1842. Among the visitors was Henry, who had not viewed Morse’s telegraph previously. According to Morse’s account of this meeting, Henry called Morse’s instrument “the most beautiful and ingenious instrument … he had ever seen” and Morse’s plan “the only truly practicable plan.”6 A committee from the American Institute, made up of men with technical expertise, reported that Morse’s telegraph was well suited for long-distance communication, adding that it was “a most important practical application of high science, brought into successful operation by the exercise of much mechanical skill and ingenuity.”7 Morse was awarded a gold medal by the Institute, and in its annual exposition, a trade show for American inventors and manufacturers, the telegraph was worked all day long and received praise from the press.

In early fall, Samuel Colt was conducting experiments at NYU, developing technology for electrically detonating underwater mines. While giving Colt advice on electrical matters and lending him long wires, Morse tackled one of the problems that would eventually have to be solved for long-distance telegraphy: How could telegraph lines cross rivers? Morse and Colt shared a need to create waterproof cables, and they worked together on this. In a public demonstration at Castle Garden, in the East River, Morse tried to send a message under a mile of water. After a brief transmission, the cable fell silent. It seems that a ship’s anchor had hooked the cable, and it broke under the strain. Apparently, well-insulated wire alone did not guarantee underwater transmission. Similar problems would dog submarine cables for decades. Despite this fiasco, Morse’s project still enjoyed appreciable support.

Among those who now took an active interest in promoting the telegraph and securing public funds was Representative Charles Ferris of New York City, a member of the Commerce Committee. Ferris suggested that Morse return to Washington and exhibit the latest model. And this he did in December. Alfred Vail, now married, living in Philadelphia, and bereft of funds, was unavailable, and so Morse brought along an NYU colleague, James Fisher. (Leonard Gale had resigned his professorship and moved to New Orleans.) Their successful demonstration, transmitting between committee rooms in the Capitol, even showed that two messages could be sent simultaneously on the same wire. This exhibition, according to Morse’s account to brother Sidney, “excites universal admiration.”8

(p.140) Morse believed that Congress now would be receptive to his proposal and would quickly pass an appropriations bill. Beyond his telegraph’s exemplary performance, he had good reason to be optimistic. After all, nearly 5 years earlier, when he made his first pitch in the Capitol, European telegraphs were just beginning to be reported in the America media. Now that a few systems were up and running in England and Germany, in some cases assisting train travel, the argument for telegraphs in America—where the pace of railroad construction was accelerating—would perhaps fall on sympathetic ears. In a report to Congress, Ferris and the Commerce Committee fashioned a patriotic rationale for backing Morse’s experimental line. The inventor deserved support because his telegraph was “calculated to advance the scientific reputation of the country, and to be eminently useful, both to the Government and the people … [and thus] he should be furnished with the means of competing with his European rivals.”9 Along with the report, Ferris included Henry’s endorsement of the project’s scientific soundness. The immediate result was the introduction in the House of a bill that called for a $30,000 grant to Morse for testing “the Practicability of establishing a System of Electro-Magnetic Telegraphs.”10

Morse stayed in Washington for many weeks, waiting for the bill to come to a vote. This was an especially trying time, for his funds were running out, his clothes were threadbare, and affairs at home were in dire need of attention. Morse drew consolation from his faith that “this delay may be designed by the wise disposer of all events for a trial of my patience.”11 The bill was passed by the House—by fewer than 10 votes—on February 23, 1843.12 But Morse’s ordeal was far from over. The Senate had much business left, yet only 8 days remained in the session to pass an identical bill. Late at night during the Senate’s final day, March 3, the telegraph bill was passed unanimously a minute before adjournment, and President Tyler signed it. Morse, with all hope lost and less than a dollar in his pocket, had already gone to bed, having been advised by a senator that there was no chance of passage. Only the next morning did he learn from Annie Ellsworth, the Patent Commissioner’s daughter, that he had triumphed. For this success Morse gave generous credit to Providence.13

Now, more than 10 years after he had conceived his telegraph on the Sully, Morse had the resources to build a full-scale demonstration line that would remove lingering doubts about long-distance telegraphy. He decided to place the underground line between Washington and Baltimore. This 40-mile route was a shrewd choice, in view of Morse’s plan to sell the line to the government and the American telegraph’s increasingly transparent nationalistic function. The decision to bury the line stemmed from concerns raised by others, going back to discussions aboard the Sully, about the vulnerability of an aboveground line to sabotage, vandalism, and storms.

“What Hath God Wrought!”

(p.141) Taking charge, Morse summoned his partners in the old telegraph company to Washington. They arrived quickly. For a $1,000 annual salary, Vail would make the hardware; for $1,500, Gale would oversee the manufacture of the lead pipe for containing the wire; Smith received no salary but was expected to help out with legal matters; Morse drew $2,000 a year and reserved for himself the title Superintendent of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph.14 In addition, Morse hired James Fisher, the NYU professor who had helped in the recent Washington demonstration, to supervise manufacture of the wire. These assignments indicate that Morse placed a high priority on closely monitoring the quality of materials going into the telegraph; after all, a single defect in the wire could cause an open circuit, and a leaking pipe might create a short. He was also meticulous in keeping the books, for the government required a monthly financial report.

However, in contracting for 160 miles of copper wire and 40 miles of lead pipe, Morse failed to foresee that meeting such large orders on time might strain manufacturing capacity and require his contractors to develop new production techniques. An especially challenging detail was that of putting the insulated wire into the pipe. James Serrell’s company was able to produce only 10 miles of pipe, so Benjamin Tatham’s company was hired to make the rest. Using a technique invented by Morse and Fisher, Tatham inserted the insulated cable into the pipe as the latter emerged from the shaping tool.

Then there was the matter of how to lay the cable underground. The first estimate for this job—$153 per mile—went over Morse’s budget projection, so Smith arranged for the young and impoverished Ezra Cornell to do the job. Moreover, he encouraged Cornell, who had experience as a machinist and a millwright, to construct a trenching machine. Believing he would make a fortune if the machine worked and if telegraphy spread throughout the country, Cornell devised a design that Morse approved. A team of eight mules drew a cart that cut a narrow trench with a plow-like appliance and then inserted the cable. Cornell’s workers and machine laid the Serrell cable, beginning in Baltimore at the depot of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. (Morse had arranged for the telegraph line to be entrenched within the railroad right-of-way to Washington.) However, manufacture of the Tatham cable was delayed, and winter was closing in; Morse shut down operations, which gave him the opportunity to rethink his plans in the face of mounting problems.

On another front, Morse’s relations with Francis Smith had deteriorated on account of the lawyer’s shady dealings. In one case, Smith planned to inflate the cost to the government of the Tatham contract and keep the $500 difference. In a letter to Sidney, Morse, whose moral code simply did not abide such corruption, despairingly wrote “where I expected to find a friend I find a fiend.”15 Responding to Morse’s gentle (p.142) reproaches, Smith let loose a barrage of insults, even publicly casting doubt on the telegraph itself and on Morse’s claim to be its inventor.

“What Hath God Wrought!”

Feuding with business associates was the least of Morse’s problems. The 10-mile stretch of buried cable leaked, and the Tatham cable proved defective. James Fisher, assigned to test the finished cable, failed to notice that improper manufacture of the lead pipe had damaged the insulation. Morse saw this as a neglect of duty, and so with heavy heart he fired his friend.

Before resuming outdoor work in March 1844, a despondent Morse, who had been advised by Gale and Henry that the underground cable was in danger of failing even if properly made and laid, adopted a new plan. The line would now be strung on poles placed along the tracks. (The lead pipe—more than 20 tons of it—was sold for scrap, but the copper wire was salvaged and reused.) Economy no doubt also motivated this move, for Morse had already spent half of the grant; installing an aboveground cable promised to be much cheaper per mile. Although a surface line would be more vulnerable to vicissitudes of people and nature, it would be easier to track down and repair a break. For this purpose, Morse came up with a tool kit that included an alcohol lamp, solder, wire cutters, matches, and a rope ladder.16

Although the cable-laying machine was no longer needed, Morse kept Ezra Cornell on the payroll. It was money well spent, for Cornell ably oversaw the field operations with a crew sometimes exceeding 25 men, including a few Irish Catholics.17 (In later years, Cornell, in partnership with others, reaped a fortune in the telegraph business; his donations of land and half a million dollars led in 1865 to establishing the university in Ithaca that carries his name. Unlike Yale, Harvard, and other churchdominated colleges at that time, Cornell was nonsectarian and coeducational.)

Cornell’s crew began in Washington, emplacing every 200 feet a wooden post that rose 26 feet in the air and carried on a cross-arm two copper wires attached to glass insulators. Progress was swift: in just a few weeks, 7 miles of line had been strung and testing had begun. In fact, as the line bounded to Baltimore, sometimes at the pace of a mile a day, Vail in the field and Morse in Washington were incessantly testing the wires for continuity and honing their skills on the new equipment.

Vail and Morse put the cumbersome port-rule out to pasture, jettisoned the 5,000-word telegraphic dictionary, and replaced the register. In place of the port-rule was a vastly simpler “Morse” key for opening and closing the circuit (figure 12.1, upper). However, operating the key required much practice to ensure that dots, dashes, and spaces (long and short) were of the proper duration and thus the proper length on the register’s paper tape. Taking the place of the old register was a new and compact device whose fundamentals would be altered little for decades (figure 12.1, lower). An (p.143)

“What Hath God Wrought!”

Figure 12.1 Upper: a typical Morse Key. Source: Prescott 1877: 497. Lower: an early Morse-Vail register (not to same scale). Source: Prescott 1860: 75.

(p.144) electromagnet, operating through a lever and a spring, caused an embossing pen to move upward and downward; the length of time it was pressed upward against the moving paper—whether it indented a dot or dash—was determined by how long the sending key had been depressed. A falling weight or a spring drove the mechanism that advanced the tape, pulling it through two additional rollers.18

With the new components, Morse and Vail were soon transmitting dot-dash “Morse code” at dozens of words per minute. In coming years, telegraphers would discover that they could distinguish between dots and dashes on the basis of the electromagnet’s clicks, which enabled even faster decoding, and so the register was sometimes augmented or replaced by a simple “sounder.”

For weeks Morse and Vail had been teasing the public with demonstrations, including a message announcing the selection, at a convention held in Baltimore, of Henry Clay as the Whig candidate for president. Vail had obtained the news from people on a train stopped at a station about 20 miles from Washington. Sent ahead to Morse, the message beat the train’s arrival by more than an hour, a feat that stirred great interest in the capital.

The line was inaugurated on May 24, 1844. There was no suspense about whether it would work, for Morse and Vail had tested it thoroughly before staging this event. Morse honored Annie Ellsworth by asking her to furnish the first message; she offered the biblical passage “What hath God wrought!”19

The Baltimore American lauded Morse’s telegraph as “one of the most remarkable and astonishing triumphs which the science and ingenuity of man ever achieved.”20 No less effusive was the Utica Daily Gazette: the telegraph, it said, was “an invention destined probably to revolutionize all our modes and systems of business and to exert an incalculable influence upon the future destiny of the species.”21 Indeed it would.

A few days later, some surprising political information arrived on the wire in Washington because, happily for the telegraphers, the Democratic nominating convention was also being held in Baltimore. Through eight ballots, the delegates were unable to choose between Martin van Buren and Lewis Cass. Vail’s periodic dispatches of convention news attracted a swarm of politicians, who gathered around Morse in the Capitol as he read the latest returns. Finally, on the ninth ballot, he announced that the convention had chosen dark-horse candidate James Knox Polk.

The success of the Baltimore-Washington line turned Morse into a national, even international, figure. He was lionized, compared to Benjamin Franklin, and awarded honors and medals. First in painting, again in photography, now in telegraphy, he had achieved personal distinction. The latest success he also attributed to Providence, for God had doubtless helped him to work out the telegraph’s devilish details and complete the project under budget.22

“What Hath God Wrought!”

(p.145) The demonstration line proved that a Morse telegraph system, with enough repeaters in place, could transmit information to any distance on land. Concerning this aspect of practicality, Morse and Vail had been certain on scientific grounds. But there loomed larger questions of practicality. Would enough people find the telegraph so crucial that they would pay a premium (over mail service) for the privilege of sending messages? Would anticipated consumer demand be sufficient to interest governments or capitalists to invest in new lines? Affirmative answers emerged immediately as people from various walks of life showed up to send messages—some trivial, some of great moment. This robust response to the new medium signaled the presence of a huge latent demand for rapid, if somewhat expensive, communication, which entrepreneurs and capitalists moved quickly to meet.

One of the first messages sent on the Baltimore-Washington line concerned the outbreak of Catholic-Protestant clashes in Philadelphia, which left Catholic churches and homes in ruins and many dozens of people dead or injured. Vail had learned about the violence from people aboard a train arriving in Baltimore. Through Morse he sent the news to Secretary of State John C. Calhoun; in a second message, Philadelphia’s mayor sought aid from President Tyler. This event underscored the lesson that France and other countries had learned from their semaphore systems: the telegraph was a potent political technology. Indeed, a U.S. government report claimed that the Morse telegraph demonstrated that the far-flung American republic—reaching, since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, from the Atlantic to the Pacific—could be governed effectively.23

Other early transmissions announced the birth of a new family member, carried on a long-distance chess game, and even enabled Samuel Colt to detonate from Baltimore small explosives in a Capitol chamber. The telegraph was also enlisted in a geodesic exercise, that of determining an accurate longitude for Baltimore relative to Washington. In 1839, Morse had suggested to the French scientist François Arago that the telegraph could be used to calculate longitudes, and now it would be tried.24

Because electricity was believed to travel almost instantaneously through wires (at “lightning speed”), the telegraph could permit one to learn the exact time at a distant reference place known as a meridian. A meridian is an imaginary arc on the Earth’s surface from pole to pole through a particular point. In 1844, the U.S. Capitol defined the prime meridian, the reference longitude in terms of which others in America were determined. By computing local time astronomically, and taking the difference between that time and the meridian time, one could calculate how far west or east—in degrees of earth’s curvature—a place was from the meridian. Charles Wilkes, a naval officer with the U.S. Coast Survey, performed the measurements in June 1844 using Morse’s telegraph; he found that earlier surveying techniques had slightly misplaced Baltimore.25 Properly crediting Morse for the idea, Mechanics Magazine regarded this accomplishment as “Among the many wonderful developments of the new (p.146) telegraph.”26 Indeed, the determination of longitude turned out to be one of the telegraph’s earliest and most significant scientific applications. In later years, precise corrections were made for the speed of electricity through copper and iron wires.

Americans’ thirst for information of all kinds, including gossip, more than intimated that newspapers could make effective use of telegraph lines, bringing to their readers timely accounts of engrossing dramas such as train wrecks, cliffhanger elections, boiler explosions, catastrophic floods and fires, and riots. Clearly, if one newspaper in a town used the telegraph, others would have to follow or lose readers. The close association of telegraphs and newspapers was cemented in the early days of the Baltimore-Washington line, and soon led to the formation of the first wire services: the Associated Press (in America) and Reuters (in Europe).

Newspapers reported extensively on the many applications of the telegraph, actual and imagined, that were emerging daily. From these descriptions potential capitalists took away lofty visions of quick riches that might be earned by investing in new lines. For investors, the salient element of practicality is a technology’s potential to find ample markets. Although market forecasts are notoriously unreliable, faith in telegraphy was not misplaced. Businessmen were eager to commodify information; after all, timely knowledge about conditions elsewhere could translate quickly into savvy decisions and profits. The expense of a telegram was trivial in comparison with the value of the information it might supply. Accordingly, the next several decades witnessed a veritable telegraph craze, with lines proliferating across the country, fueled in part by public stock offerings of telegraph companies.

“What Hath God Wrought!”

In the weeks and months that followed the Baltimore-Washington line’s success, Morse fielded inquiries from capitalists and entrepreneurs. Some sought to license the patent rights and build their own telegraphs; others wanted Morse to build their projected lines. One Baltimore businessman even negotiated to buy Morse’s patent; the inventor was willing to sell, but the deal fell through. Morse also expected that the government would follow the French model and establish a national monopoly, intending to use the telegraph for public good rather than private gain. Indeed, “he hoped the government would buy his patent outright, expand and manage the system on its own, and keep him in place as superintendent.”27 Concretely he urged the government to grant him funds to build a line all the way to New York, but this proposal died from neglect. However, he did receive an additional appropriation of $8,000 to keep the experimental line running for another year. The Washington station was put under the jurisdiction of the Post Office Department and moved to its offices, in a building just down the street from the Patent Office—the “temple of invention”—which had opened just a few years earlier.28 (Today, on the Seventh Street side of the (p.147) old postal edifice, one can find a plaque commemorating “the first public telegraph office in the United States.”) In the end, federal financing of the Morse telegraph started and stopped with the Baltimore-Washington line.

Meanwhile, Morse and Vail, sometimes working independently, continued to grapple with details. For example, the problem of lightning hitting the line could have been easily foreseen and protected against, but it was not. It took an actual lightning strike that endangered men and damaged equipment to goad Morse into inventing a serviceable lightning arrestor. Then there was the battery problem: the 80-cell Grove battery required constant maintenance at not inconsiderable expense. Together Morse and Vail were able to make modifications so that the line could be worked with just 20 cells.

Morse also tried out a more radical technology to furnish power, calling on Charles Page for assistance. Page was a physician and electrical experimenter whose expertise in electromagnetism was second only to Joseph Henry’s in the United States. Indeed, Page’s biographer Robert Post points out that he was the first person to invent magneto-electric machines in America (Saxton, recall, worked in London).29 Page was a prolific inventor of electromagnetic devices, including motors, magnetos, and an early induction coil, which were manufactured and sold by Daniel Davis Jr. of Boston.30 Page, in consulting for Morse on various telegraph problems, made several suggestions that were incorporated into the design of the hardware.

Encouraged to fashion a magneto that could power the Baltimore-Washington line, Page responded with a large machine of unusual design that cost Morse $99.50.31 According to Vail’s sketchy description, the magneto was a compound machine containing two huge permanent magnets that lay flat on the same plane.32 The open ends of the huge horseshoe magnets faced each other, and in the space between them revolved, in bearings, two armatures on the same shaft; there was also a built-in commutator. In its overall mechanical configuration, Page’s magneto was a close descendant of Saxton’s machine—times two.33

Vail claimed that an electromagnet energized by Page’s machine could suspend 1,000 pounds, and it also produced enough power to operate a full-scale telegraph. Indeed, on Christmas Day 1844, messages were sent through the Baltimore-Washington line using Page’s magneto. Despite the magneto’s technical competence, Morse stuck with batteries. Robert Post suggests the likely reason for this decision: the huge magneto “required the full strength of a man to turn.”34 Page’s machine was a technological dead end; the route to high-power compound magnetos began elsewhere.

Although later experiments with magnetos for telegraphy, including Beardsley’s innovative machine, were also technically successful, for most of the nineteenth century batteries reigned supreme.35 After all, a lone telegrapher in a rural station could not easily crank a magneto and handle messages at the same time. But after the proliferation of commercial steam-powered dynamos in the 1870s, Western Union began (p.148) to experiment with the new generators in its San Francisco telegraph exchange. By this time exchanges in large cities were enormous, handling a welter of converging local and long-distance lines. In these facilities the burning of coal to create steam power could economically replace the zinc and acid being consumed in massive batteries. Thus, in Western Union’s New York exchange, a series of dynamos installed in 1880 took the place of more than 19,000 cells weighing 72 tons.36

“What Hath God Wrought!”

Because the door had been closed to further government support, Morse turned to the private sector to expand telegraphy across the United States and around the world.37 The mercurial Morse, temperamentally unsuited to becoming an entrepreneur himself, contracted his business dealings out to Amos Kendall, a well-connected Congregation-alist who, as Postmaster General, had shown exceptional administrative skills. Kendall organized new telegraph companies, beginning with the Magnetic Telegraph Company (which would extend the Baltimore-Washington line to New York). The worst effects of the Panic of 1837 had abated, and sales of stock in the new companies, mostly to local investors along projected lines, raised enough capital to proceed. The Magnetic Telegraph Company received a controlling interest in each new company (in stock), plus a modest amount of cash.38 With additions from non-Morse companies, the telegraph network grew so rapidly that by 1851 it was possible to send messages between points as distant as New York and New Orleans (at $2.40 for 10 words).39

In 1866, most of the telegraph companies were united by Western Union into a well-integrated national network—the first American industrial monopoly. By the late 1860s, Western Union had 75 percent of the telegraph business.40 Only in the United States and Canada did telegraph companies remain in private hands after 1868; in all other countries, the companies were nationalized.41

Telegraph companies began earning profits almost immediately, for this technology satisfied the cultural imperative of rapid, long-distance communication.42 In America this imperative had been rather insistent. Americans were in constant motion, following one opportunity or another, moving from the East to the rapidly growing West, from the country to the city, and from city to city (as Morse and Henry had). The result was families dispersed in different communities, even different states, able to keep in touch, if at all, only by mail. Mail deliveries were speeding up in some regions thanks to railroads, but only through the telegraph could one learn almost immediately of a birth or a death in one’s family. Many Americans had occasion to turn to this technology from time to time. A poignant example: During the Civil War, while on a trip to New York, Joseph Henry received a telegram that his son William was seriously ill. He rushed back to Washington, and was at his son’s bedside in the Smithsonian residence when the young man died.43

(p.149) An even more potent spur to the rapid adoption of the telegraph was interest on the part of the growing business and financial communities, including railroads and the press. An early observer noted that at the telegraph’s “very birth, it became the handmaiden of commerce.”44 With the population of the United States increasing dramatically as a result of immigration, and with potential markets expanding in tandem, manufacturers and merchants salivated at the prospect of keeping in touch with distant suppliers and representatives so that they could match supply to demand and consummate deals in a day. And if one business adopted the telegraph, its competitors would have to follow suit, in a pattern of contagious adoption.

In view of these baseline expectations of demand for telegraph service, which were rapidly realized by the first lines, investors could plunge with confidence that a new line would not sit idle. Not surprisingly, “merchants, small goods producers, and bankers who came to rely on the telegraph furnished much of the necessary funds for telegraph industry investment.”45 Indeed, the telegraph’s effects on the American economy were wide-reaching and profound. It lowered transaction costs, made possible the first national commodity markets, created demand for futures markets, and stimulated the trading of stocks and bonds on Wall Street.46 The economist Richard Du Boff maintains that the telegraph played a pivotal role in transforming business operations and, along with the railroad, contributed appreciably to economic growth and the concentration of economic power in the late nineteenth century.47

The telegraph was clearly a good fit for American capitalism, and that is why it was adopted so rapidly and thoroughly—at an average cost of about $150 per mile.48 By 1851, most of the large cities east of the Mississippi were connected by wire. By 1855, there were at least 32,000 miles of telegraph in North America, outdistancing the 21,000 miles of railroads.49 By the early 1870s, the United States had 180,000 miles of telegraph lines and about 6,000 stations.50 Western Union alone transmitted 40 million messages in 1869, plus newspaper copy, and earned profits of more than $2.5 million on $10 million in receipts.51 Not surprisingly, telegraph usage was higher in the United States than in other countries. Scientific American in 1867 reported that in the United States one message—at an average cost of 57 cents—was sent annually for every 2.5 people, whereas the ratio was 1 : 18 in France, 1 : 9 in Prussia, and 1 : 5 in Great Britain.52

The promise of profit was so great that the telegraph business lured inventors and entrepreneurs seeking to evade the Morse patent. Among the new telegraph designs was one created by a man with the improbable name Royal House; it employed a piano-like keyboard on the sender and a daisy-wheel-like device that printed letters. Both were exceedingly complex mechanically; indeed, Morse was fond of pointing out, with more than slight injustice, that they were simply his instruments “made complicated.”53 Predictably, some entrepreneurs were attracted to alternative telegraph systems and constructed lines that used them. The most persistent and dangerous (p.150) competitor was Henry O’Reilly, who at first employed the House system and built a line from Philadelphia to the Mississippi River east of St. Louis.

Reluctantly, the Morse interests became locked in messy and protracted court battles with O’Reilly. The Eastern press, highly dependent on the telegraph for fresh news, took great interest in these affairs; after all, competition among telegraph companies might result in lower costs for gathering news. And so it was that Morse, once the darling of the press, came often to be vilified for trying to monopolize all telegraphic communication.

In the course of these trials, which came to include 15 U.S. Supreme Court cases, the aging inventor learned that patents were not so much a protector of intellectual property as a license to litigate. This unexpected turn of events caused Morse much anguish, mitigated by a new wife 30 years his junior and a lovely Tuscan-style villa on the Hudson near Poughkeepsie. The telegraph had at last made Morse prosperous, but lawyers’ fees ate deeply into his fortune and preparing for trials into his time.

Perhaps Morse’s greatest vexation in legal matters was Joseph Henry’s testimony.54 Their estrangement dated from the 1845 publication of Alfred Vail’s book The American Electro Magnetic Telegraph. Morse took no part in writing the book and even discouraged Vail from publishing it, fearing that detailed disclosures might jeopardize patent applications in Europe. But Vail proceeded anyway. Once the book came out, Henry learned that his new principles of electromagnetism, which Gale had passed on to Morse, were unmentioned, despite their crucial role in creating a telegraph that could transmit farther than 40 feet. Morse tried to placate Henry with disclaimers, but he could not be mollified. Henry was further incensed when an 1847 edition of Vail’s book did not remedy the omission.55 Even so, in the court cases that would drive them irrevocably apart, Henry was the reluctant witness, forced to testify by subpoena.

Henry did respect Morse for bringing the telegraph to fruition, and Morse respected Henry for his scientific acumen, but shortcomings of the patent system drew the two men into adversarial roles that neither of them sought or relished. And it did not help matters that both the scientist and the inventor were prideful, pious men who asserted their claims to earthly immortality with a vigor and righteousness befitting a Calvinist preacher.

O’Reilly vs. Morse went to the Supreme Court late in 1852 and was not decided until February of 1854—the year in which the original telegraph patent was set to expire. To an outsider, Henry’s deposition hardly appeared inflammatory, but it did manage to stir Morse’s passions in statements such as these: “I am not aware that Mr. Morse ever made a single original discovery, in electricity, magnetism, or electro-magnetism, applicable to the invention of the telegraph. I have always considered his merit to consist in combining and applying the discoveries of others in the invention of a particular instrument and process for telegraphic purposes. I have no means of determining how far this invention is original with himself, or how much is due to those (p.151) associated with him.”56 The last sentence was tantamount to doubting whether Morse had even made an invention. Certainly Henry knew that the early port-rule and recording receiver were unprecedented, and that their conception was entirely Morse’s. But all Henry could see in Morse’s hardware was the materialization of his own principles; for him, the sophistication of the hardware and the telegraph’s emergent performance characteristics were of no consequence. Never before had Henry come so close to denying Morse credit that was unquestionably due him.

While the justices were considering the case, Morse penned a blistering 90-page answer to Henry’s testimony. In a marvelous circumlocution, Morse accused Henry of lying about dates and events (Henry was “not in ignorance of facts which make his statements incorrect”), and took it as his “duty to the cause of Historic truth…to expose as I shall be able to do, the utter non-reliability of Prof. Henry’s testimony.”57 Morse did show that Henry got a few historical facts wrong and that Henry’s own publications had built on prior work that he did not in every instance explicitly acknowledge. However, Morse went too far by denying that Gale had conveyed to him any useful information from Henry’s electromagnetic researches.58 In his accusations and intimations wrapped in heated rhetoric, Morse completed the alienation of Henry and, in the process, rendered himself a less sympathetic figure to later writers on electrical history.

Henry’s deposition did little more than demonstrate that the Morse telegraph drew upon earlier inventions and scientific principles. This was hardly damaging to Morse’s case, since the justices understood that all inventions arose in this manner. And so a year later the Supreme Court affirmed all but one claim in Morse’s patent. O’Reilly was enjoined from continuing his telegraph enterprises using infringing components. The rejected claim—for using electromagnetism to register intelligence at a distance—was overly broad, for it would have prevented others from making improvements on the Morse telegraph, an unjustifiable check on progress. Soon Morse received another gift from the government: a 7-year extension on his patent, which affirmed that he had not been fairly compensated during its original 14-year term. Telegraphy would remain ensnared in legal warfare for the rest of the nineteenth century, establishing for electrical technologies an ugly precedent.

Henry did not deign to reply to Morse’s extended diatribe. As Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (a position he had assumed in 1846), Henry had other tools at his disposal for smiting the ingrate inventor. Henry asked the Smithsonian Regents to investigate the matter, and they appointed a distinguished committee that included the president of Harvard College. The committee’s published report embellished Henry’s contributions and diminished Morse’s, firmly denouncing the inventor for his unseemly attack on the Secretary.59 Almost to his dying day, Morse continued to publish tedious tracts defending his position as the inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph.

(p.152) None of this esoteric squabbling had much of an effect on Morse’s public reputation (beyond Smithsonian circles). The distinguished inventor received numerous honors from foreign heads of state, including a Danish knighthood and the French Légion d’Honneur. Perhaps best of all, a consortium of continental European nations, led by France, in 1860 granted Morse an indemnity of $80,000 for having employed his telegraph technology without benefit of patent licenses.60 This was a pittance, to be sure, but the acknowledgment of Morse’s rights as the inventor satisfied his sense of justice. In fact, Morse did not need the money; his stock in telegraph companies, including Western Union, had made him very wealthy, continuing to yield dividends long after his patents ran out.

Morse at last achieved in abundant measure the personal distinction he had so earnestly craved. He was, after all, the driving force behind commercializing the technology that, through the favorable judgments of many players, achieved practicality in every respect. Before long, land lines and submarine cables extending hundreds and then thousands of miles would enmesh the nations of every continent in a worldwide communication web.61 Most of these telegraphs would use Morse-derived technology, for, according to Silverman’s assessment, Morse had “created a telegraph system that against many competitors repeatedly proved itself to be the cheapest, the most rugged, the most reliable, and the simplest to operate.”62 Henry and Morse probably agreed on these performance advantages.

“What Hath God Wrought!”

Beyond bringing families closer together and profoundly altering business practices, news gathering, and diplomacy, far-flung telegraph networks had consequences for later technologies—electrical and otherwise—in a rapidly industrializing America.63 As companies formed to build telegraphs, demand surged for poles, insulators, wire and cables of many kinds, keys, registers, paper tape, batteries, and all other components.64 This demand stimulated the growth of older manufacturing firms and invited the entry of new ones. The result was the establishment of an infrastructure for producing electrical components. Given this unrelenting demand, manufacturers and entrepreneurs easily obtained capital for scaling up operations and founding factories. At the same time, opportunities arose for specialty manufacturers that could produce in quantity a limited range of parts, such as electromagnets whose coils were wound by machines.65 As the dynamo, the telephone, and other new electrical technologies were commercialized in later decades, firms making telegraph equipment responded with little difficulty. Indeed, a year after Bell’s invention in 1876, the first full-scale telephone system went into service in Massachusetts, and by 1880 there were nearly 50,000 telephones in use.66

The rapidity with which the telephone was commercialized clearly owed much to telegraph technology and its manufacturing infrastructure, but there was also the (p.153) contribution of skilled labor. The telegraph recruited legions of young men seeking adventure, prestige, and economic opportunities, eager to learn Morse code and the inner workings of the telegraph office.67 Perhaps introduced to the subject by the many textbooks on telegraphy that followed Vail’s 1845 treatise, telegraphers, many of them itinerant, became familiar with principles of electricity and learned operations such as soldering, maintaining batteries, troubleshooting circuits, and repairing mechanical parts; they also became adept at improvising when routines failed. Men who mastered the telegrapher’s trade—Thomas Edison among them—would be in the vanguard of electrical invention and would constitute a skilled labor force that would be tapped for new ventures such as the telephone and electric light and power systems.68

As telegraph networks grew in size, in numbers of employees, in messages sent annually, and in complexity of tasks, no longer were loose partnerships able to meet the incessant demands on management. Clearly, new forms of organization were needed. Western Union and the railroads invented the first large private-sector bureaucracies. Among other features, these corporations adopted rigorous record keeping and cost accounting, rigidly defined operational divisions, specialized jobs (including fulltime managers), administrative hierarchies, and the separation of ownership (stockholders) from management (employees). Later in the nineteenth century, as other businesses based on new technologies grew in scale and in scope, they turned to Western Union and the railroads for models of suitable organizations. The result was the proliferation of the modern bureaucratic corporation.69

The telegraph also affected the worldviews of nineteenth-century Americans, rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, East and West. Here was an electrical technology that could—as it was so often put—annihilate time and space. No longer tethered to a person traveling by horse, ship, or train, a message could reach its destination without a messenger. That information could move through a stationary medium, divorced from any conventional conveyance, was a mysterious feat purportedly accomplished by an invisible fluid coursing silently at lightning speed through wires across forests and prairies, through fields and pastures, from building to building, and eventually beneath the vast seas. Contemplating this extraordinary technology, people in America and in other countries could not help but be infected by an enthusiasm to put electricity to work in other ways, for the horizons of new applications surely seemed endless. Telegraph technology—the Morse-Vail register in particular—inspired an explosion of inventions, many of which incorporated electromagnets and produced mechanical effects at a distance.

Moreover, as the first successful capital-intensive electrical technology, the telegraph fostered a tempered enthusiasm for other ambitious electrical ventures.70 The rapid commercial triumph of the telegraph, broadcast far and wide by the press, was an emphatic cultural experience that awakened moneyed men to the possibility that bringing a new electrical technology to market might yield fantastic profits, despite (p.154) the need to first traverse a sizable developmental distance, possibly at great and unpredictable expense. Now, as never before, investors were willing to take seriously proposals for commercializing other capital-intensive electrical technologies, such as the telephone and electric light and power systems. Thus, American electrical inventors after mid-century had access, in principle, to sources of capital in addition to family, friends, and governments. Yet, because investors made funding decisions on a case-by-case basis, a technology denounced as impractical by scientific authorities like electric motors could languish for decades.

When Edison and others began work on electric light and power systems in the 1870s, they could draw upon the organizational, financial, technological, and human resources begot by the telegraph. But there was more. The telegraph spawned the formal science of electrical measurement, which became the foundation of electrical engineering as it developed into an organized profession later in the century under the spur of electric light and power.71 Such contributions consisted not only of standardized units of measurement, including the now-familiar volt (for electromotive force or tension, formerly intensity), ohm (for resistance), and ampere (for current, formerly quantity), but also of sophisticated apparatus for determining their values in the field.72 Insights and apparatus came from well-known academic scientists, mostly working in Europe (including Wheatstone and William Thomson), who engaged telegraph-inspired problems, as well as from telegraphers themselves.73 Instrument makers successfully commercialized devices such as the Wheatstone bridge for measuring resistance and Thomson’s mirror galvanometer for detecting tiny currents.

Accurate information on electrical quantities became essential for creating and operating light and power systems. Had measurement science and apparatus not been available already, Edison and others would have been obliged to invent them in the course of their projects. Clearly, commercialization of the telegraph created a plethora of human, intellectual, and material resources that Edison and other builders of electrical systems could readily exploit.


(1.) These two letters—Morse to Henry, April 24, 1839 and Henry to Morse, May 6, 1839—were published in Morse 1855. On Henry’s contrasting views on the practicality of the electric motor and the telegraph, see Molella 1976.

(2.) Morse’s queries and Henry’s answers: May 1839, MP, Reel 7, p. 98672.

(3.) “This separation of the proprietors of the Telegraph so that no consultation can be had is I fear doing an injury to us all. I cannot move a step without such consultation.” Morse to Vail, May 14, 1839, MP, Reel 7, p. 98663.

(4.) The offer was tendered in a letter from Cooke to Morse, January 17, 1840, MP, Reel 7, p. 98742. An account of the successful operation of the English telegraph appeared in “The Electro Magnetic Telegraph of the Great Western Railway,” JFI 25 (1840): 271–272.

(5.) Henry to Morse, February 24, 1842 (Vail 1845: 87–88).

(6.) Morse to F. O. J. Smith, July 16, 1842, MP, Reel 7, p. 98933–98934.

(7.) Silverman 2003: 215. Author of this quotation is unspecified.

(8.) Morse to Sidney Morse, December 18, 1842, MP, Reel 7, p. 98975.

(9.) House Commerce Committee report, quoted on p. 219 of Silverman 2003.

(10.) Source of quotation: ibid.: 219.

(11.) Morse to Sidney Morse, January 20, 1843, MP, Reel 7, p. 98998.

(12.) That same day Morse complained to Vail that “for two years I have labored all my time, and at my own expense, without assistance from the other proprietors … to forward our enterprize [sic].” Morse to Vail, February 23, 1843, MP, Reel 7, p. 99015.

(13.) Some details in this paragraph are from “History of the Telegraph: Difficulties and Success of an Inventor,” SA 11 (1855): 19. Although parts of this story may be apocryphal, “An Act to test the practicality of establishing a system of electro-magnetic telegraphs by the United States” did not become law until March 3, 1843—the last day of the 27th Congress (Statutes at Large, 27th Congress, 3rd Session, chapter 84, pp. 618–619).

(14.) Silverman 2003: 222.

(15.) Morse to Sidney Morse, December 30, 1843, MP, Reel 8, p. 99324.

(p.343) (16.) Unaddressed Morse note, June 25, 1844, MP, Reel 8, p. 99697.

(17.) This is inferred from surnames on laborer receipts, including Flaherty, Patrick, and McMahon (MP, Reel 8, pp. 99523–99525). Laborers earned from $3 per week to $1 per day.

(18.) For a detailed description of the register (which was awarded U.S. Patent 4,453), see Vail 1845: 26.

(19.) Numbers 23: 23. The register tape of this message is in the Smithsonian (NMAH catalog no. 1,028).

(20.) “Morse’s Magnetic Telegraph,” Baltimore American, May 31, 1844.

(21.) “The Electro-Magnetic Telegraph,” Utica Daily Gazette, June 5, 1844.

(22.) At the scheduled end of the project (February 15, 1845), Morse expected to have a balance of around $500. Morse to George Bibb (Secretary of the Treasury), January 28, 1845, MP, Reel 9, p. 100063.

(23.) Silverman (2003: 241) reproduces a relevant portion of this report.

(24.) Vail 1845: 59.

(25.) Wilkes to Morse, June 13, 1844 (Vail 1845: 59–60).

(26.) “Application of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph to the Determination of Longitude,” MM 41 (1844): 111.

(27.) Silverman 2003: 250.

(28.) On the history of the Patent Office building, see Robertson 2006. On the history of the American patent system, see Cooper 1991; Post 1976a.

(29.) On use of the Page magneto, see Post 1976a.

(30.) On the Page-Davis collaboration, see Sherman 1988. Page’s electromagnetic devices first appeared in Davis’s 1838 catalog (Davis 1838). In later catalogs (e.g., Davis 1848) he also offered Morse apparatus.

(31.) Page’s receipt for $99.50 (MP, Reel 8, pp. 99674–99675).

(32.) On the compound magneto, see Vail 1845: 145–149. The Smithsonian Institution eventually acquired the telegraph magneto, but it was destroyed in the fire of 1865 (Post 1976a: 69).

(33.) At least 5 years earlier, Page (1839b: 252) had envisioned the construction of compound magnetos: “The avenue, then, to an indefinite power, is too obvious to escape notice. Increase the number of pairs of magnets, extend the series of armatures upon the same shaft, or in any way in which they may be brought to bear on the same terminal pole.”

(34.) Page, quoted on p. 69 of Post 1976a.

(35.) On the experiments with the Beardsley magneto, see “Telegraphing by Magneto-Electric Machines,” SA 11 (1864): 340.

(p.344) (36.) “Application of Dynamo-Electric Machines to Telegraphy,” SA 42 (1880): 63–64, “The Future of Electricity,” SA 42 (1880): 64–65.

(37.) On attempts to market the telegraph to the sovereigns of Japan, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire, see Bektas 2001. In such contexts, “the electric telegraph was not merely a technological artefact of wonder but also a political symbol that represented what was often called American ‘inventive genius’ and technological power” (p. 202).

(38.) The histories of these companies are too complex to recount here. See Reid 1879; Thompson 1972.

(39.) Du Boff 1984: 573.

(40.) “Telegraphs—Europe and United States,” SA 20 (1869): 183.

(41.) Du Boff 1984: 572.

(42.) “By 1849–1852, profit rates on ‘the majority’ of the lines constructed were variously described as ‘enormous’ or ‘vigorous’ by contemporary observers.” (Du Boff 1980: 475)

(43.) Henry to Spencer F. Baird, October 19, 1862 (Rothenberg et al. 2004: 283–284).

(44.) Unspecified author, quoted in Du Boff 1980. See also Friedlander 1995.

(45.) Du Boff 1980: 462.

(46.) Scharlott’s (1986, 2004) studies of Cincinnati demonstrate that the telegraph had a considerable effect on the city’s commercial activities.

(47.) Du Boff 1980, 1984.

(48.) Du Boff 1980: 462.

(49.) “History of the Telegraph: Difficulties and Success of an Inventor,” SA 11 (1855): 19; “Railways of the United States,” SA 10 (1855): 146.

(50.) “Progress of the Telegraph,” SA 27 (1872): 146.

(51.) “Samuel F. B. Morse,” SA 23 (1870): 357. These numbers are, at best, informed guesses.

(52.) “Telegraphs—Europe and United States,” SA 20 (1869): 183. Du Boff (1984: 573), however, reports the average cost of a telegram in the United States in 1868 was $1.05; by 1877 it was $0.39.

(53.) Morse, quoted on p. 309 of Silverman 2003.

(54.) Henry, hired by a railroad to assess House’s telegraph, judged it “workable and, moreover, clear of patent infringement” (Moyer 1997: 246).

(55.) Henry, in his Supreme Court deposition, made clear his irritation about this matter (Henry, in Smithsonian Board of Regents 1858: 115).

(56.) Henry, in Smithsonian Board of Regents 1858: 113.

(p.345) (57.) Morse 1855: 9.

(58.) In a letter to Henry, Gale reiterated his role in apprising Morse, on the basis of Henry’s 1831 paper, of the need to use a battery of higher intensity and a coil with more turns to obtain a greater transmission distance. Gale to Henry, April 7, 1856 (Rothenberg et al. 2002: 347–348).

(59.) Taylor 1879b.

(60.) He had to share this sum with his agent in France, F. O. J. Smith, and with Vail’s widow.

(61.) Standage (1999) argues that the telegraph was a Victorian Internet.

(62.) Silverman 2003: 322.

(63.) On the effects of the telegraph on diplomacy, see Headrick 1981; Hugill 1999; Nickles 2003.

(64.) Advertisements in The Telegrapher and other trade journals indicate the variety of artifacts and materials needed to establish and maintain a telegraph system.

(65.) Kinsey (2004) describes this process in detail for the nineteenth-century carriage trade in America. Israel (1992) shows how changes in the manufacturers of telegraph components affected invention processes. On the early electrical manufacturers, see MacLaren 1943; Passer 1953. A general work on changes in American manufacturing technology is Hounshell 1984.

(66.) For a social history of the telephone, see Fischer 1992. Bowers (1982: 39) stresses that telegraphy created the manufacturing infrastructure for later electrical technologies.

(67.) Of course there were women telegraphers, especially in later years.

(68.) McMahon (1984: 7–8) makes a similar point.

(69.) The arguments in this paragraph derive substantially from Chandler 1977.

(70.) The telegraph was capital-intensive in relation to electrometallurgy, the other widely commercialized electrical technology of that era. However, telegraph capital costs were insignificant in comparison with those of the railroad, which could cost many thousands of dollars per mile. See, e.g., “Western Railroads,” SA 7 (1851): 64.

(71.) On the importance of electrical measurement in telegraphy, see Clark 1868; Gooday 2004. On the history of the electrical engineering profession in America, see McMahon 1984. Hunt (1997) attributes the creation of formal electrical units and measuring instruments to the particular requirements of cable telegraphy.

(72.) These units, along with the farad (for capacitance) and the coulomb (for electric charge), were given formal definition in 1881 (Committee on Electrical Standards 1913). Appropriately, the unit of inductance is called the henry. On the social construction of electrical units, see Gooday 2004; Morus 1988.

(73.) Hunt (1994) emphasizes the contributions of telegraphers. See also Keithley 1999.