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Short lectures in Media History Chapter Seven Telephone and Telegraph
The electronic revolution Rapid communication was divine: Nike, Hermes and Mercury carryied 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 Seven weeks. Yet by 1866, same message one hour.
Telegraph & telephone as mass media Both known primarily for person-to- person communication But both were backbone for mass communication as well Telegraph allowed wire services Associated Press in US, Reuters in UK Telephone allowed radio networks NBC, CBS in US, BBC in UK Convergence is a constant condition in mass media history.
Cycles of technology development Open – experimentation, competition, development Closed – stakeholders close ranks with patents around profitable activities Alternative – Monopolies become stagnant, inventors seek ways to circumvent
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 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, 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 the melancholy 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 Charles Louis Havas – France, 1835 Became Agence France Press 1945 after WWII Paul Reuter (Havas employee) – UK Formed Reuters in London 1851 Major international wire service today Bernard Wolff (also Havas employee) Formed Wolffs in Berlin 1849; Nazis destroyed it 1930 Replaced by Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) in 1945 Spanish wire service EFE formed 1939
AP criticized, investigated Congress bills, 48 committee reports on AP and Western Union, 1866 – 1910 AP monopoly meant that the only 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 & federal govt pass anti- trust laws AP-Western Union was one of dozens United Press (Scripps), International News (Hearst) formed to compete with AP 1907 AP 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 also financed Alexander Graham Bell telephone experiments in 1870s (Hubbard was Bells father-in- law) Bell telephone patent filed 1876
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 By 1982 phone services were broken up into regional carriers with much lower rates