Electric Telegraph History, an article on telegraph & electricity history from the November 11, 1852 NY Times


The New York Times, November 11, 1852, p.3:


Franklin and his Electric Kite—
Prosecution and Progress of Electrical Researches—
Historical Sketch of the Electric Telegraph—Claims of Morse and Others—
Uses of Electricity—Telegraphic Statistics.

Correspondence of the New-York Daily Times.
PHILADELPHIA, November, 1852:
    It was in the month of June, 1752, a century ago, that Franklin made his celebrated experiment with the Electric Kite, by means of which he demonstrated the identity of electricity and lightning...

    When he conceived the idea of demonstrating the identity of electricity and lightning, Franklin prepared a kite by attaching two cross sticks to a silk handkerchief, which would not suffer so much from the rain as paper. To his upright stick was affixed an iron point. The string was, as usual, of hemp, except the lower end which was of silk. Where the hempen string terminated, a key was fastened.
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    With this apparatus, on the appearance of a thunder gust approaching, he went out into the commons, (now a crowded portion of the City), accompanied by his son, to whom alone he communicated his intentions, well knowing the ridicule which, to generally for the interests of science, awaits unsuccessful experiments in philosophy.

    He placed himself under a shed to avoid the rain; the kite was raised; a thundercloud passed over it, but no sign of electricity appeared. He almost despaired of success, when suddenly he observed the loose fibres of his string to move towards an erect position. He now presented his knuckle to the key, and received a strong spark...

    Repeated sparks were drawn from the key; a phial was charged; a shock given; and all the experiments made which are usually performed with electricity...

    The letters sent to Mr. Collinson describing this discovery were thought unworthy of credibility, and were refused a place amongst the papers of the Royal Society of London, but were afterwards published in a separated volume, and circulated widely throughout Europe. They were translated into Latin and other languages, and the experiment was repeated in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. Professor Richman, in the last mentioned country, bid fair to add much to the stock of knowledge on this subject, when an unfortunate flash from his rod put a period to his existence...

    When Thales, six centuries before Christ, made the first observation in electricity, that amber (called electron by the Greeks) when rubbed exhibited properties of attraction which it did not otherwise possess, he believed that he had hit upon one of the secret wonders of creation; and so he had...
    Theophastus, Aristotle, Pliny, Caesar, and Plutarch all had their attention occasionally directed to some curious electrical phenomena, but none of them conceived, at that early period, of the of the universality of electrical influence, or ever imagined that it was a kind of... vital essence, pervading all things, and constitutionally incorporated with them...

    The two greatest adjuncts of modern arts and civilization have been electricity and steam. In their rise, progress, uses, and applications there is a striking similarity between them... But electricity combined with magnetism is a more subjective agent, and when evolved for transmission is ready to go forth, a safe and expeditious messenger to the ends of the globe...

    When Franklin, in his leisure moments, was enjoying his American "Diversions of Purley" at Philadelphia, and prying, like Thales, into the undivulged arcana of Nature, it happened that another philosopher in Leyden was employing himself in a similar way; and who brought to light something as important, perhaps, as the revelation of the electric kite. This was the discovery by Cunaeus, in 1747, of the celebrated Leyden Jar, which has been chiefly employed as an experimental toy in the hands of scientific amateurs; yet it established one very material fact, that the electric force was capable of concentration, and it was the first step towards the formation of an electric battery.

    But Franklin surpassed Cunaeus as an original investigator and philospher. His letters on electricity contain a number of facts and hints which contributed greatly to reduce this branch of knowledge to a science. His discovery of the positive and negative states of electricity, manifested by the friction of glass and sulphur, and his demonstration of the identity of electricity and lightning, were both events of magnitude...
    The practical application of the lightning-rod in shielding the habitations of men from the destructive thunderbolts of Heaven was a crowning triumph...

    Cunaeus does not enjoy the undisputed credit of having invented or discovered the Leyden jar. Dr. Priestly ascribes it ot a Mr. Von Kleist, a dean of the Cathedral of Camin. But Franklin was the first to explain the secrets of its operation; and by a multiplication of the phials he anticipated Volta by fifty years in the primary formation of a continuous electrical chain or column...

    The troubled condition of Europe and America now soon ensued; the political aspects of the times engrossed the public attention; and for thirty or forty years the progress of natural philosophy was arrested.
    The next light which streamed above the scientific horizon burst forth from Bologna and Pavia.

    In 1798, Galvani of Bologna, in preparing some frogs to make broth for his sick wife, observed the muscles of one of them quiver under the touch of the scalpel... He ascertained that metallic substances were capable of exciting muscular motion; that dissimilar metals were the most efficient for this purpose; and finally, that the evolution of the electric current would take place by the chemical action of acids upon metals.

    Twelve years subsequently, Volta of Pavia took up the subject, and ascertained the method of multiplying the effects of that metallic communication which Galvani had discovered. In short, he invented the Voltaic pile or column.
    Here was furnished an efficient and powerful battery; and in the hands of the analytical chemists wonders began to be achieved with it...
    The researches of Volta were able and profound. He was no utopian dreamer, no saw-dust philosopher. He enjoyed the uncommon felicity of gathering in the rich harvest of his fame during his life time. In this respect he was even more unfortunate than poor Richard, for he commenced his career as a professor, and ended it as a Count.
    As to Galvani, fortune was unjust and unkind to him. His recompense posthumous...

    The common stock of electrical knowledge had now become greatly enlarged; and a short time was to elapse before the ingenious operator or contriver would step forward to make an investment in this floating capital by seizing upon those principles unfolded by others, and by so embodying and combining them as to give them a mechanical arrangement and application...

    Thus it happened that so far back as in 1684 Robert Hooke presented a paper to the Royal Society "showing a way how to communicate one's mind at a great distance," probably by a visual telegraph. In 1773 Odin, of France, suggested the possibility of instantaneous communication.
    Antecedent even to the invention of the Leyden jar, Gray and Wheeler, in England in 1728, showed that electricity could be conducted to a great distance. Two years earlier still, Wood had done the same thing. Dr. Watson, of England, was the first to propose the construction of an electrical telegraph in 1747.

    In 1748, Dr. Franklin set fire to spirits by an electric current sent across the Schuylkill on a wire, and allowed it to return by the river and earth. But this was only a repetition of an experiment which had already been made in London, Paris and Leipzig.
    Nevertheless, Savary claims for Dr. Franklin the precedence in suggesting the practicability of telegraphic communication.

    In 1809, Soemering invented the first decomposing Chemical Telegraph, something like Bain's at the present time, but less expeditious in its operation.
    This period, though, was too early by some score of years, for the more perfect contrivances now in use. Morse, at first, tried the chemical decomposing plan; but as it was found to be less prompt and efficient, as well as much more indirect, he wisely abandoned it for the electro-magnetic method.

    Soemering had not this alternative. The science of electro-magnetism was then unknown. The corner stone of this new ediface was laid by Prof. Oersted, of Copenhagen, in 1819. Like nearly all great discoveries, it seems to have owed its origin to accident, or was the result of an accidental observation.
    He ascertained that when a wire conducting electricity is placed parallel to a magnetic needle, properly suspended, the needle will deviate from its natural position. This was the commencement of the present system of electro-dynamics, which simply means electricity in motion, while electricity at rest is called statical electricity.

    Here then was a combined element of power, less violent and impulsive, and more manageable, than that of any of the developed forms of electricity then known. Frictional electricity is too easily dissipated, rapid, and incontinuous in action, and confined with great difficulty to conductors.
    Galvanic electricity supplies denser, steadier, and more energetic force, but its production is too costly and cumbrous...

    In 1831, Prof. Joseph Henry, of Princeton College, discovered a method of forming magnets of intensity and quantity, by means of which, with relay magnets, mechanical effects might be produced at a great distance; and without which no electro-magnetic telegraph could ever have been put into operation embracing an extent of one or two thousand miles.
    But it is true that six years previously, in 1825, Mr. Sturgeon of England had constructed the first electro-magnet of size by coiling a copper wire round a piece of iron of a horse-shoe form. Professor Henry adopted the same plan, but greatly improved upon it. One of his magnets, in the cabinet at Yale College, weighs 59 pounds, and is capable of sustaining a weight of 2,063 pounds. Another, belonging to the cabinet of Princeton College, of 100 pounds weight, supports 3,500 pounds, or more than one and a half tons...

    It would be unjust... to omit the name of Professor Faraday among the list of those learned and eminent men whose efforts have brought this science to its higher degrees of perfection. His discovery of induction was very important, that is to say by moving magnets placed in the neighborhood of conducting wires, or, what is better, giving motion to multiple wires placed close to a fixed magnet...

    In 1820, Ampere, of France, discovered the electro-magnetic telegraph. This he constructed of as many wires as there were letters, and used the deflection of a needle as a signal. He broke the renewed circuits by finger keys, something similar to the keys of a piano-forte. It was too complicated, and what he effected by so many wires has since been done by the use of one or two.
    In 1825, Barrow, of Greenwich, England, attempted to put a galvanic telegraph into operation, but was thwarted by the diminution of the fluid when he endeavored to transmit it a great distance. This difficulty the discovery of Henry afterwards overcame.

    In 1826, Harrison Gray Dyar erected a telegraph on the Long Island race course. He used frictional electricity, and dyed marks, made on chemically prepared paper, by the passage of sparks. It was imperfect and unsuited to general use.
    In 1832, Baron Schelling, of St. Petersburg, contrived a deflective magnetic telegraph. It had an alarm bell connected with it, and was considered a step in advance of the previous electro-magnetic telegraphs.
    In 1833, Gaus and Weber first constructed the simplified electro-magnetic telegraph. It was Gaus who first employed the incitement of induction, and who demonstrated that the appropriate combination of a limited number of signs is all that is necessary for the transmission of communications.

    In July, 1837, Steinheil constructed and put in use his registering electro-magnetic telegraph between Munich and Bogenhausen.
    In the month of June, in the same year, Messrs Cook and Wheatstone patented in England their deflective electro-magnetic telegraph.

    Also, in Oct. of that same year, 1837, Samuel F. B. Morse, of New-York, entered his first caveat for an American electro-magnetic telegraph, in which he chiefly relied on a type and port rule for making signals by the mechanical force of electro-magnetic motion.

    In 1838, Davy produced his chemical telegraph.
    In 1846, Bain obtained an English patent for his improved electro-chemical telegraph. In 1848, it was patented in the United States. In 1849, Roval E. House of New-York obtained a patent for his ingenious and valuable printing telegraph.
    In 1849-50, three other telegraphs were introduced, but have not come into general use, viz: Horn's igniting telegraph; Davis's Axial ditto; and Johnson's, by means of which shots were dropped on slips of paper, which, being pressed at the same moment, left visible marks, which stood as signs for letters.
    We merely allude to Brett's printing telegraph; Bakewell's electric do.; and to Seimen's and Kramer's, in Germany; but the names even of a great many more must be passed by in silence.

    It will be seen from the above sketch that other individuals, before Morse, had employed electro-magnetism for telegraphic purposes, but the superior advantages of Morse's plan were: that it acted at a greater distance; that the signals might be given at night; and in rain, snow and fogs, when other telegraphs failed.
    In a contested suit for infringement of patent, tried in Pennsylvania in 1840, Judge Kane held the following language: "Neither Steinheil," says he, "nor Cook and Wheatstone, nor Davy, nor Dyar, nor Henry, had at any time made a recording telegraph of any sort. The devices then known were merely semaphores, that spoke to the eye for the moment, bearing about the same relation to Morse's great discovery as the Abbe Sicard's invention of a visual alphabet for the purposes of conversation bore to the art of printing with movable types."

    The essence of Morse's invention consisted in the use of the motive-power of electro-magnetism for marking or printing intelligible characters at any distance. Others employed the use of liquid pigments, paper stained with chemical ink, or decomposable ingredients, which varied the fashion of the characters or symbols. Others wrote in cyclovolute instead of a straight line, or used alphabetical characters for imprinting letters...

    The number of miles over which the different telegraphic lines extend in the United States are as follows: Morse's, 15,385; House's, 2,200; Bain's, 2,112. In England, the net work of telegraphs stretches over an extent of 2,152 miles. In Austria, over 1,053; Tuscany, over 180; France, over 750; Prussia, over 1,493. The business is on the increase in Europe and the United States.

    Telegraph wires already run from one end of Europe to the other. St. Petersburg is connected with Moscow and with the Russian ports on the Black Sea and Baltic. Other lines lead from St. Petersburg to Vienna and Berlin, Cracow, Warsaw and Posen. Vienna communicates with Prague and Dresden, and with Trieste on the Adriatic. Paris unites with London, and Rotterdam with Amsterdam.

    The mode of constructing telegraphs in England is much more expensive than in the United States, amounting, in some cases, to $600 per mile.
    The amount of capital invested in Morse's telegraph, in this country, up to Jan. 1, 1850, was about $400,000.
    In England some of the lines are guarded with lightning conductors, and in Prussia the method is adopted of burying the wires beneath the surface, which protects them from destruction by malice, and makes them less liable to injury by lightning.
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