MASTERS OF SPACE
MORSE and the Telegraph THOMPSON and the Cable BELL and the Telephone MARCONI and the Wireless Telegraph CARTY and the Wireless Telephone
BY WALTER KELLOGG TOWERS
MY CO-LABORER AND COMPANION
BERENICE LAURA TOWERS
WHOSE ENCOURAGEMENT AND ASSISTANCE
WERE CONSTANT IN THE GATHERING
AND PREPARATION OF MATERIAL
FOR THIS VOLUME.
I. COMMUNICATION AMONG THE ANCIENTS
II. SIGNALS PAST AND PRESENT
III. FORERUNNERS OF THE TELEGRAPH
IV. INVENTIONS OF SIR CHARLES WHEATSTONE
V. THE ACHIEVEMENT OF MORSE
VI. "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?"
VII. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TELEGRAPH SYSTEM
VIII. TELEGRAPHING BENEATH THE SEA
IX. THE PIONEER ATLANTIC CABLE
X. A SUCCESSFUL CABLE ATTAINED
XI. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, THE YOUTH
XII. THE BIRTH OF THE TELEPHONE
XIII. THE TELEPHONE AT THE CENTENNIAL
XIV. IMPROVEMENT AND EXPANSION
XV. TELEGRAPHING WITHOUT WIRES
XVI. AN ITALIAN BOY'S WORK
XVII. WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY ESTABLISHED
XVIII. THE WIRELESS SERVES THE WORLD
XIX. SPEAKING ACROSS THE CONTINENT
XX. TELEPHONING THROUGH SPACE
SAMUEL FINLEY BREESE MORSE
MORSE'S FIRST TELEGRAPH INSTRUMENT
CYRUS W. FIELD
WILLIAM THOMSON (LORD KELVIN)
THE "GREAT EASTERN" LAYING THE ATLANTIC CABLE, 1866
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
THOMAS A. WATSON
PROFESSOR BELL'S VIBRATING REED
PROFESSOR BELL'S FIRST TELEPHONE
THE FIRST TELEPHONE SWITCHBOARD USED IN NEW HAVEN, CONN., FOR EIGHT SUBSCRIBERS
EARLY NEW YORK EXCHANGE
PROFESSOR BELL IN SALEM, MASS., AND MR. WATSON IN BOSTON, DEMONSTRATING THE TELEPHONE BEFORE AUDIENCES IN 1877
DOCTOR BELL AT THE TELEPHONE OPENING THE NEW YORK-CHICAGO LINE, OCTOBER 18, 1892
A REMARKABLE PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN OUTSIDE OF THE CLIFDEN STATION WHILE MESSAGES WERE BEING SENT ACROSS TO CAPE RACE
MARCONI STATION AT CLIFDEN, IRELAND
This is the story of talking at a distance, of sending messages through space. It is the story of great men—Morse, Thomson, Bell, Marconi, and others—and how, with the aid of men like Field, Vail, Catty, Pupin, the scientist, and others in both the technical and commercial fields, they succeeded in flashing both messages and speech around the world, with wires and without wires. It is the story of how the thought of the world has been linked together by those modern wonders of science and of industry—the telegraph, the submarine cable, the telephone, the wireless telegraph, and, most recently, the wireless telephone.
The story opens with the primitive methods of message-sending by fire or smoke or other signals. The life and experiments of Morse are then pictured and the dramatic story of the invention and development of the telegraph is set forth. The submarine cable followed with the struggles of Field, the business executive, and Thomson, the inventor and scientific expert, which finally culminated in success when the Great Eastern landed a practical cable on the American coast. The early life of Alexander Graham Bell was full of color, and I have told the story of his patient investigations of human speech and hearing, which, finally culminated in a practical telephone. There follows the fascinating story of Marconi and the wireless telegraph. Last comes the story of the wireless telephone, that newest wonder which has come among us so recently that we can scarcely realize that it is here. An inner view of the marvelous development of the telephone is added in an appendix.
The part played by the great business leaders who have developed and extended the new inventions, placing them at the service of all, has not been forgotten. Not only have means of communication been discovered, but they have been improved and put to the widest practical use with remarkable efficiency and celerity. The stories of these developments, in both the personal and executive sides, embody the true romance of the modern business world.
The great scientists and engineers who have wrought these wonders which have had so profound an influence upon the life of the world lived, and are living, lives filled with patient effort, discouragement, accomplishment, and real romance. They are interesting men who have done interesting things. Better still, they have done important, useful things. This book relates their life stories in a connected form, for they have all worked for a similar end. The story of these men, who, starting in early youth in the pursuit of a great idea, have achieved fame and success and have benefited civilization, cannot but be inspiring. They did not stumble upon their discoveries by any lucky accident. They knew what they sought, and they labored toward the goal with unflagging zeal. Had they been easily discouraged we might still be dependent upon the semaphore and the pony express for the transmission of news. But they persevered until success was attained, and in the account of their struggle to success every one may find encouragement in facing his own tasks.
One can scarce overestimate the value of modern methods of communication to the world. So much of our development has been more or less directly dependent upon it that it is difficult to fancy our situation without the telegraph and telephone. The diligence with which the ancients sought speedy methods for the sending of messages demonstrates the human need for them. The solution of this great problem, though long delayed, came swiftly, once it was begun.
Even the simple facts regarding "Masters of Space" and their lives of struggle and accomplishment in sending messages between distant points form an inspiring story of great achievement.
MASTERS OF SPACE
COMMUNICATION AMONG THE ANCIENTS
Signaling the Fall of Troy—Marine Signaling among the Argonauts—Couriers of the Greeks, Romans, and Aztecs—Sound-signaling—Stentorophonic Tube—The Shouting Sentinels—The Clepsydra—Signal Columns—Indian Fire and Smoke Signals.
It was very early in the history of the world that man began to feel the urgent need of communicating with man at a distance. When village came into friendly contact with village, when nations began to form and expand, the necessity of sending intelligence rapidly and effectively was clearly realized. And yet many centuries passed without the discovery of an effective system. Those discoveries were to be reserved for the thinkers of our age.
We can understand the difficulties that beset King Agamemnon as he stood at the head of his armies before the walls of Troy. Many were the messages he would want to send to his native kingdom in Greece during the progress of the siege. Those at home would be eager for news of the great enterprise. Many contingencies might arise which would make the need for aid urgent. Certainly Queen Clytemnestra eagerly awaited word of the fall of the city. Yet the slow progress of couriers must be depended upon.
One device the king hit upon which was such as any boy might devise to meet the simplest need. "If I can go skating tonight," says Johnny Jones to his chum, "I'll put a light in my window." Such is the simple device which has been used to bear the simplest message for ages. So King Agamemnon ordered beacon fires laid on the tops of Mount Ida, Mount Athos, Mount Cithaeron, and on intervening eminences. Beside them he placed watchers who were always to have their faces toward Troy. When Troy fell a near-by fire was kindled, and beacon after beacon sprang into flame on the route toward Greece. Thus was the message of the fall of Troy quickly borne to the waiting queen by this preconceived arrangement. Yet neither King Agamemnon nor his sagest counselors could devise an effective system for expediting their messages.
Prearranged signals were used to convey news in even earlier times. Fire, smoke, and flags were used by the Egyptians and the Assyrians previous to the Trojan War. The towers along the Chinese Wall were more than watch-towers; they were signal-towers. A flag or a light exhibited from tower to tower would quickly convey a certain message agreed upon in advance. Human thought required a system which could convey more than one idea, and yet skill in conveying news grew slowly.
Perhaps the earliest example of marine signaling of which we know is recorded of the Argonautic Expedition. Theseus devised the use of colored sails to convey messages from ship to ship of the fleet, and caused the death of his father by his failure to handle the signals properly. Theseus sailed into conflict with the enemy with black sails set, a signal of battle and of death. With the battle over and himself the victor, he forgot to lower the black flag and set the red flag of victory. His father, the aged AEgeus, seeing the black flag, believed it reported his son's death, and, flinging himself into the sea, was drowned.
In time it occurred to the great monarchs as their domains extended to establish relays of couriers to bear the messages which must be carried. Such systems were established by the Greeks, the Romans, and the Aztecs. Each courier would run the length of his own route and would then shout or pass the message to the next runner, who would speed it away in turn. Such was the method employed by our own pony-express riders.
An ancient Persian king thought of having the messages shouted from sentinel to sentinel, instead of being carried more slowly by relays of couriers. So he established sentinels at regular intervals within hearing of one another, and messages were shouted from one to the other. Just fancy the number of sentinels required to establish a line between distant cities, and the opportunities for misunderstanding and mistake! The ancient Gauls also employed this method of communication. Caesar records that the news of the massacre of the Romans at Orleans was sent to Auvergne, a distance of nearly one hundred and fifty miles, by the same evening.
Though signaling by flashes of light occurred to the ancients, we have no knowledge that they devised a way of using the light-flashes for any but the simplest prearranged messages. The mirrors of the Pharaohs were probably used to flash light for signal purposes. We know that the Persians applied them to signaling in time of war. It is reported that flashes from the shields were used to convey news at the battle of Marathon. These seem to be the forerunners of the heliograph. But the heliograph using the dot-and-dash system of the Morse code can be used to transmit any message whatever. The ancients had evolved systems by which any word could be spelled, but they did not seem to be able to apply them practically to their primitive heliographs.
An application of sound-signaling was worked out for Alexander the Great, which was considered one of the scientific wonders of antiquity. This was called a stentorophonic tube, and seems to have been a sort of gigantic megaphone or speaking-trumpet. It is recorded that it sent the voice for a dozen miles. A drawing of this strange instrument is preserved in the Vatican.
Another queer signaling device, built and operated upon a novel principle, was an even greater wonder among the early peoples. This was known as a clepsydra. Fancy a tall glass tube with an opening at the bottom in which a sort of faucet was fixed. At varying heights sentences were inscribed about the tube. The tube, being filled with water, with, a float at the top, all was ready for signaling any of the messages inscribed on the tube to a station within sight and similarly equipped. The other station could be located as far away as a light could be seen. The station desiring to send a message to another exhibited its light. When the receiving station showed its light in answer, the tap was opened at the bottom of the tube in each station. When the float dropped until it was opposite the sentence which it was desired to transmit, the sending station withdrew its light and closed the tap. This was a signal for the receiving station to stop the flow of water from its tube. As the tubes were just alike, and the water had flowed out during the same period at equal speed, the float at the receiving station then rested opposite the message to be conveyed.
Many crude systems of using lights for signaling were employed. Lines of watch-towers were arranged which served as signal-stations. The ruins of the old Roman and Gallic towers may still be found In France. Hannibal erected them in Africa and Spain. Colored tunics and spears were also used for military signals in the daytime. For instance, a red tunic displayed meant prepare for battle; while a red spear conveyed the order to sack and devastate.
An ancient system of camp signals from columns is especially interesting as showing a development away from the prearranged signals of limited application. For these camp signals the alphabet was divided into five or six parts, and a like number of columns erected at each signal-station. Each column represented one group of letters. Suppose that we should agree to get along without the Q and the Z and reduce our own alphabet to twenty-four letters for use in such a system. With six columns we would then have four letters for each column. The first column would be used to signal A, B, C, and D. One light or flag shown from column one would represent A, two flags or lights B, and so on. Thus any word could be spelled out and any message sent. Without doubt the system was slow and cumbersome, but it was a step in the right direction.
The American Indians developed methods of transmitting news which compare very favorably with the means employed by the ancients. Smoke-rings and puffs for the daytime, and fire-arrows at night, were used by them for the sending of messages. Smoke signals are obtained by building a fire of moist materials. The Indian obtains his smoke-puffs by placing a blanket or robe over the fire, withdrawing it for an instant, and then replacing it quickly. In this way puffs of smoke may be sent aloft as frequently as desired.
A column of smoke-puffs was used as a warning signal, its meaning being: Look out, the enemy is near. One smoke-puff was a signal for attention; two puffs indicated that the sender would camp at that place. Three puffs showed that the sender was in danger, as the enemy was near.
Fire-arrows shot across the sky at night had a similar meaning. The head of the arrow was dipped in some highly inflammable substance and then set on fire at the instant before it was discharged from the bow. One fire-arrow shot into the sky meant that the enemy were near; two signaled danger, and three great danger. When the Indian shot many fire-arrows up in rapid succession he was signaling to his friends that his enemies were too many for him. Two arrows discharged into the air at the same time indicated that the party sending them was about to attack. Three indicated an immediate attack. A fire-arrow discharged diagonally across the sky indicated the direction in which the sender would travel. Such were the methods which the Indians used, working out different meanings for the signals in the various tribes.
Very slight progress was made in message-sending in medieval times, and it was the middle of the seventeenth century before even signal systems were attained which were in any sense an improvement. For many centuries the people of the world existed, devising nothing better than the primitive methods outlined above.
SIGNALS PAST AND PRESENT
Marine and Military Signals—Code Flags—Wig-wag—Semaphore Telegraphs—Heliographs—Ardois Signals—Submarine Signals.
In naval affairs some kind of an effective signal system is imperative. Even in the ordinary evolutions of a fleet the commander needs some better way of communicating with the ship captains than despatching a messenger in a small boat. The necessity of quick and sure signals in time of battle is obvious. Yet for many centuries naval signals were of the crudest.
The first distinct advance over the primitive methods by which the commander of one Roman galley communicated with another came with the introduction of cannon as a naval arm. The use of signal-guns was soon thought of, and war-ships used their guns for signal purposes as early as the sixteenth century. Not long after came the square-rigged ship, and it soon occurred to some one that signals could be made by dropping a sail from the yard-arm a certain number of times.
Up to the middle of the seventeenth century the possibilities of the naval signal systems were limited indeed. Only a few prearranged orders and messages could be conveyed. Unlimited communication at a distance was still impossible, and there were no means of sending a message to meet an unforeseen emergency. So cumbersome were the signal systems in use that even though they would convey the intelligence desired, the speaking-trumpet or a courier was employed wherever possible.
To the officers of the British navy of the seventeenth century belongs the credit for the first serious attempt to create a system of communication which would convey any and all messages. It is not clear whether Admiral Sir William Penn or James II. established the code. It was while he was Duke of York and the commander of Britain's navy, that the James who was later to be king took this part in the advancement of means of communication. Messages were sent by varying the position of a single signal flag.
In 1780 Admiral Kempenfeldt thought of adding other signal flags instead of depending upon the varied positions of a single signal. From his plan the flag signals now in use by the navies of the world were developed. The basis of his system was the combining of distinct flags in pairs.
The work of Admiral Philip Colomb marked another long step forward in signaling between ships. While a young officer he developed a night-signal system of flashing lights, still in use to some extent, and which bears his name. Colomb's most important contribution to the art of signaling was his realization of the utility of the code which Morse had developed in connection with the telegraph.
Code flags, which are largely used between ships, have not been entirely displaced by the wireless. The usual naval code set consists of a set of alphabet flags and pennants, ten numeral flags, and additional special flags. This of course provides for spelling out any conceivable message by simply hoisting letter after letter. So slow a method is seldom used, however. Various combinations of letters and figures are used to indicate set terms or sentences set forth in the code-book. Thus the flags representing A and E, hoisted together, may be found on reference to the code-book to mean, "Weigh anchor." Each navy has its own secret code, which is carefully guarded lest it be discovered by a possible enemy. Naval code-books are bound with metal covers so that they may be thrown overboard in case a ship is forced to surrender.
The international code is used by ships of all nations. It is the universal language of the sea, and by it sailors of different tongues may communicate through this common medium. Any message may be conveyed by a very few of the flags in combination.
The wig-wag system, a favorite and familiar method of communication with every Boy Scout troop, is in use by both army and navy. The various letters of the alphabet are indicated by the positions in which the signaler holds his arms. Keeping the arms always forty-five degrees apart, it is possible to read the signals at a considerable distance. Navy signalers have become very efficient with this form of communication, attaining a speed of over fifteen words a minute.
A semaphore is frequently substituted for the wig-wag flags both on land and on sea. Navy semaphores on big war-ships consist of arms ten or twelve feet long mounted at the masthead. The semaphore as a means of communication was extensively used on land commercially as well as by the army. A regular semaphore telegraph system, working in relays over considerable distances was in operation in France a century ago. Other semaphore telegraphs were developed in England.
The introduction of the Morse code and its adaptation to signaling by sight and sound did much to simplify these means of communication. The development of signaling after the adoption of the Morse code, though it occurred subsequent to the introduction of the telegraph, may properly be spoken of here, since the systems dependent upon sight and sound grow from origins more primitive than those which depend upon electricity. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century armies had made slight progress in perfecting means of communication. The British army had no regular signal service until after the recommendations of Colomb proved their worth in naval affairs. The German army, whose systems of communication have now reached such perfection, did not establish an army signal service until 1902.
The simplicity of the dot and dash of the Morse code makes it readily available for almost any form of signaling under all possible conditions. Two persons within sight of each other, who understand the code, may establish communication by waving the most conspicuous object at hand, using a short swing for a dot and a long swing for a dash. Two different shapes may also be exhibited, one representing a dot and the other a dash. The dot-and-dash system is also admirably adapted for night signaling. A search-light beam may be swung across the sky through short and long arcs, a light may be exhibited and hidden for short and long periods, and so on. Where the search-light may be played upon a cloud it may be seen for very considerable distances, messages having been sent forty miles by this means. Fog-horns, whistles, etc., may be similarly employed during fogs or amid thick smoke. A short blast represents a dot, and a long one a dash.
The heliograph, which established communication by means of short and long light-flashes, is another important means of signaling to which the Morse code has been applied. This instrument catches the rays of the sun upon a mirror, and thence casts them to a distant receiving station. A small key which throws the mirror out of alignment serves to obscure the flashes for a space at the will of the sender, and so produces short or long flashes.
The British army has made wide use of the heliograph in India and Africa. During the British-Boer War It formed the sole means of communication between besieged garrisons and the relief forces. Where no mountain ranges intervene and a bright sun is available, heliographic messages may be read at a distance of one hundred and fifty miles.
While the British navy used flashing lights for night signals, the United States and most other navies adopted a system of fixed colored lights. The system in use in the United States Navy is known as the Ardois system. In this system the messages are sent by four lights, usually electric, which are suspended from a mast or yard-arm. The lights are manipulated by a keyboard situated at a convenient point on the deck. A red lamp is flashed to indicate a dot in the Morse code, while a white lamp indicates a dash. The Ardois system is also used by the Army. The perfection of wireless telegraphy has caused the Ardois and other signal systems depending upon sight or sound to be discarded in all but exceptional cases. The wig-wag and similar systems will probably never be entirely displaced by even such superior systems as wireless telegraphy. The advantage of the wig-wag lies in the fact that no apparatus is necessary and communication may thus be established for short distances almost instantly. Its disadvantages are lack of speed, impenetrability to dust, smoke, and fog, and the short ranges over which it may be operated.
There is another form of sound-signaling which, though it has been developed in recent years, may properly be mentioned in connection with earlier signal systems of similar nature. This is the submarine signal. We have noted that much attention was paid to communication by sound-waves through the medium of the air from the earliest times. It was not until the closing years of the past century, however, that the superior possibilities of water as a conveyer of sound were recognized.
Arthur J. Mundy, of Boston, happened to be on an American steamer on the Mississippi River in the vicinity of New Orleans. It was rumored that a Spanish torpedo-boat had evaded the United States war vessels and made its way up the great river. The general alarm and the impossibility of detecting the approach of another vessel set Mundy thinking. It seemed to him that there should be some way of communicating through the water and of listening for sounds underwater. He recalled his boyhood experiments in the old swimming-hole. He remembered how distinctly the sound of stones cracked together carried to one whose ears were beneath the surface. Thus the idea of underwater signaling was born.
Mundy communicated this idea to Elisha Gray, and the two, working together, evolved a successful submarine signal system. It was on the last day of the nineteenth century that they were able to put their experiments into practical working form. Through a well in the center of the ship they suspended an eight-hundred-pound bell twenty feet beneath the surface of the sea. A receiving apparatus was located three miles distant, which consisted simply of an ear-trumpet connected to a gas-pipe lowered into the sea. The lower end of the pipe was sealed with a diaphragm of tin. When submerged six feet beneath the surface the strokes of the bell could be heard. Then a special electrical receiver of extreme sensitiveness, known as a microphone, was substituted and connected at the receiving station with an ordinary telephone receiver. With this receiving apparatus the strokes of the bell could be heard at a distance of over ten miles.
This system has had a wide practical application for communication both between ship and ship and between ship and shore. Most transatlantic ships are now equipped with such a system. The transmitter consists of a large bell which is actuated either by compressed air or by an electro-magnetic system. This is so arranged that it may be suspended over the side of the ship and lowered well beneath the surface of the water. The receivers consist of microphones, one on each side of the ship. The telephone receivers connected to the two microphones are mounted close together on an instrument board on the bridge of the ship. The two instruments are used when it is desired to determine the direction from which the signals come. If the sound is stronger in the 'phone on the right-hand side of the ship the commander knows that the signals are coming from that direction. If the signals are from a ship in distress he may proceed toward it by turning his vessel until the sound of the signal-bell is equal in the two receivers. The ability to determine the direction from which the signal comes is especially valuable in navigating difficult channels in foggy weather. Signal-bells are located near lighthouses and dangerous reefs. Each calls its own number, and the vessel's commander may thus avoid obstructions and guide the ship safely into the harbor. The submarine signal is equally useful in enabling vessels to avoid collision in fogs. Because water conducts sound much better than air, submarine signals are far better than the fog-horn or whistles.
The submarine signal system has also been applied to submarine war-ships. By this means alone may a submarine communicate with another, with a vessel on the surface, or with a shore station.
An important and interesting adaptation of the marine signal was made to meet the submarine warfare of the great European conflict. At first it seemed that battle-ship and merchantman could find no way to locate the approach of an enemy submarine. But it was found that by means of the receiving apparatus of the submarine telephone an approaching submarine could be heard and located. While the sounds of the submarine's machinery are not audible above the water, the delicate microphone located beneath the water can detect them. Hearing a submarine approaching beneath the surface, the merchantman may avoid her and the destroyers and patrol-boats may take means to effect her capture.
FORERUNNERS OF THE TELEGRAPH
From Lodestone to Leyden Jar—The Mysterious "C.M."—Spark and Frictional Telegraphs—The Electro-magnet—Davy and the Relay System.
The thought and effort directed toward improving the means of communication brought but small results until man discovered and harnessed for himself a new servant—electricity. The story of the growth of modern means of communication is the story of the application of electricity to this particular one of man's needs. The stories of the Masters of Space are the stories of the men who so applied electricity that man might communicate with man.
Some manifestations of electricity had been known since long before the Christian era. A Greek legend relates how a shepherd named Magnes found that his crook was attracted by a strange rock. Thus was the lodestone, the natural magnetic iron ore, discovered, and the legend would lead us to believe that the words magnet and magnetism were derived from the name of the shepherd who chanced upon this natural magnet and the strange property of magnetism.
The ability of amber, when rubbed, to attract straws, was also known to the early peoples. How early this property was found, or how, we do not know. The name electricity is derived from elektron, the Greek name for amber.
The early Chinese and Persians knew of the lodestone, and of the magnetic properties of amber after it has been rubbed briskly. The Romans were familiar with these and other electrical effects. The Romans had discovered that the lodestone would attract iron, though a stone wall intervened. They were fond of mounting a bit of iron on a cork floating in a basin of water and watch it follow the lodestone held in the hand. It is related that the early magicians used it as a means of transmitting intelligence. If a needle were placed upon a bit of cork and the whole floated in a circular vessel with the alphabet inscribed about the circle, one outside the room could cause the needle to point toward any desired letters in turn by stepping to the proper position with the lodestone. Thus a message could be sent to the magician inside and various feats of magic performed. Our own modern magicians are reported as availing themselves of the more modern applications of electricity in somewhat similar fashion and using small, easily concealed wireless telegraph or telephone sets for communication with their confederates off the stage.
The idea of encircling a floating needle with the alphabet was developed into the sympathetic telegraph of the sixteenth century, which was based on a curious error. It was supposed that needles which had been touched by the same lodestone were sympathetic, and that if both were free to move one would imitate the movements of another, though they were at a distance. Thus, if one needle were attracted toward one letter after the other, and the second similarly mounted should follow its movements, a message might readily be spelled out. Of course the second needle would not follow the movements of the first, and so the sympathetic telegraph never worked, but much effort was expended upon it.
In the mean time others had learned that many substances besides amber, on being rubbed, possessed magnetic properties. Machines by which electricity could be produced in greater quantities by friction were produced and something was learned of conductors.
Benjamin Franklin sent aloft his historic kite and found that electricity came down the silken cord. He demonstrated that frictional and atmospheric electricity are the same. Franklin and others sent the electric charge along a wire, but it did not occur to them to endeavor to apply this to sending messages.
Credit for the first suggestion of an electric telegraph must be given to an unknown writer of the middle eighteenth century. In the Scots Magazine for February 17, 1755, there appeared an article signed simply, "C.M.," which suggested an electric telegraph. The writer's idea was to lay an insulated wire for each letter of the alphabet. The wires could be charged from an electrical machine in any desired order, and at the receiving end would attract disks of paper marked with the letter which that wire represented, and so any message could be spelled out. The identity of "C.M." has never been established, but he was probably Charles Morrison, a Scotch surgeon with a reputation for electrical experimentation, who later emigrated to Virginia. Of course "C.M.'s" telegraph was not practical, because of the many wires required, but it proved to be a fertile suggestion which was followed by many other thinkers. One experimenter after another added an improvement or devised a new application.
A French scientist devised a telegraph which it is suspected might have been practical, but he kept his device secret, and, as Napoleon refused to consider it, it never was put to a test. An Englishman devised a frictional telegraph early in the last century and endeavored to interest the Admiralty. He was told that the semaphore was all that was required for communication. Another submitted a similar system to the same authorities in 1816, and was told that "telegraphs of any kind are now wholly unnecessary." An American inventor fared no better, for one Harrison Gray Dyar, of New York, was compelled to abandon his experiments on Long Island and flee because he was accused of conspiracy to carry on secret communication, which sounded very like witchcraft to our forefathers. His telegraph sent signals by having the electric spark transmitted by the wire decompose nitric acid and so record the signals on moist litmus paper. It seems altogether probable that had not the discovery of electro-magnetism offered improved facilities to those seeking a practical telegraph, this very chemical telegraph might have been put to practical use.
In the early days of the nineteenth century the battery had come into being, and thus a new source of electric current was available for the experimenters. Coupled with this important discovery in its effect upon the development of the telegraph was the discovery of electro-magnetism. This was the work of Hans Christian Oersted, a native of Denmark. He first noticed that a current flowing through a wire would deflect a compass, and thus discovered the magnetic properties of the electric current. A Frenchman named Ampere, experimenting further, discovered that when the electric current is sent through coils of wire the magnetism is increased.
The possibility of using the deflection of a magnetic needle by an electric current passing through a wire as a means of conveying intelligence was quickly grasped by those who were striving for a telegraph. Experiments with spark and chemical telegraphs were superseded by efforts with this new discovery. Ampere, acting upon the suggestion of La Place, an eminent mathematician, published a plan for a feasible telegraph. This was later improved upon by others, and it was still early in the nineteenth century that a model telegraph was exhibited in London.
About this time two professors at the University of Goettingen were experimenting with telegraphy. They established an experimental line between their laboratories, using at first a battery. Then Faraday discovered that an electric current could be generated in a wire by the motion of a magnet, thus laying the basis for the modern dynamo. Professors Gauss and Weber, who were operating the telegraph line at Goettingen, adapted this new discovery to their needs. They sent the message by moving a magnetic key. A current was thus generated in the line, and, passing over the wire and through a coil at the farther end, moved a magnet suspended there. The magnet moved to the right or left, depending on the direction of the current sent through the wire. A tiny mirror was mounted on the receiving magnet to magnify its movement and so render it more readily visible.
One Steinheil, of Munich, simplified it and added a call-bell. He also devised a recording telegraph in which the moving needle at the receiving station marked down its message in dots and dashes on a ribbon of paper. He was the first to utilize the earth for the return circuit, using a single wire for despatching the electric current used in signaling and allowing it to return through the ground.
In 1837, the same year in which Wheatstone and Morse were busy perfecting their telegraphs, as we shall see, Edward Davy exhibited a needle telegraph in London. Davy also realized that the discoveries of Arago could be used in improving the telegraph and making it practical. Arago discovered that the current passing through a coil of wire served to magnetize temporarily a piece of soft iron within it. It was this principle upon which Morse was working at this time. Davy did not carry his suggestions into effect, however. He emigrated to Australia, and the interruption in his experiments left the field open for those who were finally to bring the telegraph into usable form. Davy's greatest contribution to telegraphy was the relay system by which very weak currents could call into play strong currents from a local battery, and so make the signals apparent at the receiving station.
INVENTIONS OF SIR CHARLES WHEATSTONE
Wheatstone and His Enchanted Lyre—Wheatstone and Cooke—First Electric Telegraph Line Installed—The Capture of the "Kwaker"—The Automatic Transmitter.
Before we come to the story of Samuel F.B. Morse and the telegraph which actually proved a commercial success as the first practical carrier of intelligence which had been created for the service of man, we should pause to consider the achievements of Charles Wheatstone. Together with William Fothergill Cooke, another Englishman, he developed a telegraph line that, while it did not attain commercial success, was the first working telegraph placed at the service of the public.
Charles Wheatstone was born near Gloucester in 1802. Having completed his primary schooling, Charles was apprenticed to his uncle, who was a maker and seller of musical instruments. He showed little aptitude either in the workshop or in the store, and much preferred to continue the study of books. His father eventually took him from his uncle's charge and allowed him to follow his bent. He translated poetry from the French at the age of fifteen, and wrote some verse of his own. He spent all the money he could secure on books. Becoming interested in a book on Volta's experiments with electricity, he saved up his coppers until he could purchase it. It was in French, and he found the technical descriptions rather too difficult for his comprehension, so that he was forced to save again to buy a French-English dictionary. With the aid of this he mastered the volume.
Immediately his attention was turned toward the wonders of the infant science of electricity, and he eagerly endeavored to perform the experiments described. Aided by his older brother, he set to work on a battery as a source of current. Running short of funds with which to purchase copper plates, he again began to save his pennies. Then the idea occurred to him to use the pennies themselves, and his first battery was soon complete.
He continued his experiments in various fields until, at the age of nineteen, he first brought himself to public notice with his enchanted lyre. This he placed on exhibition in music-shops in London. It consisted of a small lyre suspended from the ceiling which gave forth, in turn, the sounds of various musical instruments. Really the lyre was merely a sounding-box, and the vibrations of the music were conveyed from instruments, played in the next room, to the lyre through a steel rod. The young man spent much time experimenting with the transmission of sound. Having conveyed music through the steel rod to his enchanted lyre, much to the mystification of the Londoners, he proposed to transmit sounds over a considerable distance by this method. He estimated that sound could be sent through steel rods at the rate of two hundred miles a second and suggested the use of such a rod as a telegraph between London and Edinburgh. He called his arrangement a telephone.
A scientific writer of the day, commenting in a scientific journal on the enchanted lyre which Wheatstone had devised, suggested that it might be used to render musical concerts audible at a distance. Thus an opera performed in a theater might be conveyed through rods to other buildings in the vicinity and there reproduced. This was never accomplished, and it remained for our own times to accomplish this and even greater wonders.
Wheatstone also devised an instrument for increasing feeble sound, which he called a microphone. This consisted of a pair of rods to convey the sound vibrations to the ears, and does not at all resemble the modern electrical microphone. Other inventions in the transmission and reproduction of sound followed, and he devoted no little attention to the construction of improved musical instruments. He even made some efforts to produce a practical talking-machine, and was convinced that one would be attained. At thirty-two he was widely famed as a scientist and had been made a professor of experimental physics in King's College, London. His most notable work at this time was measuring the speed of the electric current, which up to that time had been supposed to be instantaneous.
By 1835 Wheatstone had abandoned his plans for transmitting sounds through long rods of metal and was studying the telegraph. He experimented with instruments of his own and proposed a line across the Thames. It was in 1836 that Mr. Cooke, an army officer home on leave, became interested in the telegraph and devoted himself to putting it on a working basis. He had already exhibited a crude set when he came to Wheatstone, realizing his own lack of scientific knowledge. The two men finally entered into partnership, Wheatstone contributing the scientific and Cooke the business ability to the new enterprise. The partnership was arranged late in 1837, and a patent taken out on Wheatstone's five-needle telegraph.
In this telegraph a magnetic needle was located within a loop formed by the telegraph circuit at the receiving end. When the circuit was closed the needle was deflected to one side or the other, according to the direction of the current. Five separate circuits and needles were used, and a variety of signals could thus be sent. Five wires, with a sixth return wire, were used in the first experimental line erected in London in 1837. So in the year when Morse was constructing his models Wheatstone and Cooke were operating an experimental line, crude and impracticable though it was, and enjoying the sensations of communicating with each other at a distance.
In 1841 the telegraph was placed on public exhibition at so much a head, but it was viewed as an entertaining novelty without utility by the public at large. After many disappointments the inventors secured the cooperation of the Great Western Railroad, and a line was erected for a distance of thirteen miles. But the public would not patronise the line until its utility was strikingly demonstrated by the capture of the "Kwaker."
Early one morning a woman was found dead in her home in the suburbs of London. A man had been observed leaving the house, and his appearance had been noted. Inquiries revealed that a man answering his description had left on the slow train for London. Without the telegraph he could not have been apprehended. But the telegraph was available at this point, and his description was telegraphed ahead and the police in London were instructed to arrest him upon his arrival. "He is dressed as a Quaker," ran the message. There was no Q in the alphabet of-the five-needle instrument, and so the sender spelled Quaker, Kwaker. The clerk at the receiving end could not-understand the strange word, and asked to have it repeated again and again. Finally some one suggested that the message be completed and the whole was then deciphered. When the man dressed as a Quaker stepped from the slow train on his arrival at London the police were awaiting him; he was arrested and eventually confessed the murder. The news of this capture and the part the telegraph played gave striking proof of the utility of the new invention, and public skepticism and indifference were overcome.
By 1845 Wheatstone had so improved his apparatus that but one wire was required. The single-needle instrument pointed out the letters on the dial around it by successive deflections in which it was arranged to move, step by step, at the will of the sending station. The single-needle instrument, though generally displaced by Morse's telegraph, remained in use for a long time on some English lines. Wheatstone had also invented a type-printing telegraph, which he patented in 1841. This required two circuits.
With a working telegraph attained, the partners became involved in an altercation as to which deserved the honor of inventing the same. The quarrel was finally submitted to two famous scientists for arbitration. They reported that the telegraph was the result of their joint labors. To Wheatstone belongs the credit for devising the apparatus; to Cooke for introducing it and placing it before the public in working form. Here we see the combination of the man of science and the man of business, each contributing needed talents for the establishment of a great invention on a working basis.
Wheatstone's researches in the field of electricity were constant. In 1840 he devised a magnetic clock and proposed a plan by which many clocks, located at different points, could be set at regular intervals with the aid of electricity. Such a system was the forerunner of the electrically wound and regulated clocks with which we are now so familiar. He also devised a method for measuring the resistance which wires offer to the passage of an electric current. This is known as Wheatstone's bridge and is still in use in every electrical and physical laboratory. He also invented a sound telegraph by which signals were transmitted by the strokes of a bell operated by the current at the receiving end of the circuit.
The invention of Wheatstone's which proved to be of greatest lasting importance in connection with the telegraph was the automatic transmitter. By this system the message is first punched in a strip of paper which, when passed through the sending instrument, transmits the message. By this means he was able to send messages at the rate of one hundred words a minute. This automatic transmitter is much used for press telegrams where duplicate messages are to be sent to various points.
The automatic transmitter brought knighthood to its inventor, Wheatstone receiving this honor in 1868. Wheatstone took an active part in the development of the telegraph and the submarine cable up to the time of his death in 1875.
Wheatstone's telegraph would have served the purposes of humanity and probably have been universally adopted, had not a better one been invented almost before it was established. And it is because Morse, taking up the work where others had left off, was able to invent an instrument which so fully satisfied the requirements of man for so long a period that he is known to all of us as the inventor of the telegraph. And yet, without belittling the part played by Morse, we must recognize the important work accomplished by Sir Charles Wheatstone.
THE ACHIEVEMENT OF MORSE
Morse's Early Life—Artistic Aspirations—Studies in Paris—His Paintings—Beginnings of His Invention—The First Instrument—The Morse Code—The First Written Message.
When we consider the youth and immaturity of America in the first half of the nineteenth century, it seems the more remarkable that the honor of making the first great practical application of electricity should have been reserved for an American. With the exception of the isolated work of Franklin, the development of the new science of electrical learning was the work of Europeans. This was natural, for it was Europe which was possessed of the accumulated wealth and learning which are usually attained only by older civilizations. Yet, with all these advantages, electricity remained largely a scientific plaything. It was an American who fully recognized the possibilities of this new force as a servant of man, and who was possessed of the practical genius and the business ability to devise and introduce a thoroughly workable system of rapid and certain communication.
We have seen that Wheatstone was early trained as a musician. Samuel Morse began life as an artist. But while Wheatstone early indicated his lack of interest in music and devoted himself to scientific studies while yet a youth, Morse's artistic career was of his own choosing, and he devoted himself to it for many years. This explains the fact that Wheatstone attained much scientific success before Morse, though he was eleven years his junior.
It was in 1791 that Samuel Morse was born. Samuel Finley Breese Morse was the entire name with which he was endowed by his parents. He came from the sturdiest of Puritan stock, his father being of English and his mother of Scotch descent. His father was an eminent divine, and also notable as a geographer, being the author of the first American geography of importance. His mother also was possessed of unusual talent and force. It is interesting to note that Samuel Morse first saw the light in Charlestown, Massachusetts, at the foot of Breed's Hill, but little more than a mile from the birthplace of Benjamin Franklin. He came into the world about a year after Franklin died. It is interesting to believe that some of the practical talent of America's first great electrician in some way descended to Samuel Morse.
He received an unusual education. At the age of seven he was sent to a school at Andover, Massachusetts, to prepare him for Phillips Academy. At the academy he was prepared for Yale College, which he entered when fifteen years of age. With the knowledge of science so small at the time, collegiate instruction in such subjects was naturally meager in the extreme. Jeremiah Day was then professor of natural philosophy at Yale, and was probably America's ablest teacher of the subject. His lectures upon electricity and the experiments with which he illustrated them aroused the interest of Morse, as we learn from the letters he wrote to his parents at this time.
One principle in particular impressed Morse. This was that "if the electric circuit be interrupted at any place the fluid will become visible, and when it passes it will leave an impression upon any intermediate body." Thus was it stated in the text-book in use at Yale at that time. More than a score of years after the telegraph had been achieved Morse wrote:
The fact that the presence of electricity can be made visible in any desired part of the circuit was the crude seed which took root in my mind, and grew into form, and ripened into the invention of the telegraph.
We shall later hear of the occasion which recalled this bit of information to Morse's mind.
But though Yale College was at that time a center of scientific activity, and Morse showed more than a little interest in electricity and chemistry, his major interest remained art. He eagerly looked forward to graduation that he might devote his entire time to the study of painting. It is significant of the tolerance and breadth of vision of his parents that they apparently put no bars in the path of this ambition, though they had sacrificed to give him the best of collegiate trainings that he might fit himself for the ministry, medicine, or the law. As a boy of fifteen Samuel Morse had painted water-colors that attracted attention, and he was possessed of enough talent to paint miniatures while at Yale which were salable at five dollars apiece, and so aided in defraying his college expenses.
After his graduation from Yale in 1810, Morse devoted himself entirely to the study of art, still being dependent upon his parents for support. He secured the friendship and became the pupil of Washington Allston, then a foremost American painter. In the summer of 1811 Allston sailed for England, and Morse accompanied him. In London he came to the attention of Benjamin West, then at the height of his career, and benefited by his advice and encouragement.
That he had no ambition other than his art at this period we may learn from a letter he wrote to his mother in 1812.
My passion for my art [he wrote] is so firmly rooted that I am confident no human power could destroy it. The more I study the greater I think is its claim to the appellation divine. I am now going to begin a picture of the death of Hercules, the figure to be large as life.
When he had completed this picture to his own satisfaction, he showed it to West. "Go on and finish it," was West's comment. "But it is finished," said Morse. "No, no. See here, and here, and here are places you can improve it." Morse went to work upon his painting again, only to meet the same comment when he again showed it to West. This happened again and again. When the youth had finally brought it to a point where West was convinced it was the very best Morse could do he had learned a lesson in thoroughness and painstaking attention to detail that he never forgot.
That he might have a model for his painting Morse had molded a figure of Hercules in clay. At the advice of West he entered the cast in a competition for a prize in sculpture, with the result that he received the prize and a gold medal for his work. He then plunged into the competition for a prize and medal offered by the Royal Academy for the best historical painting. His subject was, "The Judgment of Jupiter in the Case of Apollo, Marpessa, and Idas." Though he completed the picture to the satisfaction of West, Morse was not able to remain in London and enter it in the competition. The rules required that the artist be present in person if he was to receive the prize, but Morse was forced to return to America. He had been in England for four years—a year longer than had originally been planned for him—and he was out of funds, and his parents could support him no longer.
Morse lived in London during the War of 1812, but seems to have suffered no annoyance other than that of poverty, which the war intensified by raising the prices of food as well as his necessary artist's materials to an almost prohibitive figure. The last of the Napoleonic wars was also in progress. News of the battle of Waterloo reached London but a short time before Morse sailed for America. It required two days for the news to reach the English capital. The young American, whose inability to sell his paintings was driving him from London, was destined to devise a system which would have carried the great news to its destination within a few seconds.
But while he gained fame in America and secured praise and attention as he had in London, he found art no more profitable. He contrived to eke out an existence by painting an occasional portrait, going from town to town in New England for this purpose. He turned from art to invention for a time, joining with his brother in devising a fire-engine pump of an improved pattern. They secured a patent upon it, but could not sell it. He turned again to the life of a wandering painter of portraits. In 1818 he went to Charleston, South Carolina, at the invitation of his uncle. His portraits proved very popular and he was soon occupied with work at good prices. This prosperity enabled him to take unto himself a wife, and the same year he married Lucretia Walker, of Concord, New Hampshire.
After four years in the South Morse returned to the North, hoping that larger opportunities would now be ready for him. The result was again failure. He devoted his time to huge historical paintings, and the public would neither buy them nor pay to see them when they were exhibited. Another blow fell upon him in 1825 when his wife died. At last he began to secure more sitters for his portraits, though his larger works still failed. He assisted in the organization of the National Academy of Design and became its first president. In 1829 he again sailed for Europe to spend three years in study in the galleries of Paris and Rome. Still he failed to attain any real success in his chosen work. He had made many friends and done much worthy work, yet there is little probability that he would have attained lasting fame as an artist even though his energies had not been turned to other interests.
It was on the packet ship Sully, crossing the Atlantic from France, that Morse conceived the telegraph which was to prove the first great practical application of electricity. One noon as the passengers were gathered about the luncheon-table, a Dr. Charles T. Jackson, of Boston, exhibited an electro-magnet he had secured in Europe, and described certain electrical experiments he had seen while in Paris. He was asked concerning the speed of electricity through a wire, and replied that, according to Faraday, it was practically instantaneous. The discussion recalled to Morse his own collegiate studies in electricity, and he remarked that if the circuit were interrupted the current became visible, and that it occurred to him that these flashes might be used as a means of communication. The idea of using the current to carry messages became fixed in his mind, and he pondered, over it during the remaining weeks of the long, slow voyage.
Doctor Jackson claimed, after Morse had perfected and established his telegraph, that the idea had been his own, and that Morse had secured it from him on board the Sully. But Doctor Jackson was not a practical man who either could or did put any ideas he may have had to practical use. At the most he seems to have simply started Morse's mind along a new train of thought. The idea of using the current as a carrier of messages, though it was new to Morse, had occurred to others earlier, as we have seen. But at the very outset Morse set himself to find a means by which he might make the current not only signal the message, but actually record it. Before he landed from the Sully he had worked out sketches of a printing telegraph. In this the current actuated an electro-magnet on the end of which was a rod. This rod was to mark down dots and dashes on a moving tape of paper.
Thus was the idea born. Of course the telegraph was still far from an accomplished fact. Without the improved electro-magnets and the relay of Professor Henry, Morse had not yet even the basic ideas upon which a telegraph to operate over considerable distances could be constructed. But Morse was possessed of Yankee imagination and practical ability. He was possessed of a fair technical education for that day, and he eagerly set himself to attaining the means to accomplish his end. That he realized just what he sought is shown by his remark to the captain of the Sully when he landed at New York. "Well, Captain," he remarked, "should you hear of the telegraph one of these days as the wonder of the world, remember that the discovery was made on board the good ship Sully."
With the notion of using an electro-magnet as a receiver, an alphabet consisting of dots and dashes, and a complete faith in the practical possibilities of the whole, Morse went to work in deadly earnest. But poverty still beset him and it was necessary for him to devote most of his time to his paintings, that he might have food, shelter, and the means to buy materials with which to experiment. From 1832 to 1835 he was able to make but small progress. In the latter year he secured an appointment as professor of the literature of the arts of design in the newly established University of the City of New York. He soon had his crude apparatus set up in a room at the college and in 1835 was able to transmit messages. He now had a little more leisure and a little more money, but his opportunities were still far from what he would have desired. The principal aid which came to him at the university was from Professor Gale, a teacher of chemistry. Gale became greatly interested in Morse's apparatus, and was able to give him much practical assistance, becoming a partner in the enterprise. Morse knew little of the work of other experimenters in the field of electricity and Gale was able to tell Morse what had been learned by others. Particularly he brought to Morse's attention the discoveries of another American, Prof. Joseph Henry.
The electro-magnet which actuated the receiving instrument in the crude set in use by Morse in 1835 had but a few turns of thick wire. Professor Henry, by his experiments five years earlier, had demonstrated that many turns of small wire made the electro-magnet far more sensitive. Morse made this improvement in his own apparatus. In 1832 Henry had devised a telegraph very similar to that of Morse by which he signaled through a mile of wire. His receiving apparatus was an electro-magnet, the armature of which struck a bell. Thus the messages were read by sound, instead of being recorded on a moving strip of paper as by Morse's system. While Henry was possibly the ablest of American electricians at that time, he devoted himself entirely to science and made no effort to put his devices to practical use. Neither did he endeavor to profit by his inventions, for he secured no patents upon them.
Professor Henry realized, in common with Morse and others, that if the current were to be conducted over long wires for considerable distances it would become so weak that it would not operate a receiver. Henry avoided this difficulty by the invention of what is known as the relay. At a distance where the current has become weak because of the resistance of the wire and losses due to faulty insulation, it will still operate a delicate electro-magnet with a very light armature so arranged as to open and close a local circuit provided with suitable batteries. Thus the recording instrument may be placed on the local circuit and as the local circuit an opened and closed in unison with the main circuit, the receiver can be operated. It was the relay which made it possible to extend telegraph lines to a considerable distance. It is not altogether clear whether Morse adopted Henry's relay or devised it for himself. It is believed, however, that Professor Henry explained the relay to Professor Gale, who in turn placed it before his partner, Morse.
By 1837 Morse had completed a model, had improved his apparatus, had secured stronger batteries and longer wires, and mastered the use of the relay. It was in this year that the House of Representatives ordered the Secretary of the Treasury to investigate the feasibility of establishing a system of telegraphs. This action urged Morse to complete his apparatus and place it before the Government. He was still handicapped by lack of money, lack of scientific knowledge, and the difficulty of securing necessary materials and devices. To-day the experimenter may buy wire, springs, insulators, batteries, and almost anything that might be useful. Morse, with scanty funds and limited time, had to search for his materials and puzzle out the way to make each part for himself with such crude tools as he had available. Need we wonder that his progress was slow? Instead we should wonder that, despite all discouragements and handicaps, he clung to his great idea and labored on.
But assistance was to come to him in this same eventful year of 1837, and that quite unexpectedly. On a Saturday in September a young man named Alfred Vail wandered into Professor Gale's laboratory. Morse was there engaged in exhibiting his model to an English professor then visiting in New York. The youth was deeply impressed with what he saw. He realized that here were possibilities of an instrument that would be of untold service to mankind. Asking Professor Morse whether he intended to experiment with a longer line, he was informed that such was his intention as soon as he could secure the means. Young Vail replied that he thought he could secure the money if Morse would admit him as a partner. To this Morse assented.
Vail plunged into the enterprise with all the enthusiasm of youth. That very evening he studied over the commercial possibilities, and before he retired had marked out on the maps in his atlas the routes for the most needed lines of communication. The young man applied to his father for support. The senior Vail was the head of the Speedwell Iron Works at Morristown, New Jersey, and was a man of unusual enterprise and ability. He determined to back his son in the enterprise, and Morse was invited to come and exhibit his model. Two thousand dollars was needed to make the necessary instruments and secure the patents. On September 23, 1837, the agreement was drawn up by the terms of which Alfred Vail was, at his own expense, to construct apparatus suitable for exhibition to Congress and to secure a patent. In return he was to receive a one-fourth interest. Very shortly afterward they filed a caveat in the Patent Office, which is a notice serving to protect an impending invention.
Alfred Vail immediately set to work on the apparatus, his only helper being a fifteen-year-old apprentice boy named William Baxter. The two worked early and late for many months in a secret room in the iron-works, being forced to fashion every part for themselves. The first machine was a copy of Morse's model, but Vail's native ability as a mechanic and his own ingenuity enabled him to make many improvements. The pencil fastened to the armature which had marked zigzag lines on the moving paper was replaced by a fountain-pen which inscribed long and short lines, and thus the dashes and dots of the Morse code were put into their present form. Morse had worked out an elaborate telegraphic code or dictionary, but a simpler code by which combinations of dots and dashes were used to represent letters instead of numbers in a code was now devised. Vail recognized the importance of having the simplest combinations of dots and dashes stand for the most used letters, as this would increase the speed of sending. He began to figure out for himself the frequency with which the various letters occur in the English language. Then he thought of the combination of types in a type-case, and, going to a local newspaper office, found the result all worked out for him. In each case of type such common letters as e and t have many more types than little used letters such as q and z. By observing the number of types of each letter provided, Vail was enabled to arrange them in the order of their importance in assigning them symbols in the code. Thus the Morse code was arranged as it stands to-day. Alfred Vail played a very important part in the arrangement of the code as well as in the construction of the apparatus, and there are many who believe that the code should have been called the Vail code instead of the Morse code.
Morse came down to Speedwell when he could to assist Vail with the work, and yet it progressed slowly. But at last, early in January of 1838 they had the telegraph at work, and William Baxter, the apprentice boy, was sent to call the senior Vail. Within a few moments he was in the work-room studying the apparatus. Alfred Vail was at the sending key, and Morse was at the receiver. The father wrote on a piece of paper these words: "A patient waiter is no loser." Handing it to his son, he stated that if he could transmit the message to Morse by the telegraph he would be convinced. The message was sent and recorded and instantly read by Morse. The first test had been completed successfully.
"WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?"
Congress Becomes Interested—Washington to Baltimore Line Proposed—Failure to Secure Foreign Patents—Later Indifference of Congress—Lean Years—Success at Last—The Line is Built—The First Public Message—Popularity.
Morse and his associates now had a telegraph which they were confident would prove a genuine success. But the great work of introducing this new wonder to the public, of overcoming indifference and skepticism, of securing financial support sufficient to erect a real line, still remained to be done. We shall see that this burden remained very largely upon Morse himself. Had Morse not been a forceful and able man of affairs as well as an inventor, the introduction of the telegraph might have been even longer delayed.
The new telegraph was exhibited in New York and Philadelphia without arousing popular appreciation. It was viewed as a scientific toy; few saw in it practical possibilities. Morse then took it to Washington and set up his instruments in the room of the Committee on Commerce of the House of Representatives in the Capitol. Here, as in earlier exhibitions, a majority of those who saw the apparatus in operation remained unconvinced of its ability to serve mankind. But Morse finally made a convert of the Hon. Francis O.J. Smith, chairman of the Committee on Commerce. Smith had previously been in correspondence with the inventor, and Morse had explained to him at length his belief that the Government should own the telegraph and control and operate it for the public good. He believed that the Government should be sufficiently interested to provide funds for an experimental line a hundred miles long. In return he was willing to promise the Government the first rights to purchase the invention at a reasonable price. Later he changed his request to a line of fifty miles, and estimated the cost of erection at $26,000.
Smith aided in educating the other members of his committee, and one day in February of 1838 he secured the attendance of the entire body at a test of the telegraph over ten miles of wire. The demonstration convinced them, and many were their expressions of wonder and amazement. One member remarked, "Time and space are now annihilated." As a result the committee reported a bill appropriating $30,000 for the erection of an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore. Smith's report was most enthusiastic in his praise of the invention. In fact, the Congressman became so much interested that he sought a share in the enterprise, and, securing it, resigned from Congress that he might devote his efforts to securing the passage of the bill and to acting as legal adviser. At this time the enterprise was divided into sixteen shares: Morse held nine; Smith, four; Alfred Vail, two; and Professor Gale, one. We see that Morse was a good enough business man to retain the control.
Wheatstone and others were developing their telegraphs in Europe, and Morse felt that it was high time to endeavor to secure foreign patents on his invention. Accompanied by Smith, he sailed for England in May, taking with him a new instrument provided by Vail. Arriving in London, they made application for a patent. They were opposed by Wheatstone and his associates, and could not secure even a hearing from the patent authorities. Morse strenuously insisted that his telegraph was radically different from Wheatstone's, laying especial emphasis on the fact that his recording instrument printed the message in permanent form, while Wheatstone's did not. Morse always placed great emphasis on the recording features of his apparatus, yet these features were destined to be discarded in America when his telegraph at last came into use.
With no recourse open to him but an appeal to Parliament, a long and expensive proceeding with little apparent possibility of success, Morse went to France, hoping for a more favorable reception. He found the French cordial and appreciative. French experts watched his tests and examined his apparatus, pronouncing his telegraph the best of all that had been devised. He received a patent, only to learn that to be effective the invention must be put in operation in France within two years, under the French patent law. Morse sought to establish his line in connection with a railway, as Wheatstone had established his in England, but was told that the telegraph must be a Government monopoly, and that no private parties could construct or operate. The Government would not act, and Morse found himself again defeated. Faring no better with other European governments, Morse decided to return to America to push the bill for an appropriation before Congress.
While Morse was in Europe gaining publicity for the telegraph, but no patents, his former fellow-passenger on the Sully, Dr. Charles Jackson, had laid claim to a share in the invention. He insisted that the idea had been his and that he had given it to Morse on the trip across the Atlantic. This Morse indignantly denied.
Congress would now take no action upon the invention. A heated political campaign was in progress, and no interest could be aroused in an invention, no matter what were its possibilities in the advancement of the work and development of the nation. Smith was in politics, the Vails were suffering from a financial depression, Professor Gale was a man of very limited means, and so Morse found himself without funds or support. In Paris he had met M. Daguerre, who had just discovered photography. Morse had learned the process and, in connection with Doctor Draper, he fitted up a studio on the roof of the university. Here they took the first daguerreotypes made in America.
Morse's work in art had been so much interrupted that he had but few pupils. The fees that these brought to him were small and irregular, and he was brought to the very verge of starvation. We are told of the call Morse made upon one pupil whose tuition was overdue because of a delay in the arrival of funds from his home.
"Well, my boy," said the professor, "how are we off for money?"
The student explained the situation, adding that he hoped to have the money the following week.
"Next week!" exclaimed Morse. "I shall be dead by next week—dead of starvation."
"Would ten dollars be of any service?" asked the student, astonished and distressed.
"Ten dollars would save my life," was Morse's reply.
The student paid the money—all he had—and they dined together, Morse remarking that it was his first meal for twenty-four hours.
Morse's situation and feelings at this time are also illustrated by a letter he wrote to Smith late in 1841.
I find myself [he wrote] without sympathy or help from any who are associated with me, whose interests, one would think, would impell them to at least inquire if they could render me some assistance. For nearly two years past I have devoted all my time and scanty means, living on a mere pittance, denying myself all pleasures and even necessary food, that I might have a sum, to put my telegraph into such a position before Congress as to insure success to the common enterprise. I am crushed for want of means, and means of so trifling a character, too, that they who know how to ask (which I do not) could obtain in a few hours.... As it is, although everything is favorable, although I have no competition and no opposition—on the contrary, although every member of Congress, so far as I can learn, is favorable—yet I fear all will fail because I am too poor to risk the trifling expense which my journey and residence in Washington will occasion me. I will not run in debt, if I lose the whole matter. No one can tell the days and months of anxiety and labor I have had in perfecting my telegraphic apparatus. For want of means I have been compelled to make with my own hands (and to labor for weeks) a piece of mechanism which could be made much better, and in a tenth the time, by a good mechanician, thus wasting time—time which I cannot recall and which seems double-winged to me.
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." It is true, and I have known the full meaning of it. Nothing but the consciousness that I have an invention which is to mark an era in human civilization, and which is to contribute to the happiness of millions, would have sustained me through so many and such lengthened trials of patience in perfecting it.
A patent on the telegraph had been issued to Morse in 1840. The issuance had been delayed at Morse's request, as he desired to first secure foreign patents, his own American rights being protected by the caveat he had filed. Although the commercial possibilities, and hence the money value of the telegraph had not been established, Morse was already troubled with the rival claims of those who sought to secure a share in his invention.
While working and waiting and saving, Morse conceived the idea of laying telegraph wires beneath the water. He prepared a wire by wrapping it in hemp soaked in tar, and then covering the whole with rubber. Choosing a moonlight night in the fall of 1842, he submerged his cable in New York Harbor between Castle Garden and Governors Island. A few signals were transmitted and then the wire was carried away by a dragging anchor. Truly, misfortune seemed to dog Morse's footsteps. This seems to have been the first submarine cable, and in writing of it not long after Morse hazarded the then astonishing prediction that Europe and America would be linked by telegraphic cable.
Failing to secure effective aid from his associates, Morse hung on grimly, fighting alone, and putting all of his strength and energy into the task of establishing an experimental line. It was during these years that he demonstrated his greatness to the full. His letters to the members of the Congressional Committee on Commerce show marked ability. They outline the practical possibilities very clearly. Morse realized not only the financial possibilities of his invention, but its benefit to humanity as well. He also presented very practical estimates of the cost of establishing the line under consideration. The committee again recommended that $30,000 be appropriated for the construction of a Washington-Baltimore line. The politicians had come to look upon Morse as a crank, and it was extremely difficult for his adherents to secure favorable action in the House. Many a Congressman compared Morse and his experiments to mesmerism and similar "isms," and insisted that if the Government gave funds for this experiment it would be called upon to supply funds for senseless trials of weird schemes. The bill finally passed the House by the narrow margin of six votes, the vote being taken orally because so many Congressmen feared to go on record as favoring an appropriation for such a purpose.
The bill had still to pass the Senate, and here there seemed little hope. Morse, who had come to Washington to press his plan, anxiously waited in the galleries. The bill came up for consideration late one evening just before the adjournment. A Senator who noticed Morse went up to him and said:
"There is no use in your staying here. The Senate is not in sympathy with your project. I advise you to give it up, return home, and think no more about it."
The inventor went back to his room, with how heavy a heart we may well imagine. He paid his board bill, and found himself with but thirty-seven cents in the world. After many moments of earnest prayer he retired.
Early next morning there came to him Miss Annie Ellsworth, daughter of his friend the Commissioner of Patents, and said, "Professor, I have come to congratulate you."
"Congratulate me!" replied Morse. "On what?"
"Why," she exclaimed, "on the passage of your bill by the Senate!"
The bill had been passed without debate in the closing moments of the session. As Morse afterward stated, this was the turning-point in the history of the telegraph. His resources were reduced to the minimum, and there was little likelihood that he would have again been able to bring the matter to the attention of Congress.
So pleased was Morse over the news of the appropriation, and so grateful to Miss Ellsworth for her interest in bringing him the good news, that he promised her that she should send the first message when the line was complete. With the Government appropriation at his disposal, Morse immediately set to work upon the Washington-Baltimore line. Professors Gale and Fisher served as his assistants, and Mr. Vail was in direct charge of the construction work. Another person active in the enterprise was Ezra Cornell, who was later to found Cornell University. Cornell had invented a machine for laying wires underground in a pipe.
It was originally planned to place the wires underground, as this was thought necessary or their protection. After running the line some five miles out from Baltimore it was found that this method of installing the line was to be a failure. The insulation was not adequate, and the line could not be operated to the first relay station. A large portion of the $30,000 voted by Congress had been spent and the line was still far from completion. Disaster seemed imminent. Smith lost all faith in the enterprise, demanded most of the remaining money under a contract he had taken to lay the line, and a quarrel broke out between him and Morse which further jeopardized the undertaking.
Morse and such of his lieutenants as remained faithful in this hour of trial, after a long consultation, decided to string the wire on poles. The method of attaching the wire to the poles was yet to be determined. They finally decided to simply bore a hole through each pole near the top and push the wire through it. Stringing the wire in such fashion was no small task, but it was finally accomplished. It was later found necessary to insulate the wire with bottle necks where it passed through the poles. On May 23, 1844, the line was complete. Remembering his promise to Miss Ellsworth, Morse called upon her next morning to give him the first message. She chose, "What hath God wrought?" and early on the morning of the 24th Morse sat at the transmitter in the Supreme Court room in the Capitol and telegraphed these immortal words to Vail at Baltimore. The message was received without difficulty and repeated back to Morse at Washington. The magnetic telegraph was a reality.
Still the general public remained unconvinced. As in the case of Wheatstone's needle telegraph a dramatic incident was needed to demonstrate the utility of this new servant. Fortunately for Morse, the telegraph's opportunity came quickly. The Democratic national convention was in session at Baltimore. After an exciting struggle they dropped Van Buren, then President, and nominated James K. Polk. Silas Wright was named for the Vice-Presidency. At that time Mr. Wright was in Washington. Hearing of the nomination, Alfred Vail telegraphed it to Morse in Washington. Morse communicated with Wright, who stated that he could not accept the honor. The telegraph was ready to carry his message declining the nomination, and within a very few minutes Vail had presented it to the convention at Baltimore, to the intense surprise of the delegates there assembled. They refused to believe that Wright had been communicated with, and sent a committee to Washington to see Wright and make inquiries. They found that the message was genuine, and the utility of the telegraph had been strikingly established.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE TELEGRAPH SYSTEM
The Magnetic Telegraph Company—The Western Union—Crossing the Continent—The Improvements of Alfred Vail—Honors Awarded to Morse—Duplex Telegraphy—Edison's Improvements.
For some time the telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore remained on exhibition as a curiosity, no charge being made for demonstrating it. Congress made an appropriation to keep the line in operation, Vail acting as operator at the Washington end. On April 1, 1845, the line was put in operation on a commercial basis, service being offered to the public at the rate of one cent for four characters. It was operated as a branch of the Post-office Department. On the 4th of April a visitor from Virginia came into the Washington office wishing to see a demonstration. Up to this time not a paid message had been sent. The visitor, having no permit from the Postmaster-General, was told that he could only see the telegraph in operation by sending a message. One cent being all the money he had other than twenty-dollar bills, he asked for one cent's worth. The Washington operator asked of Baltimore, "What time is it?" which in the code required but one character. The reply came, "One o'clock," another single character. Thus but two characters had been used, or one-half cent's worth of telegraphy. The visitor expressed himself as satisfied, and waived the "change." This penny was the line's first earnings.
Under the terms of the agreement by which Congress had made the appropriation for the experimental line, Morse was bound to give the Government the first right to purchase his invention. He accordingly offered it to the United States for the sum of $100,000. There followed a distressing example of official stupidity and lack of foresight. With the opportunity to own and control the nation's telegraph lines before it the Government declined the offer. This action was taken at the recommendation of the Hon. Cave Johnson, then Postmaster-General, under whose direction the line had been operated. He had been a member of Congress at the time the original appropriation was voted, and had ridiculed the project. The nation was now so unfortunate as to have him as its Postmaster-General, and he reported "that the operation of the telegraph between Washington and Baltimore had not satisfied him that, under any rate of postage that could be adopted, its revenues could be made equal to its expenditures." And yet the telegraph, here offered to the Government for $100,000, was developed under private management until it paid a profit on a capitalization of $100,000,000.
Morse seems to have had a really patriotic motive, as well as a desire for immediate return and the freedom from further worries, in his offer to the Government. He was greatly disappointed at its refusal to purchase, a refusal that was destined to make Morse a wealthy man. Amos Kendall, who had been Postmaster-General under Jackson, was now acting as Morse's agent, and they decided to depend upon private capital. Plans were made for a line between New York and Philadelphia, and to arouse interest and secure capital the apparatus was exhibited in New York City at a charge of twenty-five cents a head. The public refused to patronize in sufficient numbers to even pay expenses, and the entire exhibition was so shabby, and the exhibitors so poverty-stricken, that the sleek capitalists who came departed without investing. Some of the exhibitors slept on chairs or on the floor in the bare room, and it is related that the man who was later to give his name and a share of his fortune to Cornell University was overjoyed at finding a quarter on the sidewalk, as it enabled him to buy a hearty breakfast. Though men of larger means refused to take shares, some in humbler circumstances could recognize the great idea and the wonderful vision which Morse had struggled so long to establish—a vision of a nation linked together by telegraphy. The Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed and work started on the line.
In August of 1845 Morse sailed for Europe in an endeavor to enlist foreign capital. The investors of Europe proved no keener than those of America, and the inventor returned without funds, but imbued with increased patriotism. He had become convinced that the telegraph could and would succeed on American capital alone. In the next year a line was constructed from Philadelphia to Washington, thus extending the New York-Philadelphia line to the capital. Henry O'Reilly, of Rochester, New York, took an active part in this construction work and now took the contract to construct a line from Philadelphia to St. Louis. This line was finished by December of 1847.
The path having been blazed, others sought to establish lines of their own without regard to Morse's patents. One of these was O Reilly, who, on the completion of the line to St. Louis, began one to Now Orleans, without authority from Morse or his company. O'Reilly called his telegraph "The People's Line," and when called to account in the courts insisted not only that his instruments were different from Morse's, and so no infringement of his patents, but also that the Morse system was a harmful monopoly and that "The People's Line" should be encouraged. It was further urged that Wheatstone in England and Steinheil in Germany had invented telegraphs before Morse, and that Professor Henry had invented the relay which made it possible to operate the telegraph over long distances. The suits resulted in a legal victory for Morse, and his patents were maintained.
But still other rival companies built lines, using various forms of apparatus, and though the courts repeatedly upheld Morse's patent rights, the pirating was not effectively checked. The telegraph had come to be a necessity and the original company lacked the capital to construct lines with sufficient rapidity to meet the need. Within ten years after the first line had been put into operation the more thickly settled portions of the United States were served by scores of telegraph lines owned by a dozen different companies. Hardly any of these were making any money, though the service was poor and the rates were high. They were all operating on too small a scale and business uses of the telegraph had not yet developed sufficiently.
An amalgamation of the scattered, competing lines was needed, both to secure better service for the public and proper dividends for the investors. This amalgamation was effected by Mr. Hiram Sibley, who organized the Western Union in 1856. The plan was ridiculed at the time, some one stating that "The Western Union seems very like collecting all the paupers in the State and arranging them into a union so as to make rich men of them." But these pauper companies did become rich once they were united under efficient management.