1856 - The Victorian Internet

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Introduction: Reproduced from Bulletin of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, Vol II, for the year 1856, New York. The paper was read at the meeting of the Society on 24 April 1856.

Marshall Lefferts (1821-1876) is listed in this volume as Librarian of the Society. In 1849 Lefferts became president of the New York and New England Telegraph Company, and he remained one of the leading figures in the American telegraph industry until his death in 1876. -- Bill Burns


The Electric Telegraph; its Influence and Geographical Distribution

by Marshall Lefferts

(Bulletin of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, Vol II (1856), New York.)

...This is no fancy sketch. It is but a feeble enumeration of some of the phenomena of electricity. And although its application to the telegraph may not be considered the most beautiful or interesting in a scientific point of view, it must be considered the most practical of its applications and the most beneficial to man...

Step by step has the electrical power unfolded itself. From point to point it has progressed with a steady purpose, until the tickings of the register - talking from Maine to Georgia - foretold the hour when, plunging to the reefs of coral and sand, over mountain and valley of the great deep, it would register the greetings of Europe and America...

Let it be borne in mind that although the progress of electric and magnetic discovery covers very many years, yet its practical application is of very recent date. No further back than 1844, only twelve years since, the first line of wires in this country was erected, between Baltimore and Washington...

In our country the rapid extension of the telegraph system has no parallel in history. Since 1844, we have erected and put in operation about 35,000 miles of line. The wires are to be found on almost every traveled road, giving telegraphic communication to some 800 towns and cities. In fact, every town and city in the United States has telegraphic connection with New York. Citizens, as a general thing, have no conception of the amount of business daily transacted over the wires... Our longest line is from Halifax to New Orleans, a distance following the wires of about 2,400 miles; and it is over this line the steamer's news is sent to all the principal cities...

There are two lines projected to connect Europe and America. One starting from St. Johns, now a station on the present Halifax line, and running thence to Cape Tormentine, thence by submarine cable (already laid) through the straits of Northumberland to Prince Edwards Island, a distance of about 11 miles, thence to Cape Breton, and from Cape Breton by submarine cable again to Cape Ray, the Southwestern Cape of Newfoundland, and thence over Newfoundland to St. Johns, where it is to connect with the transatlantic cable...

In England there is already formed a company who have entered into a contract, by the terms of which and their charter they are to finish the line, and operate it between Newfoundland and Ireland by January 1858. The undertaking is indeed one of vast magnitude, a distance of 1,800 miles...

If we stand amazed at the speed of the locomotive engine, as it rushes past us at the rate of forty miles an hour, our wonder ceases upon the contemplation of the mysterious ticking of a telegraph register... with its speed of 100,000 miles in a second...

To the mariner's compass, the telescope, the microscope, and chronometer we owe much, for they have contributed to the happiness of the world. But they weigh light in the balance against the printing-press, the steam-engine, the electrical light, the lighting of our houses with the gaseous element of coal, or the telegraph with its lightning speed. For it is by these, born in our own generation, displaying the power and high mission of man, we see the future mapped out, ancient barriers destroyed, the elements subjected to his will, and the world brought into familiar intercourse...







Harper's Weekly (1858)