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Telecommunications and other technologies

Telegraph   Telephone   Electricity   Elevators   Household technology   Photography  Railroads   Economics of Railroads   Refrigeration   Transportation   Typewriters   Family planning   Money

After the first messages were transmitted over the Atlantic Cable in August 1858 between Valentia, Ireland, and Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, September 1st was declared as the official day of celebration in New York City. The day began with services at Trinity Church, which was filled to overflowing. At noon Cyrus Field and the ships' officers landed at Castle Garden and received a national salute. A procession formed and extended from the Battery to the Crystal Palace at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, where many addresses were made. This was followed by a fireman's torchlight parade.  [Pictures by Napoleon Saronyhttp://www.atlantic-cable.com/1858NY/

An experimental line from Baltimore to Washington, built with $30,000 appropriated by Congress, opened in 1845.  The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1857 (and lasted only two weeks).  A transcontinental line was opened in 1866.  In that year there were 2,250 telegraph offices.  By 1895 there were 21,360 offices and over 58 million telegrams were sent (with receipts estimated at $25 million).  [Depew?]

The importance of the telegraph is amply noted in the letters

Telegram from EJ Phillips to Albert, from San Francisco, Aug 10, 1888

Chicago, June 7, 1886  Hope I shall hear from you to-morrow -- if I do not I shall feel inclined to telegraph to see what is the matter

Chicago June 13, 1886  Telegraph me if you decide to go -- as a letter takes two days to reach me, and that is a loss of time.  Should Mr. Riley's reply be satisfactory and you go, telegraph "All is well" and I shall understand you are going.  I mention this way of telegraphing supposing you may want to keep your departure unknown until prepared to go. ...Should you make arrangements to go, telegraph all you want by night message and I will pay for it here.  My heart is with you in all you do -- It is hard to have you so far away 

Chicago, July 5, 1886  Well, [Herbert] Kelcey and [AM] Palmer are having a good time by telegraph.  Mr. Palmer having cast Mr. [Frederic] Robinson for Jim the Penman and Mr. Kelcey not only refused to play a part named Percival that he is cast for, but demands the part of "Jim".  Mr. Palmer telegraphed this morning that he would not change the cast.  So Kelcey and wife will leave they say. 

Chicago, July 9, 1886  Mr. [Herbert] Kelcey claimed the part of Jim the Penman -- He refused the part of Percival for which he was cast and demanded Jim or he would leave the theatre!! Well there was a great time telegraphing between him and Palmer, and between Wallack and Kelcey....Mrs. Kelcey telegraphed Palmer that Sealed Instructions must be withdrawn from next week's programme or she would resign!  Well it is withdrawn and Our Society takes its place. 

San Francisco, July 31, 1886  I found out last night that it cost only one dollar to telegraph to NY or Phila, so I telegraphed you both, but I dare say that Hattie will telegraph you too as I told her to do so - as I thought a telegraph would cost 2 dollars, so I sent two on learning it would only cost the same for two as one.

Telegraph Hill, San Francisco Aug. 21, 1886

Denver, Sept 26, 1886 There has been a great deal of telegraphing and excitement about our staying, the management here offering a big certainty for our stay. 

San Francisco Aug. 14, 1888 Telegraphing is expensive. I paid $1.15 for the telegram I sent you.  

San Francisco  Aug. 23, 1888  My first impulse on reading your letter was to telegraph you my congratulations, but M'[iddle]town being a small place, I thought it might get abroad, and any amt of conjectures and constructions put thereon, the secrecy of the Telegraph to the contrary notwithstanding. 

Denver, Aug, 31, 1890  According to telegraphic news the weather was pretty hot in New York City last week. 

The  1897 Hotel Aragon, Atlanta  letterhead has the only cable address in these letters.

Bell's telephone was put into commercial use in 1877.  The first (and only) sign of a telephone in these letters is a number on hotel stationery in 1896  -- in Vancouver,  British Columbia.  The line from New York  to Chicago did not open until 1892.  

In 1881 there were 47,880 telephone subscribers.  By 1893 there were 243,432.  In contrast, the British Isles (with more than half the US population) had only 75,000 subscribers. [Depew?]

The Lyceum Theatre was built in 1885 (demolished in 1902) by Steele MacKaye who had recently been forced out of the Madison Square Theater.  The new theatre incorporated many of the innovations of the older auditorium and was the first theatre erected with electrical lighting throughout the building.  The lighting was supervised by MacKaye's friend Thomas Edison." 

MacKaye's  Madison Square Theatre also had a very early form of air conditioning. 

New York, April 17, 1889  New York is in an uproar [in preparation for the Centennial of George Washington's Inauguration. Seats for the crowds being erected all through the line of March.  Telegraph poles being pulled down and altogether things are lively.  Last night the City was dark as we had no electric light & the gas was not in good trim.

Philadelphia, Oct. 4, 1891  The house is entirely new, same rent as this one, but with more advantages in the way of electricity, lighting, gas and gas burners in cellar

Syracuse, Nov, 18, 1892  So dark, I had to turn on the electric light. This is a grand new hotel and elegantly furnished.  I have parlor & bedroom, $3 per day.  

The Columbian Exposition Chicago 1893 included an Electric Building

Yankowitz, Donna, Invention of  the light bulb. http://www.ushistory.net/toc/electricity.html 
Thomas Edison http://www.ushistory.net/toc/edison.html  

City Lights Antique Lighting, Cambridge MA http://www.citylights.nu/  has wall sconces and chandeliers c1850-1950.   

Pre-hydraulic passenger elevators had been invented by 1857 and the Otis Elevator Company installed their first one in a store in New York City in the same year. By 1875, according to the Otis Elevator Company Historic Archives in Farmington, Connecticut, the company had installed passenger and freight elevators throughout the United States including in New Orleans, St. Louis, and at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.  Nevada State Archives, Historical Myth a Month  Myth # 26, "Would You Believe: The First Elevator West of the Mississippi?!" Guy Rocha, Nevada State Archivist  http://dmla.clan.lib.nv.us/docs/nsla/archives/myth/myth26.htm 

An undated Sarony photograph notes  Elevator from the Street

New York Mar. 5, 1894  Aberdeen Hotel $7 per week for room on the 5th floor but there is a "lift" after arriving at the 1st floor.

John Dolman (Hattie's husband) was an enthusiastic photographer.  So was Dr. Nagle, as Jacob Riis recounts. 
Invention of flash powder
  as reported by Jacob Riis

Napoleon Sarony and Sister Carrie http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA02/volpe/theater/theater/sarony.html 

Photography as advertising   EJ Phillips' professional photographs

Ambrotype process History of Photography http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/ambrotyp.htm  1850s-late 1880s.  Tintypes are variant of this.

Philadelphia 5-30-94  Has Ted had a ride in the electric cars yet?

Philadelphia Sept. 18, 1894  No doubt the Trolley will be very convenient, but I hope Ted will be very careful about crossing the street.  It is a dangerous luxury, and will spoil the nice driveway. 

EJP also mentions cabs and carriages, and driving a horse drawn carriage (briefly) in San Francisco in July 1890.    

Tacoma,  June 1890 "street cars here worked by electricity" 

Denver Aug 29, 1890 They have both cable cars and electric here,

Los Angeles, Sept. 17, 1888 This seems to be quite a thriving City.  Has horse cars, cable cars, and all the modern improvements in lighting. 

Blizzard of 1888: Building the Invisible City, Virtual New York, New Media Lab, CUNY http://www.vny.cuny.edu/blizzard/building/building_fr_set.html 
Blizzard of 1888: Moving the Masses, Virtual New York, New Media Lab, CUNY  http://www.vny.cuny.edu/blizzard/masses/moving_fr_set.html 

Elevated railways, Forgotten NY, Kevin Walsh http://www.forgotten-ny.com/SUBWAYS/stubways/stubways.html 

While New York subway construction did not begin until 1900, the first elevated railroad opened in 1868 (from Greenwich Street from the Battery to Cortlandt Street).  "Joseph Warren Beach opens pneumatic subway under Broadway from Warren to Murray Streets and Ninth Avenue El reaches 30th Street" in 1870.  "Sixth Avenue El opens from Rector Street  to Central Park" in 1880. [Blue guide, 1983]

Proposals for municipal railways went back to the 1830s, but serious progress on rapid transit waited until the 1860s, when, inspired by the opening of the innovative London subway, Alfred Beach tried to open a "pneumatic underground railway, only to run into Boss Tweed's opposition...  The only other option for rapid transit -- that is, for transportation that did not have to negotiate Gotham's glutted streets -- was to run the trains in the air on elevated stilts above the city streets.  Charles Harvey and his associates raised the world's first elevated line in 1867.  A crude single-track railroad supporte4d by thin stanchions, it was drawn by cable from the Battery to 30th Street, along Ninth Avenue. [Kessner, Capital City p. 180] 

The arrival of cable-powered cars in [New York in] 1890 marked an improvement in speed, comfort, and service over earlier systems of intracity transport, and necessitated the replacement of outdated equipment with new cable-driven apparatus  http://www.mcny.org/Collections/paint/Painting/pttcat46.htm

Ferries "Scores of [steam ferry boats] now traverse the waters around the city ...much more serviceable than they appear." [Kings NYC]

Brick streets in New York, Forgotten NY, Kevin Walsh http://www.forgotten-ny.com/COBBLESTONES/Brick%20Streets/bricks1.html 

Some information on New York street car lines in New York walking tour and Boarding house life

Railroads  made a huge impact.  Prior to the transcontinental railroad (and the building of the Panama Canal in the 20th century) trips to California involved lengthy and treacherous voyages around the southern tip of South America or travel through the malaria infested isthmus.

EJP to Albert, Newark Apr. 6, 1894
Allow me to congratulate you on your success in typewriting.  The longest letter I have rec'd from you in two years. 

Harper's Weekly on typewriters: http://businessmachines.harpweek.com/HubPages/CommentaryPage.asp?Commentary=02Tn...

Household Technology 
History of Household Technology, Library of Congress Tracer Bullet http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/tracer-bullets/householdtb.html  

"the nights so warm that we have not lighted the gas [lighting?]"  Philadelphia, June 1888

Sewing machines
Boston, Apr. 29, 1890  I sent the [sewing?] machine belongings in another package -- all but oil can.  That you will have to replace, as the one I had leaked, and was not worth sending. 

I can't imagine what other type of machine this might be.

Sewing machine ads

ads in Hammerstein's Harlem Opera House program, week of Jan. 24, 1895 Camille

No mention of "ice boxes" or of ice delivery, but a Jan 23rd, 1887 letter talks of storage "I have a storage bill to pay on Thursday.  I guess it will be pretty heavy as I sent the refrigerator to Mrs. Dolman, & bureau, machine chair [what is this?] &c. here. . 

The only references are to ice cream in 1895 and 1896 and "a very cold apollonian lemonade" in April 1891.  

But Odell mentions that "During the summer [run of Prince Karl with Richard Mansfield at the Madison Square Theatre in 1886]  ladies in the audience were served gratis with ices from Maillard's, just a few steps from the theatre, at the corner of Broadway and 24th Street. 

Family planning

Greenberg, Stanley and Thomas H. Garber, Invisible New York: The Hidden infrastructure of the City, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998
Marvin, Carolyn, When Old Technologies were New: Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century, Oxford Univ. Press, 1990
Melosi, Martin V. The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present (Creating the North American Landscape), Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1999

Last Updated Feb. 19, 2005

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