Sunday, October 25, 2015

“Mr. Jeppers, send a telegram to San Francisco.”

Before October 1861, it would have been possible for a banker in Salt Lake City to say that, but anybody farther east would have been out of luck.

Just before the start of the Civil War,  telegraph lines connected the East Coast to as far west as western Missouri, and the West Coast could send messages by wire as far east as Salt Lake City. The central plains, essentially what is now Kansas and Colorado, had no poles (no trees!) and no wire.

Congress in 1860 offered a bounty of $40,000 a year to the first company that could connect the East Coast and West Coast telegraph networks. Wire, glass insulators and poles would have to be shipped by horse-drawn wagon from San Francisco to the construction zone.

The Western Union Telegraph Co. took up the challenge and completed the line to create the coast-to-coast communications channel which we have largely taken for granted for the last 154 years. The transcontinental railroad wouldn’t be complete until 1869.

Imagine the reality of 1860. Imagine that your text message to your sweetie on the other side of the country had to be copied out and carried by stagecoach or a horseman through Kansas and Colorado, weather permitting.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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