Relay history: entrepreneurs


In the previous section, we saw how components appeared that could already be used to create an electromagnetic telegraph. Now let's find out how they were brought together.

The time is ripe

By the 1830s, it was time to develop telegraph on a large scale.

In the United States and Britain, the era of prospectors passed and the era of entrepreneurs came. New inventions first automated spinning and then cotton weaving, transforming an entire economic sector and collecting hundreds of inexperienced workers to service machines in huge factories. The United States and France created patent systems to encourage innovation, which provided inventors with a temporary monopoly, and Britain improved its system. Increasingly widespread are joint-stock companies that have received government permission to collect popular funds to provide interesting projects. Projects aimed at transforming the world through innovation turned from entertainment to serious activities.

Started the rapid growth of railways. In the USA, each state tried to get commercial advantages over its neighbors, as a result of which they vigorously gave large amounts of land to railway companies, bought debt obligations and provided other assistance to them. By the end of the 1830s, more than 5,100 km of railways appeared, and by the end of the next decade, this length more than doubled. In Britain, economic growth was fueled by investments from private speculators who were looking for an alternative to government debt bonds. Enthusiasm on the part of the railways reached a peak in 1845-46, and then the market collapsed, leaving behind not only dozens of collapsed companies, but thousands of kilometers of roads.

Opening of the Liverpool-Manchester Railway (1830)

Railways and telegraph grew in symbiosis. The rail networks provided ready infrastructure for telegraph wires. Thanks to the telegraph, the railways could better coordinate the trains, prevent congestion and accidents, and increase the capacity.

And this Wednesday came a lot of people, both in Europe and in the USA, who hoped to take the telegraph out of laboratories and lecture halls and introduce it into the real world.


You may remember that in the early 1800s, Samuel Sömmering from Bavaria created a funny telegraph that designated letters using bubbles created by the electrolysis of water (separation of hydrogen and oxygen). We need to return to this story, because in the series of successful events that occurred on the European continent, it played an important role in the creation of the first commercial electric telegraph.

In 1810, Baron Pavel Lvovich Schilling , a Baltic German by birth, a Russian diplomat, orientalist and inventor-electrical engineer who worked at the Russian Embassy in Bavaria, visited Sömmering. Schilling marveled at the Sömmering device and wanted to organize an electrical telegraph in the Russian Empire. At that time, France and Russia were allies of the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, but tensions were already beginning to grow. Napoleon insisted that Alexander I take part in the Continental blockade , which was to exclude Britain from all commercial activities on the European mainland. Having failed to cope with the economic consequences of the blockade, Russia withdrew from the treaty the same year that Schilling’s visit took place. Schilling hoped that the telegraph would help Russia coordinate its forces in the event of a French invasion.

Schilling was not able to build a telegraph in time to meet Napoleon Neman’s crossing in 1812, although he developed a method for remote electric detonation of mines. He worked on the idea of ​​the telegraph in the next decade, but did not make progress until the mid-1820s, when he got a device that used a galvanometer as a detector. He used one needle, hanging wires, parasitic oscillations which were suppressed by mercury. The disc on the wire was painted white on one side and black on the other. When the current caused the needle to turn, it showed the recipient one of the two sides of the disk, depending on the direction of the current flow. Each letter was encoded by a set of such black / white signals — this was one of many systems that anticipated Morse code.

Telegraph Shilling. On the left receiver, on the right - a signal located on a separate circuit, notifying the recipient of the start of the transfer.

By 1835, Schilling demonstrated his device at a meeting of naturalists in Bonn, where, among others, Georg Munke , a professor of natural philosophy from the University of Heidelberg, was present. Impressed by what he saw, Munke ordered a copy of the Schilling telegraph for demonstrations during his lectures at the University. Schilling managed to interest Nicholas I in the construction of a 12 km line between the Peterhof Palace and the Kronstadt Fortress [The first optical telegraph line in Russia, connecting St. Petersburg and Kronstadt, was built in 1833 under the guidance of French engineer Jacques Chateau - approx. trans.]. Unfortunately, Schilling died in 1837, not having time to realize his project and build a long-distance telegraph line in his country.

Cook and Wheatstone

But the meeting of Schilling and Münke was fruitful. Soon after, the son of an English surgeon, William Cook, arrived in Heidelberg to study. Cook served for five years in the army in India, after which he returned to Europe due to illness. He went to the University of Heidelberg to learn how to create anatomical models, in which he succeeded. But he was infected by a new project, after in March 1836 he saw a telegraph demonstration. He wrote twenty years later:

It so happened that I witnessed one of the common uses of electricity for telegraph experiments, which was repeated without practical use for nearly fifty years. Realizing that this device can be used to advantage, exceeding the illustration of lectures, I immediately left my anatomical research, and threw all my zeal for the invention of the practical electric telegraph ...

The following year, Cook worked on various telegraph incarnations, but could not get out of the impasse of the "Barlow problem": he could not get his inventions to work at long distances. He sought the help of the greatest scientific minds of Britain, starting with Michael Faraday . Faraday tried to get rid of this, apparently madman as soon as possible, especially after Cook mentioned his other project to create a perpetual motion machine. Then Cook turned to Peter Roger , secretary of the royal society (today the most famous for his vocabulary is " Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases "), who recommended him to Charles Wheatstone . Their first meeting took place in February 1837.

Wheatstone earned making musical instruments, and also worked as a professor of experimental philosophy at the newly established Royal College of London. He also experimented with the electric telegraph. He became interested in Cook’s proposals and in March they orally agreed on a partnership. Already in May, they sent a joint application for the English patent of the electric telegraph and signed a formal agreement on November 7.

Here we enter the disputed territory, since the contribution of each of the inventors was the subject of heated discussion after they quarreled in 1840. We will not judge them here, but let us mention one interesting question: how did Cook and Wheatstone get around the “Barlow problem” with the achievement of electromagnetic effects at long distances? On March 4, 1837, Cook wrote that he and Wheatstone were still at a dead end over the fact that "the electric fluid loses its magnetic properties when it flows on long stretches." However, at the time of filing the patent in May, they already had a telegraph station operating at long distances.

How did they make this jump? It is possible to combine the available evidence into one logical chain in different ways, but of them the next is closest to me. As we saw in the last article, they needed a theory of circuits that explained the configuration of the equipment needed to send a signal over a long wire. Two theories already existed: the mathematical model of George Ohm and the descriptive Joseph Henry.

On April 1, 1837, Joseph Henry visited Wheatstone at King's College. Henry was on a science tour in Europe at that time. He wrote that Wheatstone told him about Ohm's law and showed a French translation of Ohm's work from 1835. Henry told Wheatstone about his experiments, namely, how he used a high intensity (high voltage) and long circuit to control a quantitative (high current) circuit with a powerful electromagnet.

Some claim that this meeting was a landmark, and that Wheatstone, after listening to Henry, understood the importance of Ohm’s law for the telegraph. But it is very likely, according to Henry, that Wheatstone already then understood the applicability of Ohm’s law to the telegraph - in particular, the need for an “intensive” battery with many cells connected in a row to send current over a long wire. Of course, there is a temptation to imagine that Wheatstone, having quickly said goodbye to Henry, rushed to his laboratory to correct the telegraph — with Silliman’s Journal, where Henry’s work was published, in one hand, and with Ohm’s translation into another.

The design, on which Cook and Wheatstone stopped in their patent, consisted of five circuits, each of which controlled one needle in the same way as in the Schilling telegraph. The ingenious keyboard developed by Wheatstone was used to rotate the two needles so that their intersection showed one of the twenty letters (rare letters such as Q were thrown out of the alphabet). In the absence of a code, the receiving and sending side did not require special skills. But as a result, the cost prevailed over ease of use and the design of the five needles was used only in the very first of the constructed lines. After that, the partners switched to a system with two, and then with one needle, which coded the letters through a series of turns left and right.

A year after the start of the joint work, Cook and Wheatstone zapped the first customer, Great Western Railway. The railway company agreed to extend a trial line for five needles between Paddington in central London and West Dryton, over a distance of 24 km. After this, things did not go very well, although they found several more railways ready to build small test lines. Only in 1842, Great Western Railway agreed to extend the line another 10 kilometers to Slough, and a year later to Windsor.

Passenger locomotive Argus on the Great Western Railway

Meanwhile, Cook and Wheatstone successfully defended their patent against Edward Davey and William Alexander, their compatriots who offered their version of the telegraph, and secured a telegraph monopoly in the United Kingdom for the near future. Then, two striking events helped to create interest in their device: a message from Windsor about the birth of a child by Queen Victoria and the capture of the killer who was trying to get away from Slough to the capital on the Great Western Railway train. Soon went and new contracts; one of the larger ones is a 50 km line for the Admiralty, which agreed to test the electric telegraph almost three decades after the blatant failure of Francis Ronalds.

The Cooke and Wheatstone partnerships began to fall apart in 1840, when they began to argue about who should get the glory of the invention. Each of them sincerely believed that the other only helped him. Looking back, both of them were auxiliary persons in the long progress of various electrical ideas that had developed over several decades. But without people like Cook and Wheatstone, the telegraph would have remained a device "for demonstration during lectures," as Cook said.

Their device worked for several decades, under the auspices of the company Electric Telegraph, the director of which was Cook, until 1870. This year, the state took over all the electric telegraphs in the country, sending them to the post office, as has already happened on the continent. Wheatstone returned to his scientific and technical studies, and will soon play a major role in the development of submarine telegraph cables.

Gauss, Weber and Steingale

The first electric telegraph, used for the practical transmission of messages, was probably one of the strangest. It was built by the famous mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss and his partner, the physicist Wilhelm Weber , who worked in the city of Göttingen, which at that time was part of the Hanover kingdom .

Gauss and Weber worked together for many years on electricity and magnetism, and in 1832 conducted a deep study of geomagnetism - the structure of the Earth’s magnetic field. To do this, they built a contour two and a half kilometers long, stretching to synchronize the magnetic measurements on the roofs between their two workplaces: the Gauss Observatory and Weber’s physical office. You can imagine how surprised the locals mysterious wires.

Soon, scientists realized that they could use the line they had built for other types of collaboration, for example, by coding the letters in the signal. The system was unlike anything else, mainly because it was a scientific experiment, which turned into a messaging device. First, electricity was created not by electroplating, but by electromagnetic induction, a recently discovered effect in which a magnetic field can generate an electric current. The message sender moved the coil of wire along the magnet, creating a current in the wire. The receiver device consisted of a long magnet suspended inside a tightly wound coil on the other side of the wire. But the deviations of this magnet were extremely small, so the system required a third component - a telescope. Directed to the mirror, connected to a rotating magnet, he helped to read the position of the magnet on the scale. Each letter was coded as a sequence of movements left / right on the scale.

Gauss and Weber regularly used their telegraph until December 1837, when the death of William IV put an end to the unification of the crowns of England and Hanover. The new ruler of Hanover, Ernst August, abolished the liberal constitution and demanded that civil servants (including university professors) swear him an oath. Weber was one of several employees at the University of Gottingen who signed a letter of protest, as a result of which they were all fired. Weber moved to Leipzig. Gauss found the letter useless and did not sign it, although the presence of the signature of his son-in-law meant painful separation from his daughter. He remained in Göttingen until his death in 1855.

Apparently, Gauss and Weber, who concentrated on philosophical research, did not have the time and desire to expand the field of telegraph use. But in 1835, Karl Steingheil, a professor of mathematics and physics in Munich, came to visit them. He knew Gauss from his student years in Gottingen, and when he saw the telegraph, he was struck by its potential: in particular, he saw its value as a signal device of growing European railways.

During the year he made his version of the telegraph. He left a magnet to generate a current in the wire, but replaced a heavy hulking magnet with a telescope with two signal needles. Unlike the Clark and Wheatstone systems, both were driven by the same circuit, so that the needles rotated in opposite directions with respect to the current. Each needle was connected to an inkwell. When the needle was turning to the right, it touched the paper tape moving clockwise. By sending electrical pulses in one direction or another, it was possible to record sequences of code points in two rows. Different sequences from the upper and lower points denoted letters and numbers 0-9. To facilitate learning the code, Steingheil invented sequences that resembled letters.

Telegraph developers everywhere converged on the use of such two-signal codes (they cannot be called binary, since the intervals also had meaning). Until the 1830s, developers tried to represent the letters directly: with one wire for each letter or with the synchronization of dials. The first option was expensive, and the second - slow. If the dial was rotated every 30 seconds, the average waiting time between letters would be 15 seconds. The system with codes avoided such problems, the two-signal code was the simplest possible, and electrical circuits had an obvious way of expressing signals: changing the direction of the current.

To prove the practicality of the system, Steingheil built a 10 km long line between the Royal Academy in the center of Munich and the Royal Observatory in the suburb of Bogenhausen, and made several of its branches. In 1838, the Bavarian government sponsored a test line 8 km long on the railway from Nuremberg to Fürth, but decided that this enterprise was too expensive.

Morse and vail

And then, finally, we got to a name that immediately comes to mind at the mention of the telegraph: Samuel F. B. Morse .

In 1832, Morse, an artist known for his portraits, was returning from France with a new dream of a gallery containing in one panorama all the famous paintings of the Louvre, and making them accessible to an American audience. On the ship, he accidentally sat down to dine with Charles Jackson, a doctor from Boston, and they talked about the latest discoveries in the field of electricity and electromagnetism. Jackson noted that Benjamin Franklin has long shown that electricity can go along a wire of any length. Morse, as he recalled later, came upon an insight: “if the presence of electricity can be demonstrated in any part of the circuit, I see no reason why electricity could not transmit information”.

Having reached the USA, Morse took up these projects, completely ignoring what others had already created or just made electric telegraphs. He worked on it for the next five years, simultaneously developing his career as an artist and teaching art at the newly-formed New York University. Then in 1837 three events forced him to concentrate all his forces on the telegraph.

At first he failed as a nativist.. Morse believed in the fate of the American empire, as well as the fact that the influx of Germans, Irish and other second-class people who flooded the country would prevent this fate. He believed that these "hermaphrodites" were more loyal to the Pope or their native countries than to America, and therefore would bring discord into it. In 1836, inspired by political convictions, Morse accepted from the Democratic Association of Native Americans an nomination for mayor of New York. But he took the last place in the elections, receiving 1,500 votes against 16,000 from the winner, Democrat S. V. Lawrence.

The next failure of Morse touched him much deeper, because he had long dreamed of becoming a renowned historical artist. He wanted to immortalize the greatness of America just as Rubens immortalized Ancient Greece in the fresco " Athenian School". The main means of realization of these hopes were four paintings in the rotunda of the Capitol. Even before leaving for Europe, Morse hoped that he would be chosen to paint them, but in the spring of 1837 it was decided that he was not among the four selected artists.

Morse was still moving away from this disappointment, as he was beaten by a new blow. On April 15, 1837, an article about two Frenchmen, Gonon and Serval, who arrived in the United States to display a telegraph was reprinted in his brother's newspaper. They claimed that he would produce a revolution in the transmission of messages, and would deliver messages from New York to New Orleans in 30 minutes. It turned out that the French were proposing a variant of the optical telegraph, one that was created in France by the Chappe brothers. But Morse decided that they had revealed his great idea, and hurried to collect evidence in favor of his priority and finish the work on the telegraph.

After temporary turmoil, Morse regained his faith in himself. He will not leave a mark in the history of the empire as a great artist or a great politician - he will be a great inventor. He completely surrendered to the project with the telegraph. By this time it should already be clear that it would be absurd to designate Morse as the inventor of the telegraph. He did not have a single inventor. The main thing in Morse’s work was not the invention of the device, but his 1) persistence for many years of failures and disappointments and 2) skill in choosing partners.

The telegraph variant that Morse had by 1837 is the only invention that can be unambiguously attributed to him. It has not been put into practice for reasons that will soon become apparent.

1837 Morse Telegraph Scheme

At the bottom of the illustration of the Morse diagram you can see the sending device, ruler holder. The sender created the message by tucking several metal teeth into a wooden ruler, and then swiping it under the sending needle. The needle, moving up and down through the teeth, interrupted and closed the telegraph circuit. In such a scheme, typing a message “how are you” before sending would be a very tedious task.

Above is a receiver with a canvas. On top of the thread hangs a handle, to which is attached a piece of metal. When the circuit is closed, the electromagnet retracts the handle and drags it over the paper below. A mechanical scheme with gears and weights pulls a roll of paper under the pen, as a result of which each movement leaves a trace in the shape of the letter “V”. A sequence of traces indicates a number associated with a word or sentence in a code book.

Morse knew that his device was clumsy, and even hesitated to show it to people. He had another, more serious problem - “the problem of Barlow”. His telegraph worked on the length of the wire no more than 12 meters. But soon he found partners able to help him solve both telegraph problems: mechanical and electrical.

With the problem of distance, Morse turned to a colleague from New York University, Professor of Chemistry Leonard Gale. Gail immediately understood the cause of the problems of Morse equipment, since he read Joseph Henry's work of 1831 on "intensive" batteries and electromagnets and their use in the telegraph. He replaced the Morse battery from one cell with a battery of 40 cells and created a magnet with a tightly wound coil. Soon, Morse managed to demonstrate at the university his telegraph, working at a distance of up to 500 m.

After the demonstration, a former student and an experienced mechanic, Alfred Weil , approached Morse.. In exchange for a quarter of the income from the invention, Vale agreed to create a new model of telegraph (using money from the family who owned the Speedwell Metallurgical Plant in New Jersey), suitable for practical use. Vale replaced the ruler with a simple switch operated by a lever with a button known as the “key”. He simplified the mechanism of the receiver and replaced the handle with a bar with a spring and a thickening that made marks on paper.

The key of the Vale.

The receiver of the Vale.

Now Morse was ready to attack his main client: the US government. In early 1837, the US House of Representativesconsidered the possibility of creating a telegraph line from New York to New Orleans - they imagined an optical system. On their instructions, the US Treasury Secretary sent a request for information and suggestions regarding telegraphs. Morse responded to the request with a proposal to create an electric telegraph, which, according to him, will be cheaper, more secret, and will always work, at any time of the day and in any weather.

In the United States, the debate on improvements in the country, which began several decades ago, continued: whether the government should interfere in the processes that we would call infrastructure costs today. Whig Party[opposition to President Andrew Jackson and Democrats in the middle of the XIX century in the USA - approx. under the leadership of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, they supported such investments as a way to stimulate commerce and unite the vast American continent, while Jackson supporters, Democrats, for the most part opposed such costs because they provided fertile ground for corruption and favoritism.

By intervening in this dispute, Morse fought for Congress approval for almost six years. At this time, he traveled to Europe for patents and potential partners and learned more about competitors. He failed to register the rights to the telegraph in Europe. Attorney General of England and Walesrefused him a request. He managed to find a loophole in France, but it did not mean anything without construction orders from the government, which, according to the law, controlled all the telegraphs of France. Morse drew the interest of many politicians, from Lord Elgin (famous for " Elgin's marbles ") to Agent Nicholas I (who was interested in building a telegraph even by Shilling), but none of them signed an agreement on the construction of a telegraph in Europe.

However, Morse was not disappointed in the project. He met with Wheatstone, learned of the existence of the Steingale telegraph, and convinced him that only his telegraph was working on the same circuit (then Cook and Wheatstone had not yet used the one-needle version) and possessed a recording device (Morse believed that without writing a message on paper will be lost due to inattentive operators). But he was wrong - the Steingel telegraph had both of these possibilities. Perhaps the confusion arose from the fact that Steingel had two needles, so one would have thought that his telegraph worked on two circuits.

Shortly before the European tour, Morse came up with his famous code: a two-signal coded alphabet, like other telegraph entrepreneurs. But he had a serious advantage - in order to distinguish the signals, the duration of the electrical impulse was used, and not its directionality. The fact that Morse ignored the peculiarities of electricity played into his hands when he looked at the more obvious choice. As a result, it simplified the equipment (there was no need for a switch to change the direction of the current) and work with it (it was not necessary to remember which mode of “direction” you are in).

In 1843, Morse finally won a grant of $ 30,000 from Congress to build a trial line from Washington to Baltimore. The line was completed in May 1844, just before the start of the Democratic Congress in Baltimore. The original demonstration with the transfer of the famous message “What hath God wrought” [“What God did” - a phrase from the Book of Numbers / approx. trans.] did not make much of an impression. But the transfer of news from the congress became a sensation among the political class in Washington. Suddenly, fans of politics got the opportunity to find out urgent news about polls and other events almost instantly at a distance of several kilometers.

But the success of the candidate of this congress in the ensuing presidential elections led to a change in the political climate. Neither elected by James Polknor the democratic congress that went with him to the government was interested in domestic investments in infrastructure. They were busy annexing Texas, New Mexico, California and Oregon. It became clear that the Baltimore-Washington experiment has no future, and that Morse will have to seek help from private investors.

But Morse, who always sought to simply sell the rights to his patent to the government "wholesale", was not interested in immersion in the world of business and finance. He transferred this task to a new partner, Amos Kendal, the former US General Postmaster General, who had good connections. Kendnal organized the company Magnetic Telegraph and did all the dirty work of finding investments, pushing through the necessary laws and concluding deals to expand Morse telegraph. It is through his efforts that wooden poles and copper wires began their journey across the United States — first along the coast to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston; then westward, inland.

Pulling the wires was much cheaper than laying rails, so the telegraph network overtook its predecessor, connecting New Orleans and San Francisco to the east coast before the railways did. By 1850, over 16,000 km of wires were already stretched in the USA. As in the case of the French telegraph, the development of this network was accelerated by the war: major cities in the east needed to know the latest news about the conflict with Mexico, which was unleashed by the expansionary policies of the Regiment in 1846. But mostly the wires were used for commercial purposes, especially by financiers - the prices of goods and stock reports were passed through them. The nation had an extensive commercial nervous system that worked along with the railway circulatory system.

The Morse / Weil system has become the most popular in the world, eclipsing Cook and Wheatstone, Steinheil and many others. There were probably two reasons for this: the scale of growth in the vast American continent and the simplicity of the equipment of Vale and the Morse code. After the fact, the system made one change: the operators realized that they would be able to quickly understand and write the message simply by listening to the blows of a metal hammer, instead of alternately looking at the code written on the tape, then at their handwritten text. And the recorder that Morse believed was necessary was discarded.

Sound Recorder Not Recording

Among all these overlapping stories, it is impossible to single out the moment and the person who invented the telegraph. And this is also a simplified version of the story, which did not include personalities like Davey, Baine, Alexander, Dayar, and such stories as Gauss’s visit to Sömmering, Schilling’s visit to Gauss, Morse’s conversations with Henry. As a result, Morse became the main driving force leading to the creation of a line between Washington and Baltimore in 1844. Since this was the basis of the American telegraph empire, Morse got the lion’s share of fame for the telegraph.

Whatever its origin, contemporaries perceived the creation of the electric telegraph as a turning point in the history of man, along with railroads and steam engines, which collectively destroyed space and time. Decades later, Henry Adams wrote that "he and his 18th-century Troglodytes Boston were suddenly cut ... his new world was ready for use, and only separate fragments of the old were visible to his eye."

Henry Toro was more skeptical about what was happening, noting in his book Walden, or Life in the Forest“that the telegraph and its satellites were only“ improved means for achieving the goal left without improvements. ”I think both are right. Despite the hopes of many people, including Morse himself, the telegraph did not bring moral transformation of society. did not unite humanity and did not create world peace — on the contrary, but the telegraph transformed politics, commerce, war, and so on.

Telegraph history can be tracked in different ways. You can trace the history of entrepreneurship - conflicts between Magnetic Telegraph and its competitors, the formation of Western Union, the unsuccessful attempt to control the phone, and so on. Or you can focus on technical development, which helped increase the scale of the telegraph system - duplex for two-way communication on one wire, Thomas Edison quadruplex, stock watches, submarine cables. Perhaps the most interesting thing would be to track the social and political influence of the telegraph, in journalism, finance, empire management, and so on.

But, despite her impression, it is not the story of the telegraph. So we will have to say goodbye to all these stories and wish the telegraph good luck in his adventures. We have torewind time back to the 1830s , to find there, for the sake of which they set off on a journey - a relay.

What to read

• Daniel Walker Howe, The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (2007).
W. James King, “The Development of Electrical Technology in the 19th Century: [The Telegraph]”, in George Shiers, ed. , The Electric Telegraph: An Historical Anthology (1977).
• EA Marland, Early Electrical Communication (1964)
• Kenneth Silverman, Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel FB Morse (2003)


All Articles