Cat’s Cafe, Ch. 20

This photo can be found in the current issue, dated December 16, 2022, of in an article explaining the significance of Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph. He was issued a patent in 1840 for his original design which looks quite different from the one shown below that was probably in use by the 1870s.

Telegraph key and sounder, Western Electric Manufacturing Co., Chicago, circa 1876, Wisconsin Historical Museum

Chapter 20 – Hello telegraph, goodbye Pony Express

The invention of the telegraph dramatically changed the possibilities for communicating in America. The extremely long distances between the east coast and the west made keeping in touch very difficult. This was improved by the advent of the Pony Express, but the Pony Express was quickly made obsolete by the advent of the telegraph. By the time period depicted in Cat’s Cafe, Samuel Morse’s modifications to the previous use of electricity to transfer information by wire became the new age of communication, facilitating a remarkedly improved method of communicating over the vast distances found in America.

In the early 1800s, Leopoldo Nobili invented the Astatic Galvanometer, an instrument that could measure variations in electrical transmissions. It was a predecessor of the telegraph. Later inventions using twenty-six electrical lines were invented to transmit distant signals but proved too clumsy for practical use.

In 1843 the American government financed the construction of the first telegraphic communications system developed by Samuel Morse. This system used only one wire, and the use of his code allowed practical communication between more distant points for the first time. The railroads made arrangements to install telegraph lines along all their routes. Since national time zones weren’t agreed upon until 1918, railroad companies utilized the telegraph to coordinate rail traffic. This was essential since almost all railroad lines were single tracks accommodating traffic in both directions. The telegraph soon also became a tool for businesses to conduct trade over long distances. During the Civil War, Lincoln used telegraph to keep up with the various battles and communicate directly with his generals.

The telegraph put the Pony Express out of business. In the mid-19th century, mail overland by stage coach took twenty-five days to reach California or months by ship. The Pony Express had an average delivery time of just ten days. In March of 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address was delivered from Nebraska to California in seven days and seventeen hours by Pony Express. Despite this impressive achievement, the Pony Express only lasted a year and a half before going bankrupt. When Western Union completed the transcontinental telegraph line in Salt Lake City in October of 1861, the Pony Express ceased service two days later. In the nineteen months of its existence, Pony Express riders had delivered nearly 35,000 pieces of mail

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