HEROES OF THE TELEGRAPH
By J. MUNRO
Author of ‘ELECTRICITY AND ITS USES,’ PIONEERS OF ELECTRICITY,’ ‘THE WIRE AND THE WAVE’; AND JOINT AUTHOR OF ‘MUNRO AND JAMIESON’S POCKET-BOOK OF ELECTRICAL RULES AND TABLES.’
(Note: All accents etc. have been omitted. Italics have been converted to capital letters. The British ‘pound’ sign has been written as ‘L’. Footnotes have been placed in square brackets at the place in the text where a suffix originally indicated their existence.)
The present work is in some respects a sequel to the PIONEERS OF ELECTRICITY, and it deals with the lives and principal achievements of those distinguished men to whom we are indebted for the introduction of the electric telegraph and telephone, as well as other marvels of electric science.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE TELEGRAPH
II. CHARLES WHEATSTONE
III. SAMUEL MORSE
IV. SIR WILLIAM THOMSON
V. SIR WILLIAM SIEMENS
VI. FLEEMING JENKIN
VII. JOHANN PHILIPP REIS
VIII. GRAHAM BELL
IX. THOMAS ALVA EDISON
X. DAVID EDWIN HUGHES
I. CHARLES FERDINAND GAUSS
II. WILLIAM EDWARD WEBER
III. SIR WILLIAM FOTHERGILL COOKE
IV. ALEXANDER BAIN
V. DR. WERNER SIEMENS
VI. LATIMER CLARK
VII. COUNT DU MONCEL
VIII. ELISHA GRAY
THE ORIGIN OF THE TELEGRAPH.
The history of an invention, whether of science or art, may be compared to the growth of an organism such as a tree. The wind, or the random visit of a bee, unites the pollen in the flower, the green fruit forms and ripens to the perfect seed, which, on being planted in congenial soil, takes root and flourishes. Even so from the chance combination of two facts in the human mind, a crude idea springs, and after maturing into a feasible plan is put in practice under favourable conditions, and so develops. These processes are both subject to a thousand accidents which are inimical to their achievement. Especially is this the case when their object is to produce a novel species, or a new and great invention like the telegraph. It is then a question of raising, not one seedling, but many, and modifying these in the lapse of time.
Similarly the telegraph is not to be regarded as the work of any one mind, but of many, and during a long course of years. Because at length the final seedling is obtained, are we to overlook the antecedent varieties from which it was produced, and without which it could not have existed? Because one inventor at last succeeds in putting the telegraph in operation, are we to neglect his predecessors, whose attempts and failures were the steps by which he mounted to success? All who have extended our knowledge of electricity, or devised a telegraph, and familiarised the public mind with the advantages of it, are deserving of our praise and gratitude, as well as he who has entered into their labours, and by genius and perseverance won the honours of being the first to introduce it.
Let us, therefore, trace in a rapid manner the history of the electric telegraph from the earliest times.
The sources of a river are lost in the clouds of the mountain, but it is usual to derive its waters from the lakes or springs which are its fountain-head. In the same way the origins of our knowledge of electricity and magnetism are lost in the mists of antiquity, but there are two facts which have come to be regarded as the starting-points of the science. It was known to the ancients at least 600 years before Christ, that a piece of amber when excited by rubbing would attract straws, and that a lump of lodestone had the property of drawing iron. Both facts were probably ascertained by chance. Humboldt informs us that he saw an Indian child of the Orinoco rubbing the seed of a trailing plant to make it attract the wild cotton; and, perhaps, a prehistoric tribesman of the Baltic or the plains of Sicily found in the yellow stone he had polished the mysterious power of collecting dust. A Greek legend tells us that the lodestone was discovered by Magnes, a shepherd who found his crook attracted by the rock.
However this may be, we are told that Thales of Miletus attributed the attractive properties of the amber and the lodestone to a soul within them. The name Electricity is derived from ELEKTRON, the Greek for amber, and Magnetism from Magnes, the name of the shepherd, or, more likely, from the city of Magnesia, in Lydia, where the stone occurred.
These properties of amber and lodestone appear to have been widely known. The Persian name for amber is KAHRUBA, attractor of straws, and that for lodestone AHANG-RUBA attractor of iron. In the old Persian romance, THE LOVES OF MAJNOON AND LEILA, the lover sings–
‘She was as amber, and I but as straw: She touched me, and I shall ever cling to her.’
The Chinese philosopher, Kuopho, who flourished in the fourth century, writes that, ‘the attraction of a magnet for iron is like that of amber for the smallest grain of mustard seed. It is like a breath of wind which mysteriously penetrates through both, and communicates itself with the speed of an arrow.’ [Lodestone was probably known in China before the Christian era.] Other electrical effects were also observed by the ancients. Classical writers, as Homer, Caesar, and Plutarch, speak of flames on the points of javelins and the tips of masts. They regarded them as manifestations of the Deity, as did the soldiers of the Mahdi lately in the Soudan. It is recorded of Servius Tullus, the sixth king of Rome, that his hair emitted sparks on being combed; and that sparks came from the body of Walimer, a Gothic chief, who lived in the year 415 A.D.
During the dark ages the mystical virtues of the lodestone drew more attention than those of the more precious amber, and interesting experiments were made with it. The Romans knew that it could attract iron at some distance through an intervening fence of wood, brass, or stone. One of their experiments was to float a needle on a piece of cork, and make it follow a lodestone held in the hand. This arrangement was perhaps copied from the compass of the Phoenician sailors, who buoyed a lodestone and observed it set towards the north. There is reason to believe that the magnet was employed by the priests of the Oracle in answering questions. We are told that the Emperor Valerius, while at Antioch in 370 A.D., was shown a floating needle which pointed to the letters of the alphabet when guided by the directive force of a lodestone. It was also believed that this effect might be produced although a stone wall intervened, so that a person outside a house or prison might convey intelligence to another inside.
This idea was perhaps the basis of the sympathetic telegraph of the Middle Ages, which is first described in the MAGIAE NATURALIS of John Baptista Porta, published at Naples in 1558. It was supposed by Porta and others after him that two similar needles touched by the same lodestone were sympathetic, so that, although far apart, if both were freely balanced, a movement of one was imitated by the other. By encircling each balanced needle with an alphabet, the sympathetic telegraph was obtained. Although based on error, and opposed by Cabeus and others, this fascinating notion continued to crop up even to the days of Addison. It was a prophetic shadow of the coming invention. In the SCEPSIS SCIENTIFICA, published in 1665, Joseph Glanvil wrote, ‘to confer at the distance of the Indies by sympathetic conveyances may be as usual to future times as to us in literary correspondence.’ [The Rosicrucians also believed that if two persons transplanted pieces of their flesh into each other, and tattooed the grafts with letters, a sympathetic telegraph could be established by pricking the letters.]
Dr. Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth, by his systematic researches, discovered the magnetism of the earth, and laid the foundations of the modern science of electricity and magnetism. Otto von Guericke, burgomaster of Magdeburg, invented the electrical machine for generating large quantities of the electric fire. Stephen Gray, a pensioner of the Charterhouse, conveyed the fire to a distance along a line of pack thread, and showed that some bodies conducted electricity, while others insulated it. Dufay proved that there were two qualities of electricity, now called positive and negative, and that each kind repelled the like, but attracted the unlike. Von Kleist, a cathedral dean of Kamm, in Pomerania, or at all events Cuneus, a burgher, and Muschenbroek, a professor of Leyden, discovered the Leyden jar for holding a charge of electricity; and Franklin demonstrated the identity of electricity and lightning.
The charge from a Leyden jar was frequently sent through a chain of persons clasping hands, or a length of wire with the earth as part of the circuit. This experiment was made by Joseph Franz, of Vienna, in 1746, and Dr. Watson, of London, in 1747; while Franklin ignited spirits by a spark which had been sent across the Schuylkill river by the same means. But none of these men seem to have grasped the idea of employing the fleet fire as a telegraph.
The first suggestion of an electric telegraph on record is that published by one ‘C. M.’ in the Scots Magazine for February 17, 1753. The device consisted in running a number of insulated wires between two places, one for each letter of the alphabet. The wires were to be charged with electricity from a machine one at a time, according to the letter it represented. At its far end the charged wire was to attract a disc of paper marked with the corresponding letter, and so the message would be spelt. ‘C. M.’ also suggested the first acoustic telegraph, for he proposed to have a set of bells instead of the letters, each of a different tone, and to be struck by the spark from its charged wire.
The identity of ‘C. M.,’ who dated his letter from Renfrew, has not been established beyond a doubt. There is a tradition of a clever man living in Renfrew at that time, and afterwards in Paisley, who could ‘licht a room wi’ coal reek (smoke), and mak’ lichtnin’ speak and write upon the wa’.’ By some he was thought to be a certain Charles Marshall, from Aberdeen; but it seems likelier that he was a Charles Morrison, of Greenock, who was trained as a surgeon, and became connected with the tobacco trade of Glasgow. In Renfrew he was regarded as a kind of wizard, and he is said to have emigrated to Virginia, where he died.
In the latter half of the eighteenth century, many other suggestions of telegraphs based on the known properties of the electric fire were published; for example, by Joseph Bozolus, a Jesuit lecturer of Rome, in 1767; by Odier, a Geneva physicist, in 1773, who states in a letter to a lady, that he conceived the idea on hearing a casual remark, while dining at Sir John Pringle’s, with Franklin, Priestley, and other great geniuses. ‘I shall amuse you, perhaps, in telling you,’ he says,’that I have in my head certain experiments by which to enter into conversation with the Emperor of Mogol or of China, the English, the French, or any other people of Europe … You may intercommunicate all that you wish at a distance of four or five thousands leagues in less than half an hour. Will that suffice you for glory?’
George Louis Lesage, in 1782, proposed a plan similar to ‘C. M.’s,’ using underground wires. An anonymous correspondent of the JOURNAL DE PARIS for May 30, 1782, suggested an alarm bell to call attention to the message. Lomond, of Paris, devised a telegraph with only one wire; the signals to be read by the peculiar movements of an attracted pith-ball, and Arthur Young witnessed his plan in action, as recorded in his diary. M. Chappe, the inventor of the semaphore, tried about the year 1790 to introduce a synchronous electric telegraph, and failed.
Don Francisco Salva y Campillo, of Barcelona, in 1795, proposed to make a telegraph between Barcelona and Mataro, either overhead or underground, and he remarks of the wires, ‘at the bottom of the sea their bed would be ready made, and it would be an extraordinary casualty that should disturb them.’ In Salva’s telegraph, the signals were to be made by illuminating letters of tinfoil with the spark. Volta’s great invention of the pile in 1800 furnished a new source of electricity, better adapted for the telegraph, and Salva was apparently the first to recognise this, for, in the same year, he proposed to use it and interpret the signals by the twitching of a frog’s limb, or the decomposition of water.
In 1802, Jean Alexandre, a reputed natural son of Jean Jacques Rousseau, brought out a TELEGRAPHE INTIME, or secret telegraph, which appears to have been a step-by-step apparatus. The inventor concealed its mode of working, but it was believed to be electrical, and there was a needle which stopped at various points on a dial. Alexandre stated that he had found out a strange matter or power which was, perhaps generally diffused, and formed in some sort the soul of the universe. He endeavoured to bring his invention under the eye of the First Consul, but Napoleon referred the matter to Delambre, and would not see it. Alexandre was born at Paris, and served as a carver and gilder at Poictiers; then sang in the churches till the Revolution suppressed this means of livelihood. He rose to influence as a Commissary-general, then retired from the army and became an inventor. His name is associated with a method of steering balloons, and a filter for supplying Bordeaux with water from the Garonne. But neither of these plans appear to have been put in practice, and he died at Angouleme, leaving his widow in extreme poverty.
Sommering, a distinguished Prussian anatomist, in 1809 brought out a telegraph worked by a voltaic battery, and making signals by decomposing water. Two years later it was greatly simplified by Schweigger, of Halle; and there is reason to believe that but for the discovery of electro-magnetism by Oersted, in 1824 the chemical telegraph would have come into practical use.
In 1806, Ralph Wedgwood submitted a telegraph based on frictional electricity to the Admiralty, but was told that the semaphore was sufficient for the country. In a pamphlet he suggested the establishment of a telegraph system with public offices in different centres. Francis Ronalds, in 1816, brought a similar telegraph of his invention to the notice of the Admiralty, and was politely informed that ‘telegraphs of any kind are now wholly unnecessary.’
In 1826-7, Harrison Gray Dyar, of New York, devised a telegraph in which the spark was made to stain the signals on moist litmus paper by decomposing nitric acid; but he had to abandon his experiments in Long Island and fly the country, because of a writ which charged him with a conspiracy for carrying on secret communication. In 1830 Hubert Recy published an account of a system of Teletatodydaxie, by which the electric spark was to ignite alcohol and indicate the signals of a code.
But spark or frictional electric telegraphs were destined to give way to those actuated by the voltaic current, as the chemical mode of signalling was superseded by the electro-magnet. In 1820 the separate courses of electric and magnetic science were united by the connecting discovery of Oersted, who found that a wire conveying a current had the power of moving a compass-needle to one side or the other according to the direction of the current.
La Place, the illustrious mathematician, at once saw that this fact could be utilised as a telegraph, and Ampere, acting on his suggestion, published a feasible plan. Before the year was out, Schweigger, of Halle, multiplied the influence of the current on the needle by coiling the wire about it. Ten years later, Ritchie improved on Ampere’s method, and exhibited a model at the Royal Institution, London. About the same time, Baron Pawel Schilling, a Russian nobleman, still further modified it, and the Emperor Nicholas decreed the erection of a line from Cronstadt to St. Petersburg, with a cable in the Gulf of Finland but Schilling died in 1837, and the project was never realised.
In 1833-5 Professors Gauss and Weber constructed a telegraph between the physical cabinet and the Observatory of the University of Gottingen. At first they used the voltaic pile, but abandoned it in favour of Faraday’s recent discovery that electricity could be generated in a wire by the motion of a magnet. The magnetic key with which the message was sent Produced by its action an electric current which, after traversing the line, passed through a coil and deflected a suspended magnet to the right or left, according to the direction of the current. A mirror attached to the suspension magnified the movement of the needle, and indicated the signals after the manner of the Thomson mirror galvanometer. This telegraph, which was large and clumsy, was nevertheless used not only for scientific, but for general correspondence. Steinheil, of Munich, simplified it, and added an alarm in the form of a bell.
In 1836, Steinheil also devised a recording telegraph, in which the movable needles indicated the message by marking dots and dashes with printer’s ink on a ribbon of travelling paper, according to an artificial code in which the fewest signs were given to the commonest letters in the German language. With this apparatus the message was registered at the rate of six words a minute. The early experimenters, as we have seen, especially Salva, had utilised the ground as the return part of the circuit; and Salva had proposed to use it on his telegraph, but Steinheil was the first to demonstrate its practical value. In trying, on the suggestion of Gauss, to employ the rails of the Nurenberg to Furth railway as the conducting line for a telegraph in the year 1838, he found they would not serve; but the failure led him to employ the earth as the return half of the circuit.
In 1837, Professor Stratingh, of Groninque, Holland, devised a telegraph in which the signals were made by electro-magnets actuating the hammers of two gongs or bells of different tone; and M. Amyot invented an automatic sending key in the nature of a musical box. From 1837-8, Edward Davy, a Devonshire surgeon, exhibited a needle telegraph in London, and proposed one based on the discovery of Arago, that a piece of soft iron is temporarily magnetised by the passage of an electric current through a coil surrounding it. This principle was further applied by Morse in his electro-magnetic printing telegraph. Davy was a prolific inventor, and also sketched out a telegraph in which the gases evolved from water which was decomposed by the current actuated a recording pen. But his most valuable discovery was the ‘relay,’ that is to say, an auxiliary device by which a current too feeble to indicate the signals could call into play a local battery strong enough to make them. Davy was in a fair way of becoming one of the fathers of the working telegraph, when his private affairs obliged him to emigrate to Australia, and leave the course open to Cooke and Wheatstone.
The electric telegraph, like the steam-engine and the railway, was a gradual development due to the experiments and devices of a long train of thinkers. In such a case he who crowns the work, making it serviceable to his fellow-men, not only wins the pecuniary prize, but is likely to be hailed and celebrated as the chief, if not the sole inventor, although in a scientific sense the improvement he has made is perhaps less than that of some ingenious and forgotten forerunner. He who advances the work from the phase of a promising idea, to that of a common boon, is entitled to our gratitude. But in honouring the keystone of the arch, as it were, let us acknowledge the substructure on which it rests, and keep in mind the entire bridge. Justice at least is due to those who have laboured without reward.
Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone were the first to bring the electric telegraph into daily use. But we have selected Wheatstone as our hero, because he was eminent as a man of science, and chiefly instrumental in perfecting the apparatus. As James Watt is identified with the steam-engine, and George Stephenson with the railway, so is Wheatstone with the telegraph.
Charles Wheatstone was born near Gloucester, in February, 1802. His father was a music-seller in the town, who, four years later, removed to 128, Pall Mall, London, and became a teacher of the flute. He used to say, with not a little pride, that he had been engaged in assisting at the musical education of the Princess Charlotte. Charles, the second son, went to a village school, near Gloucester, and afterwards to several institutions in London. One of them was in Kennington, and kept by a Mrs. Castlemaine, who was astonished at his rapid progress. From another he ran away, but was captured at Windsor, not far from the theatre of his practical telegraph. As a boy he was very shy and sensitive, liking well to retire into an attic, without any other company than his own thoughts. When he was about fourteen years old he was apprenticed to his uncle and namesake, a maker and seller of musical instruments, at 436, Strand, London; but he showed little taste for handicraft or business, and loved better to study books. His father encouraged him in this, and finally took him out of the uncle’s charge.
At the age of fifteen, Wheatstone translated French poetry, and wrote two songs, one of which was given to his uncle, who published it without knowing it as his nephew’s composition. Some lines of his on the lyre became the motto of an engraving by Bartolozzi. Small for his age, but with a fine brow, and intelligent blue eyes, he often visited an old book-stall in the vicinity of Pall Mall, which was then a dilapidated and unpaved thoroughfare. Most of his pocket-money was spent in purchasing the books which had taken his fancy, whether fairy tales, history, or science. One day, to the surprise of the bookseller, he coveted a volume on the discoveries of Volta in electricity, but not having the price, he saved his pennies and secured the volume. It was written in French, and so he was obliged to save again, till he could buy a dictionary. Then he began to read the volume, and, with the help of his elder brother, William, to repeat the experiments described in it, with a home-made battery, in the scullery behind his father’s house. In constructing the battery the boy philosophers ran short of money to procure the requisite copper-plates. They had only a few copper coins left. A happy thought occurred to Charles, who was the leading spirit in these researches, ‘We must use the pennies themselves,’ said he, and the battery was soon complete.
In September, 1821, Wheatstone brought himself into public notice by exhibiting the ‘Enchanted Lyre,’ or ‘Aconcryptophone,’ at a music-shop at Pall Mall and in the Adelaide Gallery. It consisted of a mimic lyre hung from the ceiling by a cord, and emitting the strains of several instruments–the piano, harp, and dulcimer. In reality it was a mere sounding box, and the cord was a steel rod that conveyed the vibrations of the music from the several instruments which were played out of sight and ear-shot. At this period Wheatstone made numerous experiments on sound and its transmission. Some of his results are preserved in Thomson’s ANNALS OF PHILOSOPHY for 1823. He recognised that sound is propagated by waves or oscillations of the atmosphere, as light by undulations of the luminiferous ether. Water, and solid bodies, such as glass, or metal, or sonorous wood, convey the modulations with high velocity, and he conceived the plan of transmitting sound-signals, music, or speech to long distances by this means. He estimated that sound would travel 200 miles a second through solid rods, and proposed to telegraph from London to Edinburgh in this way. He even called his arrangement a ‘telephone.’ [Robert Hooke, in his MICROGRAPHIA, published in 1667, writes: ‘I can assure the reader that I have, by the help of a distended wire, propagated the sound to a very considerable distance in an instant, or with as seemingly quick a motion as that of light.’ Nor was it essential the wire should be straight; it might be bent into angles. This property is the basis of the mechanical or lover’s telephone, said to have been known to the Chinese many centuries ago. Hooke also considered the possibility of finding a way to quicken our powers of hearing.] A writer in the REPOSITORY OF ARTS for September 1, 1821, in referring to the ‘Enchanted Lyre,’ beholds the prospect of an opera being performed at the King’s Theatre, and enjoyed at the Hanover Square Rooms, or even at the Horns Tavern, Kennington. The vibrations are to travel through underground conductors, like to gas in pipes. ‘And if music be capable of being thus conducted,’ he observes,’perhaps the words of speech may be susceptible of the same means of propagation. The eloquence of counsel, the debates of Parliament, instead of being read the next day only,–But we shall lose ourselves in the pursuit of this curious subject.’
Besides transmitting sounds to a distance, Wheatstone devised a simple instrument for augmenting feeble sounds, to which he gave the name of ‘Microphone.’ It consisted of two slender rods, which conveyed the mechanical vibrations to both ears, and is quite different from the electrical microphone of Professor Hughes.
In 1823, his uncle, the musical instrument maker, died, and Wheatstone, with his elder brother, William, took over the business. Charles had no great liking for the commercial part, but his ingenuity found a vent in making improvements on the existing instruments, and in devising philosophical toys. At the end of six years he retired from the undertaking.
In 1827, Wheatstone introduced his ‘kaleidoscope,’ a device for rendering the vibrations of a sounding body apparent to the eye. It consists of a metal rod, carrying at its end a silvered bead, which reflects a ‘spot’ of light. As the rod vibrates the spot is seen to describe complicated figures in the air, like a spark whirled about in the darkness. His photometer was probably suggested by this appliance. It enables two lights to be compared by the relative brightness of their reflections in a silvered bead, which describes a narrow ellipse, so as to draw the spots into parallel lines.
In 1828, Wheatstone improved the German wind instrument, called the MUND HARMONICA, till it became the popular concertina, patented on June 19, 1829 The portable harmonium is another of his inventions, which gained a prize medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He also improved the speaking machine of De Kempelen, and endorsed the opinion of Sir David Brewster, that before the end of this century a singing and talking apparatus would be among the conquests of science.
In 1834, Wheatstone, who had won a name for himself, was appointed to the Chair of Experimental Physics in King’s College, London, But his first course of lectures on Sound were a complete failure, owing to an invincible repugnance to public speaking, and a distrust of his powers in that direction. In the rostrum he was tongue-tied and incapable, sometimes turning his back on the audience and mumbling to the diagrams on the wall. In the laboratory he felt himself at home, and ever after confined his duties mostly to demonstration.
He achieved renown by a great experiment–the measurement of the velocity of electricity in a wire. His method was beautiful and ingenious. He cut the wire at the middle, to form a gap which a spark might leap across, and connected its ends to the poles of a Leyden jar filled with electricity. Three sparks were thus produced, one at either end of the wire, and another at the middle. He mounted a tiny mirror on the works of a watch, so that it revolved at a high velocity, and observed the reflections of his three sparks in it. The points of the wire were so arranged that if the sparks were instantaneous, their reflections would appear in one straight line; but the middle one was seen to lag behind the others, because it was an instant later. The electricity had taken a certain time to travel from the ends of the wire to the middle. This time was found by measuring the amount of lag, and comparing it with the known velocity of the mirror. Having got the time, he had only to compare that with the length of half the wire, and he found that the velocity of electricity was 288,000 miles a second.
Till then, many people had considered the electric discharge to be instantaneous; but it was afterwards found that its velocity depended on the nature of the conductor, its resistance, and its electro-static capacity. Faraday showed, for example, that its velocity in a submarine wire, coated with insulator and surrounded with water, is only 144,000 miles a second, or still less. Wheatstone’s device of the revolving mirror was afterwards employed by Foucault and Fizeau to measure the velocity of light.
In 1835, at the Dublin meeting of the British Association, Wheatstone showed that when metals were volatilised in the electric spark, their light, examined through a prism, revealed certain rays which were characteristic of them. Thus the kind of metals which formed the sparking points could be determined by analysing the light of the spark. This suggestion has been of great service in spectrum analysis, and as applied by Bunsen, Kirchoff, and others, has led to the discovery of several new elements, such as rubidium and thallium, as well as increasing our knowledge of the heavenly bodies. Two years later, he called attention to the value of thermo-electricity as a mode of generating a current by means of heat, and since then a variety of thermo-piles have been invented, some of which have proved of considerable advantage.
Wheatstone abandoned his idea of transmitting intelligence by the mechanical vibration of rods, and took up the electric telegraph. In 1835 he lectured on the system of Baron Schilling, and declared that the means were already known by which an electric telegraph could be made of great service to the world. He made experiments with a plan of his own, and not only proposed to lay an experimental line across the Thames, but to establish it on the London and Birmingham Railway. Before these plans were carried out, however, he received a visit from Mr. Fothergill Cooke at his house in Conduit Street on February 27, 1837, which had an important influence on his future.
Mr. Cooke was an officer in the Madras army, who, being home on furlough, was attending some lectures on anatomy at the University of Heidelberg, where, on March 6, 1836, he witnessed a demonstration with the telegraph of Professor Moncke, and was so impressed with its importance, that he forsook his medical studies and devoted all his efforts to the work of introducing the telegraph. He returned to London soon after, and was able to exhibit a telegraph with three needles in January, 1837. Feeling his want of scientific knowledge, he consulted Faraday and Dr. Roget, the latter of whom sent him to Wheatstone.
At a second interview, Mr. Cooke told Wheatstone of his intention to bring out a working telegraph, and explained his method. Wheatstone, according to his own statement, remarked to Cooke that the method would not act, and produced his own experimental telegraph. Finally, Cooke proposed that they should enter into a partnership, but Wheatstone was at first reluctant to comply. He was a well-known man of science, and had meant to publish his results without seeking to make capital of them. Cooke, on the other hand, declared that his sole object was to make a fortune from the scheme. In May they agreed to join their forces, Wheatstone contributing the scientific, and Cooke the administrative talent. The deed of partnership was dated November 19, 1837. A joint patent was taken out for their inventions, including the five-needle telegraph of Wheatstone, and an alarm worked by a relay, in which the current, by dipping a needle into mercury, completed a local circuit, and released the detent of a clockwork.
The five-needle telegraph, which was mainly, if not entirely, due to Wheatstone, was similar to that of Schilling, and based on the principle enunciated by Ampere–that is to say, the current was sent into the line by completing the circuit of the battery with a make and break key, and at the other end it passed through a coil of wire surrounding a magnetic needle free to turn round its centre. According as one pole of the battery or the other was applied to the line by means of the key, the current deflected the needle to one side or the other. There were five separate circuits actuating five different needles. The latter were pivoted in rows across the middle of a dial shaped like a diamond, and having the letters of the alphabet arranged upon it in such a way that a letter was literally pointed out by the current deflecting two of the needles towards it.
An experimental line, with a sixth return wire, was run between the Euston terminus and Camden Town station of the London and North Western Railway on July 25, 1837. The actual distance was only one and a half mile, but spare wire had been inserted in the circuit to increase its length. It was late in the evening before the trial took place. Mr. Cooke was in charge at Camden Town, while Mr. Robert Stephenson and other gentlemen looked on; and Wheatstone sat at his instrument in a dingy little room, lit by a tallow candle, near the booking-office at Euston. Wheatstone sent the first message, to which Cooke replied, and ‘never,’ said Wheatstone, ‘did I feel such a tumultuous sensation before, as when, all alone in the still room, I heard the needles click, and as I spelled the words, I felt all the magnitude of the invention pronounced to be practicable beyond cavil or dispute.’
In spite of this trial, however, the directors of the railway treated the ‘new-fangled’ invention with indifference, and requested its removal. In July, 1839, however, it was favoured by the Great Western Railway, and a line erected from the Paddington terminus to West Drayton station, a distance of thirteen miles. Part of the wire was laid underground at first, but subsequently all of it was raised on posts along the line. Their circuit was eventually extended to Slough in 1841, and was publicly exhibited at Paddington as a marvel of science, which could transmit fifty signals a distance of 280,000 miles in a minute. The price of admission was a shilling.
Notwithstanding its success, the public did not readily patronise the new invention until its utility was noised abroad by the clever capture of the murderer Tawell. Between six and seven o’clock one morning a woman named Sarah Hart was found dead in her home at Salt Hill, and a man had been observed to leave her house some time before. The police knew that she was visited from time to time by a Mr. John Tawell, from Berkhampstead, where he was much respected, and on inquiring and arriving at Slough, they found that a person answering his description had booked by a slow train for London, and entered a first-class carriage. The police telegraphed at once to Paddington, giving the particulars, and desiring his capture. ‘He is in the garb of a Quaker,’ ran the message, ‘with a brown coat on, which reaches nearly to his feet.’ There was no ‘Q’ in the alphabet of the five-needle instrument, and the clerk at Slough began to spell the word ‘Quaker’ with a ‘kwa’; but when he had got so far he was interrupted by the clerk at Paddington, who asked him to ‘repent.’ The repetition fared no better, until a boy at Paddington suggested that Slough should be allowed to finish the word. ‘Kwaker’ was understood, and as soon as Tawell stepped out on the platform at Paddington he was ‘shadowed’ by a detective, who followed him into a New Road omnibus, and arrested him in a coffee tavern.
Tawell was tried for the murder of the woman, and astounding revelations were made as to his character. Transported in 1820 for the crime of forgery, he obtained a ticket-of-leave, and started as a chemist in Sydney, where he flourished, and after fifteen years left it a rich man. Returning to England, he married a Quaker lady as his second wife. He confessed to the murder of Sarah Hart, by prussic acid, his motive being a dread of their relations becoming known.
Tawell was executed, and the notoriety of the case brought the telegraph into repute. Its advantages as a rapid means of conveying intelligence and detecting criminals had been signally demonstrated, and it was soon adopted on a more extensive scale.
In 1845 Wheatstone introduced two improved forms of the apparatus, namely, the ‘single’ and the ‘double’ needle instruments, in which the signals were made by the successive deflections of the needles. Of these, the single-needle instrument, requiring only one wire, is still in use.
In 1841 a difference arose between Cooke and Wheatstone as to the share of each in the honour of inventing the telegraph. The question was submitted to the arbitration of the famous engineer, Marc Isambard Brunel, on behalf of Cooke, and Professor Daniell, of King’s College, the inventor of the Daniell battery, on the part of Wheatstone. They awarded to Cooke the credit of having introduced the telegraph as a useful undertaking which promised to be of national importance, and to Wheatstone that of having by his researches prepared the public to receive it. They concluded with the words: ‘It is to the united labours of two gentlemen so well qualified for mutual assistance that we must attribute the rapid progress which this important invention has made during five years since they have been associated.’ The decision, however vague, pronounces the needle telegraph a joint production. If it was mainly invented by Wheatstone, it was chiefly introduced by Cooke. Their respective shares in the undertaking might be compared to that of an author and his publisher, but for the fact that Cooke himself had a share in the actual work of invention.
In 1840 Wheatstone had patented an alphabetical telegraph, or, ‘Wheatstone A B C instrument,’ which moved with a step-by-step motion, and showed the letters of the message upon a dial. The same principle was utilised in his type-printing telegraph, patented in 1841. This was the first apparatus which printed a telegram in type. It was worked by two circuits, and as the type revolved a hammer, actuated by the current, pressed the required letter on the paper. in 1840 Wheatstone also brought out his magneto-electrical machine for generating continuous currents, and his chronoscope, for measuring minute intervals of time, which was used in determining the speed of a bullet or the passage of a star. In this apparatus an electric current actuated an electro-magnet, which noted the instant of an occurrence by means of a pencil on a moving paper. It is said to have been capable of distinguishing 1/7300 part of a second, and the time a body took to fall from a height of one inch.
The same year he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his explanation of binocular vision, a research which led him to construct the stereoscope. He showed that our impression of solidity is gained by the combination in the mind of two separate pictures of an object taken by both of our eyes from different points of view. Thus, in the stereoscope, an arrangement of lenses and mirrors, two photographs of the same object taken from different points are so combined as to make the object stand out with a solid aspect. Sir David Brewster improved the stereoscope by dispensing with the mirrors, and bringing it into its existing form.
The ‘pseudoscope’ (Wheatstone was partial to exotic forms of speech) was introduced by its professor in 1850, and is in some sort the reverse of the stereoscope, since it causes a solid object to seem hollow, and a nearer one to be farther off; thus, a bust appears to be a mask, and a tree growing outside of a window looks as if it were growing inside the room.
On November 26, 1840, he exhibited his electro-magnetic clock in the library of the Royal Society, and propounded a plan for distributing the correct time from a standard clock to a number of local timepieces. The circuits of these were to be electrified by a key or contact-maker actuated by the arbour of the standard, and their hands corrected by electro-magnetism. The following January Alexander Bain took out a patent for an electro-magnetic clock, and he subsequently charged Wheatstone with appropriating his ideas. It appears that Bain worked as a mechanist to Wheatstone from August to December, 1840, and he asserted that he had communicated the idea of an electric clock to Wheatstone during that period; but Wheatstone maintained that he had experimented in that direction during May. Bain further accused Wheatstone of stealing his idea of the electro-magnetic printing telegraph; but Wheatstone showed that the instrument was only a modification of his own electro-magnetic telegraph.
In 1843 Wheatstone communicated an important paper to the Royal Society, entitled ‘An Account of Several New Processes for Determining the Constants of a Voltaic Circuit.’ It contained an exposition of the well- known balance for measuring the electrical resistance of a conductor, which still goes by the name of Wheatstone’s Bridge or balance, although it was first devised by Mr. S. W. Christie, of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, who published it in the PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS for 1833. The method was neglected until Wheatstone brought it into notice. His paper abounds with simple and practical formula: for the calculation of currents and resistances by the law of Ohm. He introduced a unit of resistance, namely, a foot of copper wire weighing one hundred grains, and showed how it might be applied to measure the length of wire by its resistance. He was awarded a medal for his paper by the Society. The same year he invented an apparatus which enabled the reading of a thermometer or a barometer to be registered at a distance by means of an electric contact made by the mercury. A sound telegraph, in which the signals were given by the strokes of a bell, was also patented by Cooke and Wheatstone in May of that year.
The introduction of the telegraph had so far advanced that, on September 2, 1845, the Electric Telegraph Company was registered, and Wheatstone, by his deed of partnership with Cooke, received a sum of L33,000 for the use of their joint inventions.
>From 1836-7 Wheatstone had thought a good deal about submarine telegraphs, and in 1840 he gave evidence before the Railway Committee of the House of Commons on the feasibility of the proposed line from Dover to Calais. He had even designed the machinery for making and laying the cable. In the autumn of 1844, with the assistance of Mr. J. D. Llewellyn, he submerged a length of insulated wire in Swansea Bay, and signalled through it from a boat to the Mumbles Lighthouse. Next year he suggested the use of gutta-percha for the coating of the intended wire across the Channel.
Though silent and reserved in public, Wheatstone was a clear and voluble talker in private, if taken on his favourite studies, and his small but active person, his plain but intelligent countenance, was full of animation. Sir Henry Taylor tells us that he once observed Wheatstone at an evening party in Oxford earnestly holding forth to Lord Palmerston on the capabilities of his telegraph. ‘You don’t say so!’ exclaimed the statesman. ‘I must get you to tell that to the Lord Chancellor.’ And so saying, he fastened the electrician on Lord Westbury, and effected his escape. A reminiscence of this interview may have prompted Palmerston to remark that a time was coming when a minister might be asked in Parliament if war had broken out in India, and would reply, ‘Wait a minute; I’ll just telegraph to the Governor-General, and let you know.’
At Christchurch, Marylebone, on February 12, 1847, Wheatstone was married. His wife was the daughter of a Taunton tradesman, and of handsome appearance. She died in 1866, leaving a family of five young children to his care. His domestic life was quiet and uneventful.
One of Wheatstone’s most ingenious devices was the ‘Polar clock,’ exhibited at the meeting of the British Association in 1848. It is based on the fact discovered by Sir David Brewster, that the light of the sky is polarised in a plane at an angle of ninety degrees from the position of the sun. It follows that by discovering that plane of polarisation, and measuring its azimuth with respect to the north, the position of the sun, although beneath the horizon, could be determined, and the apparent solar time obtained. The clock consisted of a spy- glass, having a nichol or double-image prism for an eye-piece, and a thin plate of selenite for an object-glass. When the tube was directed to the North Pole–that is, parallel to the earth’s axis–and the prism of the eye-piece turned until no colour was seen, the angle of turning, as shown by an index moving with the prism over a graduated limb, gave the hour of day. The device is of little service in a country where watches are reliable; but it formed part of the equipment of the North Polar expedition commanded by Captain Nares. Wheatstone’s remarkable ingenuity was displayed in the invention of cyphers which have never been unravelled, and interpreting cypher manuscripts in the British Museum which had defied the experts. He devised a cryptograph or machine for turning a message into cypher which could only be interpreted by putting the cypher into a corresponding machine adjusted to reproduce it.
The rapid development of the telegraph in Europe may be gathered from the fact that in 1855, the death of the Emperor Nicholas at St. Petersburg, about one o’clock in the afternoon, was announced in the House of Lords a few hours later; and as a striking proof of its further progress, it may be mentioned that the result of the Oaks of 1890 was received in New York fifteen seconds after the horses passed the winning-post.
Wheatstone’s next great invention was the automatic transmitter, in which the signals of the message are first punched out on a strip of paper, which is then passed through the sending-key, and controls the signal currents. By substituting a mechanism for the hand in sending the message, he was able to telegraph about 100 words a minute, or five times the ordinary rate. In the Postal Telegraph service this apparatus is employed for sending Press telegrams, and it has recently been so much improved, that messages are now sent from London to Bristol at a speed of 600 words a minute, and even of 400 words a minute between London and Aberdeen. On the night of April 8, 1886, when Mr. Gladstone introduced his Bill for Home Rule in Ireland, no fewer than 1,500,000 words were despatched from the central station at St. Martin’s-le-Grand by 100 Wheatstone transmitters. Were Mr. Gladstone himself to speak for a whole week, night and day, and with his usual facility, he could hardly surpass this achievement. The plan of sending messages by a running strip of paper which actuates the key was originally patented by Bain in 1846; but Wheatstone, aided by Mr. Augustus Stroh, an accomplished mechanician, and an able experimenter, was the first to bring the idea into successful operation.
In 1859 Wheatstone was appointed by the Board of Trade to report on the subject of the Atlantic cables, and in 1864 he was one of the experts who advised the Atlantic Telegraph Company on the construction of the successful lines of 1865 and 1866. On February 4, 1867, he published the principle of reaction in the dynamo-electric machine by a paper to the Royal Society; but Mr. C. W. Siemens had communicated the identical discovery ten days earlier, and both papers were read on the same day. It afterwards appeared that Herr Werner Siemens, Mr. Samuel Alfred Varley, and Professor Wheatstone had independently arrived at the principle within a few months of each other. Varley patented it on December 24, 1866; Siemens called attention to it on January 17, 1867; and Wheatstone exhibited it in action at the Royal Society on the above date. But it will be seen from our life of William Siemens that Soren Hjorth, a Danish inventor, had forestalled them.
In 1870 the electric telegraph lines of the United Kingdom, worked by different companies, were transferred to the Post Office, and placed under Government control.
Wheatstone was knighted in 1868, after his completion of the automatic telegraph. He had previously been made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Some thirty-four distinctions and diplomas of home or foreign societies bore witness to his scientific reputation. Since 1836 he had been a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1873 he was appointed a Foreign Associate of the French Academy of Sciences. The same year he was awarded the Ampere Medal by the French Society for the Encouragement of National Industry. In 1875 he was created an honorary member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was a D.C.L. of Oxford and an LL.D. of Cambridge.
While on a visit to Paris during the autumn of 1875, and engaged in perfecting his receiving instrument for submarine cables, he caught a cold, which produced inflammation of the lungs, an illness from which he died in Paris, on October 19, 1875. A memorial service was held in the Anglican Chapel, Paris, and attended by a deputation of the Academy. His remains were taken to his home in Park Crescent, London, and buried in Kensal Green.
Cooke and Wheatstone were the first to introduce a public telegraph worked by electro-magnetism; but it had the disadvantage of not marking down the message. There was still room for an instrument which would leave a permanent record that might he read at leisure, and this was the invention of Samuel Finley Breeze Morse. He was born at the foot of Breed’s Hill, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on the 27th of April, 1791. The place was a little over a mile from where Benjamin Franklin was born, and the date was a little over a year after he died. His family was of British origin. Anthony Morse, of Marlborough, in Wiltshire, had emigrated to America in 1635, and settled in Newbury, Massachusetts, He and his descendants prospered. The grandfather of Morse was a member of the Colonial and State Legislatures, and his father, Jedediah Morse, D.D., was a well-known divine of his day, and the author of Morse’s AMERICAN GEOGRAPHY, as well as a compiler of a UNIVERSAL GAZETTEER His mother was Elizabeth Ann Breeze, apparently of Welsh extraction, and the grand-daughter of Samuel Finley, a distinguished President of the Princeton College. Jedediah Morse is reputed a man of talent, industry, and vigour, with high aims for the good of his fellow-men, ingenious to conceive, resolute in action, and sanguine of success. His wife is described as a woman of calm, reflective mind, animated conversation, and engaging manners.
They had two other sons besides Samuel, the second of whom, Sidney E. Morse, was founder of the New York OBSERVER, an able mathematician, author of the ART OF CEROGRAPHY, or engraving upon wax, to stereotype from, and inventor of a barometer for sounding the deep-sea. Sidney was the trusted friend and companion of his elder brother.
At the age of four Samuel was sent to an infant school kept by an old lady, who being lame, was unable to leave her chair, but carried her authority to the remotest parts of her dominion by the help of a long rattan. Samuel, like the rest, had felt the sudden apparition of this monitor. Having scratched a portrait of the dame upon a chest of drawers with the point of a pin, he was called out and summarily punished. Years later, when he became notable, the drawers were treasured by one of his admirers.
He entered a preparatory school at Andover, Mass., when he was seven years old, and showed himself an eager pupil. Among other books, he was delighted with Plutarch’s LIVES, and at thirteen he composed a biography of Demosthenes, long preserved by his family. A year later he entered Yale College as a freshman.
During his curriculum he attended the lectures of Professor Jeremiah Day on natural philosophy and Professor Benjamin Sieliman on chemistry, and it was then he imbibed his earliest knowledge of electricity. In 1809-10 Dr. Day was teaching from Enfield’s text-book on philosophy, that ‘if the (electric) circuit be interrupted, the fluid will become visible, and when: it passes it will leave an impression upon any intermediate body,’ and he illustrated this by sending the spark through a metal chain, so that it became visible between the links, and by causing it to perforate paper. Morse afterwards declared this experiment to have been the seed which rooted in his mind and grew into the ‘invention of the telegraph.’
It is not evident that Morse had any distinct idea of the electric telegraph in these days; but amidst his lessons in literature and philosophy he took a special interest in the sciences of electricity and chemistry. He became acquainted with the voltaic battery through the lectures of his friend, Professor Sieliman; and we are told that during one of his vacations at Yale he made a series of electrical experiments with Dr. Dwight. Some years later he resumed these studies under his friend Professor James Freeman Dana, of the University of New York, who exhibited the electro-magnet to his class in 1827, and also under Professor Renwick, of Columbia College.
Art seems to have had an equal if not a greater charm than science for Morse at this period. A boy of fifteen, he made a water-colour sketch of his family sitting round the table; and while a student at Yale he relieved his father, who was far from rich, of a part of his education by painting miniatures on ivory, and selling them to his companions at five dollars a-piece. Before he was nineteen he completed a painting of the ‘Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,’ which formerly hung in the office of the Mayor, at Charlestown, Massachusetts.
On graduating at Yale, in 1810, he devoted himself to Art, and became a pupil of Washington Allston, the well-known American painter. He accompanied Allston to Europe in 1811, and entered the studio of Benjamin West, who was then at the zenith of his reputation. The friendship of West, with his own introductions and agreeable personality, enabled him to move in good society, to which he was always partial. William Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, father of the historian, Coleridge, and Copley, were among his acquaintances. Leslie, the artist, then a struggling genius like himself, was his fellow-lodger. His heart was evidently in the profession of his choice. ‘My passion for my art,’ he wrote to his mother, in 1812, ‘is so firmly rooted that I am confident no human power could destroy it. The more I study the greater I think is its claim to the appellation of divine. I am now going to begin a picture of the death of Hercules the figure to be as large as life.’
After he had perfected this work to his own eyes, he showed it, with not a little pride, to Mr. West, who after scanning it awhile said, ‘Very good, very good. Go on and finish it.’ Morse ventured to say that it was finished. ‘No! no! no!’ answered West; ‘see there, and there, and there. There is much to be done yet. Go on and finish it.’ Each time the pupil showed it the master said, ‘Go on and finish it.’ [THE TELEGRAPH IN AMERICA, by James D. Reid] This was a lesson in thoroughness of work and attention to detail which was not lost on the student. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy, in Somerset House, during the summer of 1813, and West declared that if Morse were to live to his own age he would never make a better composition. The remark is equivocal, but was doubtless intended as a compliment to the precocity of the young painter.
In order to be correct in the anatomy he had first modelled the figure of his Hercules in clay, and this cast, by the advice of West, was entered in competition for a prize in sculpture given by the Society of Arts. It proved successful, and on May 13 the sculptor was presented with the prize and a gold medal by the Duke of Norfolk before a distinguished gathering in the Adelphi.
Flushed with his triumph, Morse determined to compete for the prize of fifty guineas and a gold medal offered by the Royal Academy for the best historical painting, and took for his subject, ‘The Judgment of Jupiter in the case of Apollo, Marpessa, and Idas.’ The work was finished to the satisfaction of West, but the painter was summoned home. He was still, in part at least, depending on his father, and had been abroad a year longer than the three at first intended. During this time he had been obliged to pinch himself in a thousand ways in order to eke out his modest allowance. ‘My drink is water, porter being too expensive,’ he wrote to his parents. ‘I have had no new clothes for nearly a year. My best are threadbare, and my shoes are out at the toes. My stockings all want to see my mother, and my hat is hoary with age.’
Mr. West recommended him to stay, since the rules of the competition required the winner to receive the prize in person. But after trying in vain to get this regulation waived, he left for America with his picture, having, a few days prior to his departure, dined with Mr. Wilberforce as the guns of Hyde Park were signalling the victory of Waterloo.
Arriving in Boston on October 18, he lost no time in renting a studio. His fame had preceded him, and he became the lion of society. His ‘Judgment of Jupiter’ was exhibited in the town, and people flocked to see it. But no one offered to buy it. If the line of high art he had chosen had not supported him in England, it was tantamount to starvation in the rawer atmosphere of America. Even in Boston, mellowed though it was by culture, the classical was at a discount. Almost penniless, and fretting under his disappointment, he went to Concord, New Hampshire, and contrived to earn a living by painting cabinet portraits. Was this the end of his ambitious dreams?
Money was needful to extricate him from this drudgery and let him follow up his aspirations. Love may have been a still stronger motive for its acquisition. So he tried his hand at invention, and, in conjunction with his brother Sidney, produced what was playfully described as ‘Morse’s Patent Metallic Double-Headed Ocean-Drinker and Deluge-Spouter Pump-Box.’ The pump was quite as much admired as the ‘Jupiter,’ and it proved as great a failure.
Succeeding as a portrait painter, he went, in 1818, on the invitation of his uncle, Dr. Finley, to Charleston, in South Carolina, and opened a studio there. After a single season he found himself in a position to marry, and on October 1, 1818, was united to Lucretia P. Walker, of Concord, New Hampshire, a beautiful and accomplished lady. He thrived so well in the south that he once received as many as one hundred and fifty orders in a few weeks; and his reputation was such that he was honoured with a commission from the Common Council of Charleston to execute a portrait of James Monroe, then President of the United States. It was regarded as a masterpiece. In January, 1821, he instituted the South Carolina Academy of Fine Arts, which is now extinct.
After four years of life in Charleston he returned to the north with savings to the amount of L600, and settled in New York. He devoted eighteen months to the execution of a large painting of the House of Representatives in the Capitol at Washington; but its exhibition proved a loss, and in helping his brothers to pay his father’s debts the remains of his little fortune were swept away. He stood next to Allston as an American historical painter, but all his productions in that line proved a disappointment. The public would not buy them. On the other hand, he received an order from the Corporation of New York for a portrait of General Lafayette, the hero of the hour.
While engaged on this work he lost his wife in February, 1825, and then his parents. In 1829 he visited Europe, and spent his time among the artists and art galleries of England, France, and Italy. In Paris he undertook a picture of the interior of the Louvre, showing some of the masterpieces in miniature, but it seems that nobody purchased it. He expected to be chosen to illustrate one of the vacant panels in the Rotunda of the Capitol at Washington; but in this too he was mistaken. However, some fellow-artists in America, thinking he had deserved the honour, collected a sum of money to assist him in painting the composition he had fixed upon: ‘The Signing of the First Compact on Board the Mayflower.’
In a far from hopeful mood after his three years’ residence abroad he embarked on the packet Sully, Captain Pell, and sailed from Havre for New York on October 1, 1832. Among the passengers was Dr. Charles T. Jackson, of Boston, who had attended some lectures on electricity in Paris, and carried an electro-magnet in his trunk. One day while Morse and Dr. Jackson, with a few more, sat round the luncheon table in the cabin, he began to talk of the experiments he had witnessed. Some one asked if the speed of the electricity was lessened by its passage through a long wire, and Dr. Jackson, referring to a trial of Faraday, replied that the current was apparently instantaneous. Morse, who probably remembered his old lessons in the subject, now remarked that if the presence of the electricity could be rendered visible at any point of the circuit he saw no reason why intelligence might not be sent by this means.
The idea became rooted in his mind, and engrossed his thoughts. Until far into the night he paced the deck discussing the matter with Dr. Jackson, and pondering it in solitude. Ways of rendering the electricity sensible at the far end of the line were considered. The spark might pierce a band of travelling paper, as Professor Day had mentioned years before; it might decompose a chemical solution, and leave a stain to mark its passage, as tried by Mr. Dyar in 1827; Or it could excite an electro-magnet, which, by attracting a piece of soft iron, would inscribe the passage with a pen or pencil. The signals could be made by very short currents or jets of electricity, according to a settled code. Thus a certain number of jets could represent a corresponding numeral, and the numeral would, in its turn, represent a word in the language. To decipher the message, a special code-book or dictionary would be required. In order to transmit the currents through the line, he devised a mechanical sender, in which the circuit would be interrupted by a series of types carried on a port-rule or composing-stick, which travelled at a uniform speed. Each type would have a certain number of teeth or projections on its upper face, and as it was passed through a gap in the circuit the teeth would make or break the current. At the other end of the line the currents thus transmitted would excite the electro-magnet, actuate the pencil, and draw a zig-zag line on the paper, every angle being a distinct signal, and the groups of signals representing a word in the code.
During the voyage of six weeks the artist jotted his crude ideas in his sketch-book, which afterwards became a testimony to their date. That he cherished hopes of his invention may be gathered from his words on landing, ‘Well, Captain Pell, should you ever hear of the telegraph one of these days as the wonder of the world, remember the discovery was made on the good ship Sully.’
Soon after his return his brothers gave him a room on the fifth floor of a house at the corner of Nassau and Beekman Streets, New York. For a long time it was his studio and kitchen, his laboratory and bedroom. With his livelihood to earn by his brush, and his invention to work out, Morse was now fully occupied. His diet was simple; he denied himself the pleasures of society, and employed his leisure in making models of his types. The studio was an image of his mind at this epoch. Rejected pictures looked down upon his clumsy apparatus, type-moulds lay among plaster-casts, the paint-pot jostled the galvanic battery, and the easel shared his attention with the lathe. By degrees the telegraph allured him from the canvas, and he only painted enough to keep the wolf from the door. His national picture, ‘The Signing of the First Compact on Board the Mayflower,’ was never finished, and the 300 dollars which had been subscribed for it were finally returned with interest.
For Morse by nature was proud and independent, with a sensitive horror of incurring debt. He would rather endure privation than solicit help or lie under a humiliating obligation. His mother seems to have been animated with a like spirit, for the Hon. Amos Kendall informs us that she had suffered much through the kindness of her husband in becoming surety for his friends, and that when she was dying she exacted a promise from her son that he would never endanger his peace of mind and the comfort of his home by doing likewise.
During the two and a half years from November, 1832, to the summer of 1835 he was obliged to change his residence three times, and want of money prevented him from combining the several parts of his invention into a working whole. In 1835, however, his reputation as an historical painter, and the esteem in which he was held as a man of culture and refinement, led to his appointment as the first Professor of the Literature of the Arts of Design in the newly founded University of the city of New York. In the month of July he took up his quarters in the new buildings of the University at Washington Square, and was henceforth able to devote more time to his apparatus. The same year Professor Daniell, of King’s College, London, brought out his constant-current battery, which befriended Morse in his experiments, as it afterwards did Cooke and Wheatstone, Hitherto the voltaic battery had been a source of trouble, owing to the current becoming weak as the battery was kept in action.
The length of line through which Morse could work his apparatus was an important point to be determined, for it was known that the current grows feebler in proportion to the resistance of the wire it traverses. Morse saw a way out of the difficulty, as Davy, Cooke, and Wheatstone did, by the device known as the relay. Were the current too weak to effect the marking of a message, it might nevertheless be sufficiently strong to open and close the circuit of a local battery which would print the signals. Such relays and local batteries, fixed at intervals along the line, as post-horses on a turnpike, would convey the message to an immense distance. ‘If I can succeed in working a magnet ten miles,’ said Morse,’I can go round the globe. It matters not how delicate the movement may be.’
According to his own statement, he devised the relay in 1836 or earlier; but it was not until the beginning of 1837 that he explained the device, and showed the working of his apparatus to his friend, Mr. Leonard D. Gale, Professor of Chemistry in the University. This gentleman took a lively interest in the apparatus, and proved a generous ally of the inventor. Until then Morse had only tried his recorder on a few yards of wire, the battery was a single pair of plates, and the electro-magnet was of the elementary sort employed by Moll, and illustrated in the older books. The artist, indeed, was very ignorant of what had been done by other electricians; and Professor Gale was able to enlighten him. When Gale acquainted him with some results in telegraphing obtained by Mr. Barlow, he said he was not aware that anyone had even conceived the notion of using the magnet for such a purpose. The researches of Professor Joseph Henry on the electro-magnet, in 1830, were equally unknown to Morse, until Professor Gale drew his attention to them, and in accordance with the results, suggested that the simple electro-magnet, with a few turns of thick wire which he employed, should be replaced by one having a coil of long thin wire. By this change a much feebler current would be able to excite the magnet, and the recorder would mark through a greater length of line. Henry himself, in 1832, had devised a telegraph similar to that of Morse, and signalled through a mile of wire, by causing the armature of his electro-magnet to strike a bell. This was virtually the first electro- magnetic acoustic telegraph.[AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SCIENCE.]
The year of the telegraph–1837–was an important one for Morse, as it was for Cooke and Wheatstone. In the privacy of his rooms he had constructed, with his own hands, a model of his apparatus, and fortune began to favour him. Thanks to Professor Gale, he improved the electro- magnet, employed a more powerful battery, and was thus able to work through a much longer line. In February, 1837, the American House of Representatives passed a resolution asking the Secretary of the Treasury to report on the propriety of establishing a system of telegraphs for the United States, and on March 10 issued a circular of inquiry, which fell into the hands of the inventor, and probably urged him to complete his apparatus, and bring it under the notice of the Government. Lack of mechanical skill, ignorance of electrical science, as well as want of money, had so far kept it back.
But the friend in need whom he required was nearer than he anticipated. On Saturday, September 2, 1837, while Morse was exhibiting the model to Professor Daubeny, of Oxford, then visiting the States, and others, a young man named Alfred Vail became one of the spectators, and was deeply impressed with the results. Vail was born in 1807, a son of Judge Stephen Vail, master of the Speedwell ironworks at Morristown, New Jersey. After leaving the village school his father took him and his brother George into the works; but though Alfred inherited a mechanical turn of mind, he longed for a higher sphere, and on attaining to his majority he resolved to enter the Presbyterian Church. In 1832 he went to the University of the city of New York, where he graduated in October, 1836. Near the close of the term, however, his health failed, and he was constrained to relinquish his clerical aims. While in doubts as to his future he chanced to see the telegraph, and that decided him. He says: ‘I accidentally and without invitation called upon Professor Morse at the University, and found him with Professors Torrey and Daubeny in the mineralogical cabinet and lecture-room of Professor Gale, where Professor Morse was exhibiting to these gentlemen an apparatus which he called his Electro-Magnetic Telegraph. There were wires suspended in the room running from one end of it to the other, and returning many times, making a length of seventeen hundred feet. The two ends of the wire were connected with an electro-magnet fastened to a vertical wooden frame. In front of the magnet was its armature, and also a wooden lever or arm fitted at its extremity to hold a lead- pencil…. I saw this instrument work, and became thoroughly acquainted with the principle of its operation, and, I may say, struck with the rude machine, containing, as I believed, the germ of what was destined to produce great changes in the conditions and relations of mankind. I well recollect the impression which was then made upon my mind. I rejoiced to think that I lived in such a day, and my mind contemplated the future in which so grand and mighty an agent was about to be introduced for the benefit of the world. Before leaving the room in which I beheld for the first time this magnificent invention, I asked Professor Morse if he intended to make an experiment on a more extended line of conductors. He replied that he did, but that he desired pecuniary assistance to carry out his plans. I promised him assistance provided he would admit me into a share of the invention, to which proposition he assented. I then returned to my boarding-house, locked the door of my room, threw myself upon the bed, and gave myself up to reflection upon the mighty results which were certain to follow the introduction of this new agent in meeting and serving the wants of the world. With the atlas in my hand I traced the most important lines which would most certainly be erected in the United States, and calculated their length. The question then rose in my mind, whether the electro-magnet could be made to work through the necessary lengths of line, and after much reflection I came to the conclusion that, provided the magnet would work even at a distance of eight or ten miles, there could be no risk in embarking in the enterprise. And upon this I decided in my own mind to SINK OR SWIM WITH IT.’
Young Vail applied to his father, who was a man of enterprise and intelligence. He it was who forged the shaft of the Savannah, the first steamship which crossed the Atlantic. Morse was invited to Speedwell with his apparatus, that the judge might see it for himself, and the question of a partnership was mooted. Two thousand dollars were required to procure the patents and construct an instrument to bring before the Congress. In spite of a financial depression, the judge was brave enough to lend his assistance, and on September 23, 1837, an agreement was signed between the inventor and Alfred Vail, by which the latter was to construct, at his own expense, a model for exhibition to a Committee of Congress, and to secure the necessary patents for the United States. In return Vail was to receive one-fourth of the patent rights in that country. Provision was made also to give Vail an interest in any foreign patents he might furnish means to obtain. The American patent was obtained by Morse on October 3, 1837. He had returned to New York, and was engaged in the preparation of his dictionary.
For many months Alfred Vail worked in a secret room at the iron factory making the new model, his only assistant being an apprentice of fifteen, William Baxter, who subsequently designed the Baxter engine, and died in 1885. When the workshop was rebuilt this room was preserved as a memorial of the telegraph, for it was here that the true Morse instrument, such as we know it, was constructed.
It must be remembered that in those days almost everything they wanted had either to be made by themselves or appropriated to their purpose. Their first battery was set up in a box of cherry-wood, parted into cells, and lined with bees-wax; their insulated wire was that used by milliners for giving outline to the ‘sky-scraper’ bonnets of that day. The first machine made at Speedwell was a copy of that devised by Morse, but as Vail grew more intimate with the subject his own ingenuity came into play, and he soon improved on the original. The pencil was discarded for a fountain pen, and the zig-zag signals for the short and long lines now termed ‘dots ‘ and ‘dashes.’
This important alteration led him to the ‘Morse alphabet,’ or code of signals, by which a letter is transmitted as a group of short and long jets, indicated as ‘dots’ and ‘dashes’ on the paper. Thus the letter E, which is so common in English words, is now transmitted by a short jet which makes a dot; T, another common letter, by a long jet, making a dash; and Q, a rare letter, by the group dash, dash, dot, dash. Vail tried to compute the relative frequency of all the letters in order to arrange his alphabet; but a happy idea enabled him to save his time. He went to the office of the local newspaper, and found the result he wanted in the type-cases of the compositors. The Morse, or rather Vail code, is at present the universal telegraphic code of symbols, and its use is extending to other modes of signalling-for example, by flags, lights, or trumpets.
The hard-fisted farmers of New Jersey, like many more at that date, had no faith in the ‘telegraph machine,’ and openly declared that the judge had been a fool for once to put his money in it. The judge, on his part, wearied with the delay, and irritated by the sarcasm of his neighbours, grew dispirited and moody. Alfred, and Morse, who had come to assist, were careful to avoid meeting him. At length, on January 6, 1838, Alfred told the apprentice to go up to the house and invite his father to come down to see the telegraph at work. It was a cold day, but the boy was so eager that he ran off without putting on his coat. In the sitting-room he found the judge with his hat on as if about to go out, but seated before the fire leaning his head on his hand, and absorbed in gloomy reflection. ‘Well, William ?’ he said, looking up, as the boy entered; and when the message was delivered he started to his feet. In a few minutes he was standing in the experimental-room, and the apparatus was explained. Calling for a piece of paper he wrote upon it the words, ‘A PATIENT WAITER IS NO LOSER,’ and handed it to Alfred, with the remark, ‘If you can send this, and Mr. Morse can read it at the other end, I shall be convinced.’ The message was transmitted, and for a moment the judge was fairly mastered by his feelings.
The apparatus was then exhibited in New York, in Philadelphia, and subsequently before the Committee of Congress at Washington. At first the members of this body were somewhat incredulous about the merits of the uncouth machine; but the Chairman, the Hon. Francis O. J. Smith, of Maine, took an interest in it, and secured a full attendance of the others to see it tried through ten miles of wire one day in February. The demonstration convinced them, and many were the expressions of amazement from their lips. Some said, ‘The world is coming to an end,’ as people will when it is really budding, and putting forth symptoms of a larger life. Others exclaimed, ‘Where will improvements and discoveries stop?’ and ‘What would Jefferson think should he rise up and witness what we have just seen?’ One gentleman declared that, ‘Time and space are now annihilated.’
The practical outcome of the trial was that the Chairman reported a Bill appropriating 30,000 dollars for the erection of an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore. Mr. Smith was admitted to a fourth share in the invention, and resigned his seat in Congress to become legal adviser to the inventors. Claimants to the invention of the telegraph now began to spring up, and it was deemed advisable for Mr. Smith and Morse to proceed to Europe and secure the foreign patents. Alfred Vail undertook to provide an instrument for exhibition in Europe.
Among these claimants was Dr. Jackson, chemist and geologist, of Boston, who had been instrumental in evoking the idea of the telegraph in the mind of Morse on board the Sully. In a letter to the NEW YORK OBSERVER he went further than this, and claimed to be a joint inventor; but Morse indignantly repudiated the suggestion. He declared that his instrument was not mentioned either by him or Dr. Jackson at the time, and that they had made no experiments together. ‘It is to Professor Gale that I am most of all indebted for substantial and effective aid in many of my experiments,’ he said; ‘but he prefers no claim of any kind.’
Morse and Smith arrived in London during the month of June. Application was immediately made for a British patent, but Cooke and Wheatstone and Edward Davy, it seems, opposed it; and although Morse demonstrated that his was different from theirs, the patent was refused, owing to a prior publication in the London MECHANICS’ MAGAZINE for February 18, 1838, in the form of an article quoted from Silliman’s AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SCIENCE for October, 1837. Morse did not attempt to get this legal disqualification set aside. In France he was equally unfortunate. His instrument was exhibited by Arago at a meeting of the Institute, and praised by Humboldt and Gay-Lussac; but the French patent law requires the invention to be at work in France within two years, and when Morse arranged to erect a telegraph line on the St. Germain Railway, the Government declined to sanction it, on the plea that the telegraph must become a State monopoly.
All his efforts to introduce the invention into Europe were futile, and he returned disheartened to the United States on April 15, 1839. While in Paris, he had met M. Daguerre, who, with M. Niepce, had just discovered the art of photography. The process was communicated to Morse, who, with Dr. Draper, fitted up a studio on the roof of the University, and took the first daguerreotypes in America.
The American Congress now seemed as indifferent to his inventions as the European governments. An exciting campaign for the presidency was at hand, and the proposed grant for the telegraph was forgotten. Mr. Smith had returned to the political arena, and the Vails were under a financial cloud, so that Morse could expect no further aid from them. The next two years were the darkest he had ever known. ‘Porte Crayon’ tells us that he had little patronage as a professor, and at one time only three pupils besides himself. Crayon’s fee of fifty dollars for the second quarter were overdue, owing to his remittance from home not arriving; and one day the professor said, ‘Well, Strother, my boy, how are we off for money?’ Strother explained how he was situated, and stated that he hoped to have the money next week.
‘Next week!’ repeated Morse. ‘I shall be dead by that time . . . dead of starvation.’
‘Would ten dollars be of any service?’ inquired the student, both astonished and distressed.
‘Ten dollars would save my life,’ replied Morse; and Strother paid the money, which was all he owned. They dined together, and afterwards the professor remarked, ‘This is my first meal for twenty-four hours. Strother, don’t be an artist. It means beggary. A house-dog lives better. The very sensitiveness that stimulates an artist to work keeps him alive to suffering.’
Towards the close of 1841 he wrote to Alfred Vail: ‘I have not a cent in the world;’ and to Mr. Smith about the same time he wrote: ‘I find myself without sympathy or help from any who are associated with me, whose interests, one would think, would impell them at least to inquire if they could render some assistance. For nearly two years past I have devoted all my time and scanty means, living on a mere pittance, denying myself all pleasures, and even necessary food, that I might have a sum to put my telegraph into such a position before Congress as to insure success to the common enterprise. I am crushed for want of means, and means of so trifling a character too, that they who know how to ask (which I do not) could obtain in a few hours…. As it is, although everything is favourable, although I have no competition and no opposition–on the contrary, although every member of Congress, so far as I can learn, is favourable–yet I fear all will fail because I am too poor to risk the trifling expense which my journey and residence in Washington will occasion me. I WILL NOT RUN INTO DEBT, if I lose the whole matter. So unless I have the means from some source, I shall he compelled, however reluctantly, to leave it. No one call tell the days and months of anxiety and labour I have had in perfecting my telegraphic apparatus. For want of means I have been compelled to make with my own hands (and to labour for weeks) a piece of mechanism which could be made much better, and in a tenth part of the time, by a good mechanician, thus wasting time–time which I cannot recall, and which seems double-winged to me.
‘”Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” It is true, and I have known the full meaning of it. Nothing but the consciousness that I have an invention which is to mark an era in human civilisation, and which is to contribute to the happiness of millions, would have sustained me through so many and such lengthened trials of patience in perfecting it.’ Morse did not invent for money or scientific reputation; he believed himself the instrument of a great purpose.
During the summer of 1842 he insulated a wire two miles long with hempen threads saturated with pitch-tar and surrounded with india- rubber. On October 18, during bright moonlight, he submerged this wire in New York Harbour, between Castle Garden and Governor’s Island, by unreeling it from a small boat rowed by a man. After signals had been sent through it, the wire was cut by an anchor, and a portion of it carried off by sailors. This appears to be the first experiment in signalling on a subaqueous wire. It was repeated on a canal at Washington the following December, and both are described in a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, December 23, 1844, in which Morse states his belief that ‘telegraphic communication on the electro-magnetic plan may with certainty be established across the Atlantic Ocean. Startling as this may now seem, I am confident the time will come when the project will be realised.’
In December, 1842, the inventor made another effort to obtain the help of Congress, and the Committee on Commerce again recommended an appropriation of 30,000 dollars in aid of the telegraph. Morse had come to be regarded as a tiresome ‘crank’ by some of the Congressmen, and they objected that if the magnetic telegraph were endowed, mesmerism or any other ‘ism’ might have a claim on the Treasury. The Bill passed the House by a slender majority of six votes, given orally, some of the representatives fearing that their support of the measure would alienate their constituents. Its fate in the Senate was even more dubious; and when it came up for consideration late one night before the adjournment, a senator, the Hon. Fernando Wood, went to Morse, who watched in the gallery, and said,’There is no use in your staying here. The Senate is not in sympathy with your project. I advise you to give it up, return home, and think no more about it.’
Morse retired to his rooms, and after paying his bill for board, including his breakfast the next morning, he found himself with only thirty-seven cents and a half in the world. Kneeling by his bed-side he opened his heart to God, leaving the issue in His hands, and then, comforted in spirit, fell asleep. While eating his breakfast next morning, Miss Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of his friend the Hon. Henry L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents, came up with a beaming countenance, and holding out her hand, said–
‘Professor, I have come to congratulate you.’
‘Congratulate me!’ replied Morse; ‘on what ?’
‘Why,’ she exclaimed,’ on the passage of your Bill by the Senate!’
It had been voted without debate at the very close of the session. Years afterwards Morse declared that this was the turning-point in the history of the telegraph. ‘My personal funds,’ he wrote,’ were reduced to the fraction of a dollar; and had the passage of the Bill failed from any cause, there would have been little prospect of another attempt on my part to introduce to the world my new invention.’
Grateful to Miss Ellsworth for bringing the good news, he declared that when the Washington to Baltimore line was complete hers should be the first despatch.
The Government now paid him a salary of 2,500 dollars a month to superintend the laying of the underground line which he had decided upon. Professors Gale and Fisher became his assistants. Vail was put in charge, and Mr. Ezra Cornell, who founded the Cornell University on the site of the cotton mill where he had worked as a mechanic, and who had invented a machine for laying pipes, was chosen to supervise the running of the line. The conductor was a five-wire cable laid in pipes; but after several miles had been run from Baltimore to the house intended for the relay, the insulation broke down. Cornell, it is stated, injured his machine to furnish an excuse for the stoppage of the work. The leaders consulted in secret, for failure was staring them in the face. Some 23,000 dollars of the Government grant were spent, and Mr. Smith, who had lost his faith in the undertaking, claimed 4000 of the remaining 7000 dollars under his contract for laying the line. A bitter quarrel arose between him and Morse, which only ended in the grave. He opposed an additional grant from Government, and Morse, in his dejection, proposed to let the patent expire, and if the Government would use his apparatus and remunerate him, he would reward Alfred Vail, while Smith would be deprived of his portion. Happily, it was decided to abandon the subterranean line, and erect the conductor on poles above the ground. A start was made from the Capitol, Washington, on April 1, 1844, and the line was carried to the Mount Clare Depot, Baltimore, on May 23, 1843. Next morning Miss Ellsworth fulfilled her promise by inditing the first message. She chose the words, ‘What hath God wrought?’ and they were transmitted by Morse from the Capitol at 8.45 a.m., and received at Mount Clare by Alfred Vail.
This was the first message of a public character sent by the electric telegraph in the Western World, and it is preserved by the Connecticut Historical Society. The dots and dashes representing the words were not drawn with pen and ink, but embossed on the paper with a metal stylus. The machine itself was kept in the National Museum at Washington, and on removing it, in 1871, to exhibit it at the Morse Memorial Celebration at New York, a member of the Vail family discovered a folded paper attached to its base. A corner of the writing was torn away before its importance was recognised; but it proved to be a signed statement by Alfred Vail, to the effect that the method of embossing was invented by him in the sixth storey of the NEW YORK OBSERVER office during 1844, prior to the erection of the Washington to Baltimore line, without any hint from Morse. ‘I have not asserted publicly my right as first and sole inventor,’ he says, ‘because I wished to preserve the peaceful unity of the invention, and because I could not, according to my contract with Professor Morse, have got a patent for it.’
The powers of the telegraph having been demonstrated, enthusiasm took the place of apathy, and Morse, who had been neglected before, was in some danger of being over-praised. A political incident spread the fame of the telegraph far and wide. The Democratic Convention, sitting in Baltimore, nominated Mr. James K. Polk as candidate for the Presidency, and Mr. Silas Wright for the Vice-Presidency. Alfred Vail telegraphed the news to Morse in Washington, and he at once told Mr. Wright. The result was that a few minutes later the Convention was dumbfounded to receive a message from Wright declining to be nominated. They would not believe it, and appointed a committee to inquire into the matter; but the telegram was found to be genuine.
On April 1, 1845, the Baltimore to Washington line was formally opened for public business. The tariff adopted by the Postmaster-General was one cent for every four characters, and the receipts of the first four days were a single cent. At the end of a week they had risen to about a dollar.
Morse offered the invention to the Government for 100,000 dollars, but the Postmaster-General declined it on the plea that its working ‘had not satisfied him that under any rate of postage that could be adopted its revenues could be made equal to its expenditures.’ Thus through the narrow views and purblindness of its official the nation lost an excellent opportunity of keeping the telegraph system in its own hands. Morse was disappointed at this refusal, but it proved a blessing in disguise. He and his agent, the Hon. Amos Kendall, determined to rely on private enterprise.
A line between New York and Philadelphia was projected, and the apparatus was exhibited in Broadway at a charge of twenty-five cents a head. But the door-money did not pay the expenses. There was an air of poverty about the show. One of the exhibitors slept on a couple of chairs, and the princely founder of Cornell University was grateful to Providence for a shilling picked up on the side-walk, which enabled him to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Sleek men of capital, looking with suspicion on the meagre furniture and miserable apparatus, withheld their patronage; but humbler citizens invested their hard-won earnings, the Magnetic Telegraph Company was incorporated, and the line was built. The following year, 1846, another line was run from Philadelphia to Baltimore by Mr. Henry O’Reilly, of Rochester, N.Y., an acute pioneer of the telegraph. In the course of ten years the Atlantic States were covered by a straggling web of lines under the control of thirty or forty rival companies working different apparatus, such as that of Morse, Bain, House, and Hughes, but owing to various causes only one or two were paying a dividend. It was a fit moment for amalgamation, and this was accomplished in 1856 by Mr. Hiram Sibley. ‘This Western Union,’ says one in speaking of the united corporation, ‘seems to me very like collecting all the paupers in the State and arranging them into a union so as to make rich men of them.’ But ‘Sibley’s crazy scheme’ proved the salvation of the competing companies. In 1857, after the first stage coach had crossed the plains to California, Mr. Henry O’Reilly proposed to build a line of telegraph, and Mr. Sibley urged the Western Union to undertake it. He encountered a strong opposition. The explorations of Fremont were still fresh in the public mind, and the country was regarded as a howling wilderness. It was objected that no poles could be obtained on the prairies, that the Indians or the buffaloes would destroy the line, and that the traffic would not pay. ‘Well, gentlemen,’ said Sibley, ‘if you won’t join hands with me in the thing, I’ll go it alone.’ He procured a subsidy from the Government, who realised the value of the line from a national point of view, the money was raised under the auspices of the Western Union, and the route by Omaha, Fort Laramie, and Salt Lake City to San Francisco was fixed upon. The work began on July 4, 1861, and though it was expected to occupy two years, it was completed in four months and eleven days. The traffic soon became lucrative, and the Indians, except in time of war, protected the line out of friendship for Mr. Sibley. A black-tailed buck, the gift of White Cloud, spent its last years in the park of his home at Rochester.
The success of the overland wire induced the Company to embark on a still greater scheme, the project of Mr. Perry MacDonough Collins, for a trunk line between America and Europe by way of British Columbia, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Siberia. A line already existed between European Russia and Irkutsk, in Siberia, and it was to be extended to the mouth of the Amoor, where the American lines were to join it. Two cables, one across Behring Sea and another across the Bay of Anadyr, were to link the two continents.
The expedition started in the summer of 1865 with a fleet of about thirty vessels, carrying telegraph and other stores. In spite of severe hardships, a considerable part of the line had been erected when the successful completion of the trans-Atlantic cable, in 1866, caused the enterprise to be abandoned after an expenditure of 3,000,000 dollars. A trace cut for the line through the forests of British Columbia is still known as the ‘telegraph trail.’ In spite of this misfortune the Western Union Telegraph Company has continued to flourish. In 1883 its capital amounted to 80,000,000 dollars, and it now possesses a virtual monopoly of telegraphic communication in the United States.
Morse did not limit his connections to land telegraphy. In 1854, when Mr. Cyrus Field brought out the Atlantic Telegraph Company, to lay a cable between Europe and America, he became its electrician, and went to England for the purpose of consulting with the English engineers on the execution of the project. But his instrument was never used on the ocean lines, and, indeed, it was not adapted for them.
During this time Alfred Vail continued to improve the Morse apparatus, until it was past recognition. The porte-rule and type of the transmitter were discarded for a simple ‘key’ or rocking lever, worked up and down by the hand, so as to make and break the circuit. The clumsy framework of the receiver was reduced to a neat and portable size. The inking pen was replaced by a metal wheel or disc, smeared with ink, and rolling on the paper at every dot or dash. Vail, as we have seen, also invented the plan of embossing the message. But he did still more. When the recording instrument was introduced, it was found that the clerks persisted in ‘reading’ the signals by the clicking of the marking lever, and not from the paper. Threats of instant dismissal did not stop the practice when nobody was looking on. Morse, who regarded the record as the distinctive feature of his invention, was very hostile to the practice; but Nature was too many for him. The mode of interpreting by sound was the easier and more economical of the two; and Vail, with his mechanical instinct, adopted it. He produced an instrument in which there is no paper or marking device, and the message is simply sounded by the lever of the armature striking on its metal stops. At present the Morse recorder is rarely used in comparison with the ‘sounder.’
The original telegraph of Morse, exhibited in 1837, has become an archaic form. Apart from the central idea of employing an electro-magnet to signal–an idea applied by Henry in 1832, when Morse had only thought of it–the development of the apparatus is mainly due to Vail. His working devices made it a success, and are in use to-day, while those of Morse are all extinct.
Morse has been highly honoured and rewarded, not only by his countrymen, but by the European powers. The Queen of Spain sent him a Cross of the Order of Isabella, the King of Prussia presented him with a jewelled snuff-box, the Sultan of Turkey decorated him with the Order of Glory, the Emperor of the French admitted him into the Legion of Honour. Moreover, the ten European powers in special congress awarded him 400,000 francs (some 80,000 dollars), as an expression of their gratitude: honorary banquets were a common thing to the man who had almost starved through his fidelity to an idea.
But beyond his emoluments as a partner in the invention, Alfred Vail had no recompense. Morse, perhaps, was somewhat jealous of acknowledging the services of his ‘mechanical assistant,’ as he at one time chose to regard Vail. When personal friends, knowing his services, urged Vail to insist upon their recognition, he replied, ‘I am confident that Professor Morse will do me justice.’ But even ten years after the death of Vail, on the occasion of a banquet given in his honour by the leading citizens of New York, Morse, alluding to his invention, said: ‘In 1835, according to the concurrent testimony of many witnesses, it lisped its first accents, and automatically recorded them a few blocks only distant from the spot from which I now address you. It was a feeble child indeed, ungainly in its dress, stammering in its speech; but it had then all the distinctive features and characteristics of its present manhood. It found a friend, an efficient friend, in Mr. Alfred Vail, of New Jersey, who, with his father and brother, furnished the means to give the child a decent dress, preparatory to its’ visit to the seat of Government.’
When we remember that even by this time Vail had entirely altered the system of signals, and introduced the dot-dash code, we cannot but regard this as a stinted acknowledgment of his colleague’s work. But the man who conceives the central idea, and cherishes it, is apt to be niggardly in allowing merit to the assistant whose mechanical skill is able to shape and put it in practice; while, on the other hand, the assistant is sometimes inclined to attach more importance to the working out than it deserves. Alfred Vail cannot be charged with that, however, and it would have been the more graceful on the part of Morse had he avowed his indebtedness to Vail with a greater liberality. Nor would this have detracted from his own merit as the originator and preserver of the idea, without which the improvements of Vail would have had no existence. In the words of the Hon. Amos Kendall, a friend of both: ‘If justice be done, the name of Alfred Vail will for ever stand associated with that of Samuel F. B. Morse in the history and introduction into public use of the electro-magnetic telegraph.’
Professor Morse spent his declining years at Locust Grove, a charming retreat on the banks of the River Hudson. In private life he was a fine example of the Christian gentleman.
In the summer of 1871, the Telegraphic Brotherhood of the World erected a statue to his honour in the Central Park, New York. Delegates from different parts of America were present at the unveiling; and in the evening there was a reception at the Academy of Music, where the first recording telegraph used on the Washington to Baltimore line was exhibited. The inventor himself appeared, and sent a message at a small table, which was flashed by the connected wires to the remotest parts of the Union, It ran: ‘Greeting and thanks to the telegraph fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill towards men.’
It was deemed fitting that Morse should unveil the statue of Benjamin Franklin, which had been erected in Printing House Square, New York. When his venerable figure appeared on the platform, and the long white hair was blown about his handsome face by the winter wind, a great cheer went up from the assembled multitude. But the day was bitterly cold, and the exposure cost him his life. Some months later, as he lay on his sick bed, he observed to the doctor, ‘The best is yet to come.’ In tapping his chest one day, the physician said,’ This is the way we doctors telegraph, professor,’ and Morse replied with a smile, ‘Very good–very good.’ These were his last words. He died at New York on April 2, 1872, at the age of eighty-one years, and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery.
SIR WILLIAM THOMSON.
Sir William Thomson, the greatest physicist of the age, and the highest authority on electrical science, theoretical and applied, was born at Belfast on June 25, 1824. His father, Dr. James Thomson, the son of a Scots-Irish farmer, showed a bent for scholarship when a boy, and became a pupil teacher in a small school near Ballynahinch, in County Down. With his summer earnings he educated himself at Glasgow University during winter. Appointed head master of a school in connection with the Royal Academical Institute, he subsequently obtained the professorship of mathematics in that academy. In 1832 he was called to the chair of mathematics in the University of Glasgow, where he achieved a reputation by his text-books on arithmetic and mathematics.
William began his course at the same college in his eleventh year, and was petted by the older students for his extraordinary quickness in solving the problems of his father’s class. It was quite plain that his genius lay in the direction of mathematics; and on finishing at Glasgow he was sent to the higher mathematical school of St. Peter’s College, Cambridge. In 1845 he graduated as second wrangler, but won the Smith prize. This ‘consolation stakes’ is regarded as a better test of originality than the tripos. The first, or senior, wrangler probably beat him by a facility in applying well-known rules, and a readiness in writing. One of the examiners is said to have declared that he was unworthy to cut Thomson’s pencils. It is certain that while the victor has been forgotten, the vanquished has created a world-wide renown.
While at Cambridge he took an active part in the field sports and athletics of the University. He won the Silver Sculls, and rowed in the winning boat of the Oxford and Cambridge race. He also took a lively interest in the classics, in music, and in general literature; but the real love, the central passion of his intellectual life, was the pursuit of science. The study of mathematics, physics, and in particular, of electricity, had captivated his imagination, and soon engrossed all the teeming faculties of his mind. At the age of seventeen, when ordinary lads are fond of games, and the cleverer sort are content to learn without attempting to originate, young Thomson had begun to make investigations. The CAMBRIDGE MATHEMATICAL JOURNAL of 1842 contains a paper by him–‘On the uniform motion of heat in homogeneous solid bodies, and its connection with the mathematical theory of electricity.’ In this he demonstrated the identity of the laws governing the distribution of electric or magnetic force in general, with the laws governing the distribution of the lines of the motion of heat in certain special cases. The paper was followed by others on the mathematical theory of electricity; and in 1845 he gave the first mathematical development of Faraday’s notion, that electric induction takes place through an intervening medium, or ‘dielectric,’ and not by some incomprehensible ‘action at a distance.’ He also devised an hypothesis of electrical images, which became a powerful agent in solving problems of electrostatics, or the science which deals with the forces of electricity at rest.
On gaining a fellowship at his college, he spent some time in the laboratory of the celebrated Regnault, at Paris; but in 1846 he was appointed to the chair of natural philosophy in the University of Glasgow. It was due to the brilliant promise he displayed, as much as to the influence of his father, that at the age of twenty-two he found himself wearing the gown of a learned professor in one of the oldest Universities in the country, and lecturing to the class of which he was a freshman but a few years before.
Thomson became a man of public note in connection with the laying of the first Atlantic cable. After Cooke and Wheatstone had introduced their working telegraph in 1839; the idea of a submarine line across the Atlantic Ocean began to dawn on the minds of men as a possible triumph of the future. Morse proclaimed his faith in it as early as the year 1840, and in 1842 he submerged a wire, insulated with tarred hemp and india-rubber, in the water of New York harbour, and telegraphed through it. The following autumn Wheatstone performed a similar experiment in the Bay of Swansea. A good insulator to cover the wire and prevent the electricity from leaking into the water was requisite for the success of a long submarine line. India-rubber had been tried by Jacobi, the Russian electrician, as far back as 1811. He laid a wire insulated with rubber across the Neva at St. Petersburg, and succeeded in firing a mine by an electric spark sent through it; but india-rubber, although it is now used to a considerable extent, was not easy to manipulate in those days. Luckily another gum which could be melted by heat, and readily applied to the wire, made its appearance. Gutta-percha, the adhesive juice of the ISONANDRA GUTTA tree, was introduced to Europe in 1842 by Dr. Montgomerie, a Scotch surveyor in the service of the East India Company. Twenty years before he had seen whips made of it in Singapore, and believed that it would be useful in the fabrication of surgical apparatus. Faraday and Wheatstone soon discovered its merits as an insulator, and in 1845 the latter suggested that it should be employed to cover the wire which it was proposed to lay from Dover to Calais. It was tried on a wire laid across the Rhine between Deutz and Cologne. In 1849 Mr. C. V. Walker, electrician to the South Eastern Railway Company, submerged a wire coated with it, or, as it is technically called, a gutta-percha core, along the coast off Dover.
The following year Mr. John Watkins Brett laid the first line across the Channel. It was simply a copper wire coated with gutta-percha, without any other protection. The core was payed out from a reel mounted behind the funnel of a steam tug, the Goliath, and sunk by means of lead weights attached to it every sixteenth of a mile. She left Dover about ten o’clock on the morning of August 28, 1850, with some thirty men on board and a day’s provisions. The route she was to follow was marked by a line of buoys and flags. By eight o’clock in the evening she arrived at Cape Grisnez, and came to anchor near the shore. Mr. Brett watched the operations through a glass at Dover. ‘The declining sun,’ he says, ‘enabled me to discern the moving shadow of the steamer’s smoke on the white cliff; thus indicating her progress. At length the shadow ceased to move. The vessel had evidently come to an anchor. We gave them half an hour to convey the end of the wire to shore and attach the type- printing instrument, and then I sent the first electrical message across the Channel. This was reserved for Louis Napoleon.’ According to Mr. F. C. Webb, however, the first of the signals were a mere jumble of letters, which were torn up. He saved a specimen of the slip on which they were printed, and it was afterwards presented to the Duke of Wellington.
Next morning this pioneer line was broken down at a point about 200 Yards from Cape Grisnez, and it turned out that a Boulogne fisherman had raised it on his trawl and cut a piece away, thinking he had found a rare species of tangle with gold in its heart. This misfortune suggested the propriety of arming the core against mechanical injury by sheathing it in a cable of hemp and iron wires. The experiment served to keep alive the concession, and the next year, on November 13, 1851, a protected core or true cable was laid from a Government hulk, the Blazer, which was towed across the Channel.
Next year Great Britain and Ireland were linked together. In May, 1853, England was joined to Holland by a cable across the North Sea, from Orfordness to the Hague. It was laid by the Monarch, a paddle steamer which had been fitted for the work. During the night she met with such heavy weather that the engineer was lashed near the brakes; and the electrician, Mr. Latimer Clark, sent the continuity signals by jerking a needle instrument with a string. These and other efforts in the Mediterranean and elsewhere were the harbingers of the memorable enterprise which bound the Old World and the New.
Bishop Mullock, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland, was lying becalmed in his yacht one day in sight of Cape Breton Island, and began to dream of a plan for uniting his savage diocese to the mainland by a line of telegraph through the forest from St. John’s to Cape Ray, and cables across the mouth of the St. Lawrence from Cape Ray to Nova Scotia. St. John’s was an Atlantic port, and it seemed to him that the passage of news between America and Europe could thus be shortened by forty-eight hours. On returning to St. John’s he published his idea in the COURIER by a letter dated November 8, 1850.
About the same time a similar plan occurred to Mr. F. N. Gisborne, a telegraph engineer in Nova Scotia. In the spring of 1851 he procured a grant from the Legislature of Newfoundland, resigned his situation in Nova Scotia, and having formed a company, began the construction of the land line. But in 1853 his bills were dishonoured by the company, he was arrested for debt, and stripped of all his fortune. The following year, however, he was introduced to Mr. Cyrus Field, of New York, a wealthy merchant, who had just returned from a six months’ tour in South America. Mr. Field invited Mr. Gisborne to his house in order to discuss the project. When his visitor was gone, Mr. Field began to turn over a terrestrial globe which stood in his library, and it flashed upon him that the telegraph to Newfoundland might be extended across the Atlantic Ocean. The idea fired him with enthusiasm. It seemed worthy of a man’s ambition, and although he had retired from business to spend his days in peace, he resolved to dedicate his time, his energies, and fortune to the accomplishment of this grand enterprise.
A presentiment of success may have inspired him; but he was ignorant alike of submarine cables and the deep sea. Was it possible to submerge the cable in the Atlantic, and would it be safe at the bottom? Again, would the messages travel through the line fast enough to make it pay! On the first question he consulted Lieutenant Maury, the great authority on mareography. Maury told him that according to recent soundings by Lieutenant Berryman, of the United States brig Dolphin, the bottom between Ireland and Newfoundland was a plateau covered with microscopic shells at a depth not over 2000 fathoms, and seemed to have been made for the very purpose of receiving the cable. He left the question of finding a time calm enough, the sea smooth enough, a wire long enough, and a ship big enough,’ to lay a line some sixteen hundred miles in length to other minds. As to the line itself, Mr. Field consulted Professor Morse, who assured him that it was quite possible to make and lay a cable of that length. He at once adopted the scheme of Gisborne as a preliminary step to the vaster undertaking, and promoted the New York, Newfoundland, and London Telegraph Company, to establish a line of telegraph between America and Europe. Professor Morse was appointed electrician to the company.
The first thing to be done was to finish the line between St. John’s and Nova Scotia, and in 1855 an attempt was made to lay a cable across the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, It was payed out from a barque in tow of a steamer; but when half was laid a gale rose, and to keep the barque from sinking the line was cut away. Next summer a steamboat was fitted out for the purpose, and the cable was submerged. St. John’s was now connected with New York by a thousand miles of land and submarine telegraph.
Mr. Field then directed his efforts to the completion of the trans- oceanic section. He induced the American Government to despatch Lieutenant Berryman, in the Arctic, and the British Admiralty to send Lieutenant: Dayman, in the Cyclops, to make a special survey along the proposed route of the cable. These soundings revealed the existence of a submarine hill dividing the ‘telegraph plateau’ from the shoal water on the coast of Ireland, but its slope was gradual and easy.
Till now the enterprise had been purely American, and the funds provided by American capitalists, with the exception of a few shares held by Mr. J. W. Brett. But seeing that the cable was to land on British soil, it was fitting that the work should be international, and that the British people should be asked to contribute towards the manufacture and submersion of the cable. Mr. Field therefore proceeded to London, and with the assistance of Mr. Brett the Atlantic Telegraph Company was floated. Mr. Field himself supplied a quarter of the needed capital; and we may add that Lady Byron, and Mr. Thackeray, the novelist, were among the shareholders.
The design of the cable was a subject of experiment by Professor Morse and others. It was known that the conductor should be of copper, possessing a high conductivity for the electric current, and that its insulating jacket of gutta-percha should offer a great resistance to the leakage of the current. Moreover, experience had shown that the protecting sheath or armour of the core should be light and flexible as well as strong, in order to resist external violence and allow it to be lifted for repair. There was another consideration, however, which at this time was rather a puzzle. As early as 1823 Mr. (afterwards Sir) Francis Ronalds had observed that electric signals were retarded in passing through an insulated wire or core laid under ground, and the same effect was noticeable on cores immersed in water, and particularly on the lengthy cable between England and the Hague. Faraday showed that it was caused by induction between the electricity in the wire and the earth or water surrounding it. A core, in fact, is an attenuated Leyden jar; the wire of the core, its insulating jacket, and the soil or water around it stand respectively for the inner tinfoil, the glass, and the outer tinfoil of the jar. When the wire is charged from a battery, the electricity induces an opposite charge in the water as it travels along, and as the two charges attract each other, the exciting charge is restrained. The speed of a signal through the conductor of a submarine cable is thus diminished by a drag of its own making. The nature of the phenomenon was clear, but the laws which governed it were still a mystery. It became a serious question whether, on a long cable such as that required for the Atlantic, the signals might not be so sluggish that the work would hardly pay. Faraday had said to Mr. Field that a signal would take ‘about a second,’ and the American was satisfied; but Professor Thomson enunciated the law of retardation, and cleared up the whole matter. He showed that the velocity of a signal through a given core was inversely proportional to the square of the length of the core. That is to say, in any particular cable the speed of a signal is diminished to one-fourth if the length is doubled, to one-ninth if it is trebled, to one-sixteenth if it is quadrupled, and so on. It was now possible to calculate the time taken by a signal in traversing the proposed Atlantic line to a minute fraction of a second, and to design the proper core for a cable of any given length.
The accuracy of Thomson’s law was disputed in 1856 by Dr. Edward O. Wildman Whitehouse, the electrician of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, who had misinterpreted the results of his own experiments. Thomson disposed of his contention in a letter to the ATHENAEUM, and the directors of the company saw that he was a man to enlist in their adventure. It is not enough to say the young Glasgow professor threw himself heart and soul into their work. He descended in their midst like the very genius of electricity, and helped them out of all their difficulties. In 1857 he published in the ENGINEER the whole theory of the mechanical forces involved in the laying of a submarine cable, and showed that when the line is running out of the ship at a constant speed in a uniform depth of water, it sinks in a slant or straight incline from the point where it enters the water to that where it touches the bottom.
To these gifts of theory, electrical and mechanical, Thomson added a practical boon in the shape of the reflecting galvanometer, or mirror instrument. This measurer of the current was infinitely more sensitive than any which preceded it, and enables the electrician to detect the slightest flaw in the core of a cable during its manufacture and submersion. Moreover, it proved the best apparatus for receiving the messages through a long cable. The Morse and other instruments, however suitable for land lines and short cables, were all but useless on the Atlantic line, owing to the retardation of the signals; but the mirror instrument sprang out of Thomson’s study of this phenomenon, and was designed to match it. Hence this instrument, through being the fittest for the purpose, drove the others from the field, and allowed the first Atlantic cables to be worked on a profitable basis.
The cable consisted of a strand of seven copper wires, one weighing 107 pounds a nautical mile or knot, covered with three coats of gutta- percha, weighing 261 pounds a knot, and wound with tarred hemp, over