First transcontinental telegraph

The first transcontinental telegraph (completed October 24, 1861) was a line that connected the existing network in the eastern United States to a small network in California, by means of a link between Omaha, Nebraska and Carson City, Nevada, via Salt Lake City. It was a milestone in electrical engineering and in the formation of the United States of America.[1] It served as the only method of near-instantaneous communication between the east and west coasts during the 1860s. In 1841, it had taken 110 days for the news of the death of President William Henry Harrison to reach Los Angeles.[2]

The Overland Pony Express
Wood engraving depiction of the construction of the first transcontinental telegraph, with a Pony Express rider passing below.

Background

After the development of efficient telegraph systems in the 1830s, their use saw almost explosive growth in the 1840s. Samuel Morse's first experimental line between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore – the Baltimore-Washington telegraph line – was demonstrated on May 24, 1844. By 1850 there were lines covering most of the eastern states, and a separate network of lines was soon constructed in the booming economy of California.

California was admitted to the United States in 1850, the first state on the Pacific coast. Major efforts ensued to integrate California with the other states, including sea, overland mail pioneered by George Chorpenning, the Pony Express, and passenger services such as Butterfield Overland Mail. Proposals for the subsidy of a telegraph line to California were made in Congress throughout the 1850s, and in 1860 the U.S. Post Office was authorized to spend $40,000 per year to build and maintain an overland line. The year before, the California State Legislature had authorized a similar subsidy of $6,000 per year.

Construction

Construction of the first transcontinental telegraph was the work of Western Union, which Hiram Sibley and Ezra Cornell had established in 1856 by merging companies operating east of the Mississippi River.[3] A second significant step was the passing of the Telegraph Act by the Congress in 1860, which authorized the government to open bids for the construction of a telegraph line between Missouri and California and regulated the service to be provided. Eventually, the only bidder would be Sibley, because all competitors—Theodore Adams, Benjamin Ficklin and John Harmon—withdrew at the last minute. Later they joined Sibley in his effort.[4]

Similar to the First Transcontinental Railroad, elimination of the gap in the telegraph service between Fort Kearny in Nebraska and Fort Churchill in Nevada was planned to be divided between teams that would be advancing the construction in opposite directions. The Pacific Telegraph Company would build west from Nebraska and the Overland Telegraph Company would build east from Nevada's connection to the California system.[5] James Gamble, an experienced telegraph builder in California, was put in charge of the western crew, and Edward Creighton was responsible for the eastern crew. From Salt Lake City, a crew in charge of James Street advanced westward, and W.H. Stebbins’s grew eastward toward Fort Kearny. Creighton’s crew erected its first pole on 4 July 1861. When the project was completed in October 1861, they had planted 27,500 poles holding 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of single-strand iron wire over a terrain that was not always inviting.[6] California Chief Justice Stephen Field sent one of the first messages from San Francisco to Abraham Lincoln, using the occasion to assure the president of California's allegiance to the Union.[7] Note that the construction took place while Civil War fighting was taking place to the southeast. The entire cost of the system was half a million dollars.[8]

Pacific Telegraph Route - map, 1862
Route of the first transcontinental telegraph

Operation

Difficulties did not stop with the completion of the project. Keeping it in operation faced multiple problems: (a) inclement weather in the form of lightning bolts, strong winds and heavy snow damaged both poles and the wire; (b) rubbing on the poles by bison from time to time sent down sections of the telegraph, eventually contributing to their demise; (c) the system had to be rerouted through Chicago to avoid Confederate attempts to cut the line in Missouri to disrupt communications among Union forces; (d) Native Americans soon started to do the same further west as part of their hostilities with the Army.[9]

Financially, the First Transcontinental Telegraph was a big success from the beginning. The charge during the first week of operation was a dollar a word, which was higher than the 30 cents specified by the Telegraph Act of 1860.[8]

The telegraph line immediately made the Pony Express obsolete, which officially ceased operations two days later. The overland telegraph line was operated until 1869, when it was replaced by a multi-line telegraph that had been constructed alongside the route of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Milestones:Transcontinental Telegraph, 1861". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
  2. ^ Peters 1996, pp. 173.
  3. ^ Peters 1996, pp. 178−179.
  4. ^ Peters 1996, pp. 180.
  5. ^ Murphy, Miriam B. (October 1995). "The Telegraph was the Information Highway of the 1860s". Utah History to Go. Utah State Historical Society/Utah State History. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  6. ^ Peters 1996, pp. 182−186.
  7. ^ Peters 1996, pp. 190.
  8. ^ a b Peters 1996, pp. 192.
  9. ^ Peters 1996, pp. 187−189.

Bibliography

  • Peters, Arthur K. (1996). Seven Trails West. Abbeville Press. ISBN 1-55859-782-4.
  • Jepsen, Thomas (1987). "The Telegraph Comes to Colorado: A New Technology and Its Consequences". Essays and Monographs in Colorado History. 7: 1–25.

External links and sources

Baltimore–Washington telegraph line

The Baltimore–Washington telegraph line was the first long-distance telegraph system set up to run overland in the United States.

Benjamin Franklin Ficklin

Benjamin Franklin Ficklin (1827–1871) was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Class of 1849. He is famous for his help in starting the Pony Express and for establishing other stage coach and mail routes in the United States during the nineteenth century. Ficklin was also one of the people responsible for the creation of the Pacific Telegraph Company in 1861.

Born in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1827, Ficklin had a reputation for misbehaving. So in 1845, his father sent young Ficklin to attend the Virginia Military Institute. As a cadet, Ficklin was known for his pranks, and he often got in trouble for them. One night, he filled a howitzer with gunpowder, turned it toward the cadet barracks, and discharged it (Virginia Military Institute Archives, 2005). This action resulted in his suspension in 1846.

With his suspension, Ficklin entered the Army. He ultimately served as a corporal in the Mexican–American War, where he was injured but recovered. Ficklin requested to be readmitted into the corps of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, and his request was approved. Upon graduation, Ficklin attempted to work as a teacher. Dissatisfied, he sought employment with an express company in Alabama. Later, he worked as a surveyor for varied freight lines.

Ficklin was ubiquitous at a number of important moments during the Utah War, including the raid on Fort Lemhi which signaled Deseret's demise.

In 1859, Ficklin returned to the express and stage business which now boomed with the western expansion precipitated in the wave of Gold Rush fever. In 1860, some credit him with the idea of the Pony Express. Yet, William Hepburn Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell are more often credited as the founders, owners, and operators of the Pony Express. Ficklin did serve as general manager for the venture, until a disagreement with Russell. Russell allegedly became jealous of Ficklin's popularity and suspicious of Ficklin's loyalties. Learning of this, Ficklin immediately resigned.

In 1860, the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 called for the facilitation of communication between the east and west coasts of the United States of America. Hiram Sibley of the Western Union Telegraph Company won the contract. In 1861, Ficklin joined Hiram Sibley in helping to form the Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska. At the same time, Jeptha Wade was asked by Hiram Sibley to consolidate smaller telegraph companies in California. While the Pacific Telegraph Company built west from Omaha, Nebraska, the Overland Telegraph Company of California was thus formed and built east from Carson City, Nevada. With their connection in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 24, 1861, the final link between the east and west coasts of the United States of America was made. The First Transcontinental Telegraph would ironically lead to the immediate demise of the Pony Express. The Pacific Telegraph Company and Overland Telegraph Company of California were eventually absorbed into the Western Union Telegraph Company.

During the Civil War, Ficklin joined the Confederate States of America's war effort in Virginia. He eventually served as a Confederate purchasing agent in Europe and as an intelligence officer. During the war, he achieved some status. In 1864, he even bought Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, but it would be stripped from him under Reconstruction. In 1865, Ficklin was sent on a secret peace mission to Washington, D.C.. While there, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and Ficklin was arrested. He was cleared of suspicion and released upon his swearing a loyalty oath to the Union.

After the Civil War, Major Ficklin opened an express stagecoach business in Texas. The route served from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to California. He founded a town in Texas to serve his enterprise. After his death, the town was named after him. Today, Ben Ficklin, Texas, is a ghost town.

In the course of his final business venture, which included a U.S. Post Office subcontract, Ficklin frequently visited Washington, DC where, in March 1871, he was dining at the Willard hotel in Washington, D.C. when a fishbone lodged in his throat. He died a few days later, after a physician cut an artery while trying to remove the bone.

He is buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia.

One of his descendants, Jared Ficklin, would later appear on the PBS reality show Texas Ranch House portraying a cowboy. Correction: Jared Ficklin is related to Benjamin Franklin Ficklin, but is not a descendant given that Benjamin Franklin Ficklin died without children, therefore, he can have no direct descendants.

Central Overland Route

The Central Overland Route (also known as the "Central Overland Trail", "Central Route", "Simpson's Route", or the "Egan Trail") was a transportation route from Salt Lake City, Utah south of the Great Salt Lake through the mountains of central Nevada to Carson City, Nevada. For a decade after 1859, until the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, it served a vital role in the transport of emigrants, mail, freight, and passengers between California, Nevada, and Utah.

Deseret Telegraph Company

The Deseret Telegraph Company ( (listen)) was a telegraphy company headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. The company was organized in 1867 to direct operation of the recently completed Deseret Telegraph Line; its largest stakeholder was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Deseret line ran north and south through the Utah Territory, connecting the numerous settlements with Salt Lake City and the First Transcontinental Telegraph. The company was dissolved in 1900 when its assets, including the Deseret line, were sold to the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Fremont, Nebraska

Fremont is a city in Dodge County in the eastern portion of the state of Nebraska in the Midwestern United States. The population was 26,397 at the 2010 census. Fremont is the county seat and the home of Midland University.

George Chorpenning

George W. Chorpenning Jr. (sometimes spelled 'Chorpening')(1 June 1820 - 3 April 1894) was a pioneer in the transportation of mail, freight, and passengers through the arid and undeveloped western regions of nineteenth-century United States. His efforts in the 1850s were vital to the integration of the then-new state of California with the established government and economy east of the Mississippi River.

George Chorpenning was born in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the son of a county judge. He spent his youth in Somerset, and as a young adult he established a business in nearby Stoystown, Pennsylvania. In 1850 he traveled to California in search of gold. Although he did not become wealthy by mining, he could see the critical need for fast and reliable mail service between California and the eastern states, most of which was then being transported by sea around South America.

He teamed with fellow Pennsylvania entrepreneur Absolam Woodward, and they received a contract in April 1851 from the U.S. Post Office to provide monthly transport of the mail between Sacramento, California and Salt Lake City, the most difficult leg of the first overland mail service. The mails were run once per month in each direction. It was a hard journey over the Sierra Nevada, and 16 days was considered good time.

Captain Woodward, of Indiana County, Pennsylvania, made his first run, from California to Salt Lake City, in the winter of 1851/1852. He (as well as four other men in the party) was killed in an Indian attack; after that Chorpenning had the contract alone, and initially rode the trips himself. Although he persisted in keeping to his agreement with the Post Office, he saw that the schedule was difficult to meet, and that their chosen route along the California Trail was difficult to follow, especially in winter.

Chorpenning renewed his mail contract in 1854, but switched the route to an all-season road from Salt Lake City southwest to San Diego, California, and from there by ship to San Francisco, California. In 1858 he received a third government contract, this time for twice-monthly service and including stagecoach (passenger) service. By then Chorpenning had learned from Howard Egan about a more direct route from Salt Lake City, around the south end of the Great Salt Lake Desert, and through the mountains of central Nevada to the new towns of Carson City, Nevada and Genoa, Nevada. In 1859 Chorpenning used the eastern half of this route, connecting with the original Humboldt River route at Gravelly Ford, near present-day Beowawe, Nevada. By 1860 the full Central Nevada Route had been surveyed by James H. Simpson and improved by the U.S. Army. Chorpenning built a series of provisioned way stations along the route to allow rapid exchange of mule teams.

Unfortunately Chorpenning also had his mail contract annulled in 1860, largely for political reasons. Companies headed by William Hepburn Russell took over the route, and used Chorpenning's way stations to establish the short-lived Pony Express mail service. The Pony Express became obsolete in late 1861 when the First Transcontinental Telegraph, also using Chorpenning's route and way stations, became operational. Transportation along Chorpenning's central route continued until the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.

Chorpenning returned to the eastern states, where he was instrumental in organizing Civil War army units for the state of Maryland. He later petitioned the U.S. Government (unsuccessfully) to meet their contractual obligations for his mail transport service, a process which exposed the capricious nature by which they let (and annulled) contracts. George Chorpenning died in New York City in 1894. His hometown newspaper, the Somerset Herald, printed his obituary on 11 April 1894:

-- Death of Major Chorpening --

-- Was the First Man to Carry the Mails Across the Continent --

Major George Chorpening died in the New York Hospital, New York City, last Tuesday morning [3 April 1894]. He was born in Somerset, June 1, 1820. He was the first man to carry the United States mails across the continent.

He was the son of Hon. George Chorpening, an Associate Judge of this county, and spent the years of his boyhood around his father's farm. Afterwards he engaged in business in Stoystown. In the spring of 1850 he went to California. In the following year he established a mail business from Sacramento to Salt Lake City. The mails were carried on horseback and the route was gone over once a month. It was a hard journey of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and sixteen days was considered good time. Chorpening had a partner, Captain Woodward, of Indiana county, Pa. The first trip the Captain made he was killed by Indians. From that time on Chorpening had the contract alone.

He subsequently had a coach contract from the Missouri River to Placerville, California. This was the road over which Horace Greeley was driven by Hank Monch in one of Chorpening's coaches. Chorpening put the coaches on and laid out the road himself. He built post stations at every twenty miles for relays of horses.

Chorpening organized the First and Second Maryland Infantry in 1861, at the personal request of President Lincoln. He was made Major in the First Regiment and Colonel in the Second. For many years he had been prosecuting a claim against the government on mail contracts amounting to $430,000.

During the years that Chorpening was engaged in running coaches and carrying mails over the plains he was assisted by his brother-in-law, Mr. Irwin Pile, of this place. We believe that Mr. Pile has the distinction of driving the first coach ever driven across the plains to California.

For a number of years following the war Major Chorpening made his summer home in this place [Somerset, Pennsylvania], where he owned one of the handsomest properties in town ... He had not visited Somerset for a number of years prior to his death.

He leaves two sons and two daughters, Mrs. F. A. McGee, of California, Frank G. Chorpening, of Berlin, and George W. Chorpening and Mrs. Johnson, both of New York city. The body was interred in the Cemetery of the Evergreens, Long Island.

Horace Carpentier

Horace Walpole Carpentier (1824–1918) was a lawyer and the first mayor of Oakland, California. He also served as president of the Overland Telegraph Company which oversaw the construction of the western portion of the first transcontinental telegraph in the United States.

John A. Creighton

Count John Andrew Creighton (October 15, 1831 – February 7, 1907) was a pioneer businessman and philanthropist in Omaha, Nebraska who founded Creighton University. The younger brother of Edward Creighton, John was responsible for a variety of institutions throughout the city of Omaha, and was ennobled by Pope Leo XIII in recognition of his contributions to Creighton University, the Catholic community in Omaha, and the city of Omaha in general.

Le Fil qui chante

Le Fil qui chante is a Lucky Luke adventure written by Goscinny and illustrated by Morris. It is the forty sixth book in the series and was originally published in French in the year 1977. The story is based on the historical feat of constructing the First Transcontinental Telegraph line connecting the American West and East coasts in 1861. The title, "The Singing Wire", refers both to "singing" of wires (caused by vortex shedding), and the transmission of communication (later voice) across electric cables.

The story features cameos of real-life historical figures like Buffalo Bill, James Gamble, Edward Creighton, Hiram Sibley, Brigham Young, Stephen J. Field and Abraham Lincoln.

List of telegraph stations

There are numerous Telegraph Stations that have been important individually in the history of Australia, the United States, and other countries, and there are systems of telegraph stations that have collectively been important during the 19th century and early 20th century. In 1853, it was asserted that there were 4,000 miles of telegraph lines in Great Britain, 27,000 miles in the United States, and it was expected that 4,000 miles of telegraph lines would soon be built in India. The telegraph lines required repeater stations and/or repair stations. In addition to stations along traditional telegraph lines, there were also a number of notable wireless telegraph stations that were important for communication to and from ships.

Outline of California

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the U.S. state of California.

California is the most populous and the third most extensive of the 50 states of the United States of America. California is home to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento, respectively the 2nd, 6th, 17th, and 23rd most populous metropolitan areas of the United States. California borders the North Pacific Ocean and Baja California in the Southwestern United States. California includes both Mount Whitney, the highest (4,421 m) mountain peak in the contiguous United States, and Death Valley, the lowest (−86 m) and hottest (56.7 °C) place in North America. California joined the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

Outline of Wyoming

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the U.S. state of Wyoming:

Wyoming – U.S. state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High Plains. Wyoming is the least populous U.S. state, with a U.S. Census population of 563,626 in 2010.

Overland Telegraph Company

In 1860, the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 called for the facilitation of communication between the east and west coasts of the United States of America. Hiram Sibley of the Western Union Telegraph Company won the contract. In 1861, Benjamin Franklin Ficklin joined Hiram Sibley in helping to form the Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska. At the same time, Jeptha Wade was asked by Hiram Sibley to encourage the consolidation of telegraph companies in California, a process that had been underway there anyway, most notably involving the merger of the two largest intrastate companies following a lawsuit between them, the Alta Telegraph Company and the California State Telegraph Company. The Overland Telegraph Company of California was thus formed with Horace W. Carpentier of the California State Telegraph Company serving as its president, and it began building east from Carson City, Nevada while its eastern counterpart, the Pacific Telegraph Company began building west from Omaha, Nebraska. [1] Upon their connection in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 24, 1861, the final link between the east and west coast of the United States of America was made. The First Transcontinental Telegraph led to the immediate demise of the Pony Express. The Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska and the Overland Telegraph Company of California were eventually absorbed into the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860

The Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 called for the facilitation of communication between the east and west coasts of the United States of America. Hiram Sibley of the Western Union Telegraph Company won the contract. In 1861, Benjamin Franklin Ficklin joined Hiram Sibley in helping to form the Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska. At the same time, Jeptha Wade was asked by Hiram Sibley to consolidate smaller telegraph companies in California. While the Pacific Telegraph Company built west from Omaha, Nebraska, the Overland Telegraph Company of California was thus formed and built east from Carson City, Nevada. With their connection in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 24, 1861, the final link between the east and west coasts of the United States of America was made by telegraph. The First Transcontinental Telegraph lead to the immediate demise of the Pony Express. The Pacific Telegraph Company and the Overland Telegraph Company of California were eventually absorbed into the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Pacific Telegraph Company

In 1860, the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 called for the facilitation of communication between the east and west coasts of the United States of America. Hiram Sibley of the Western Union Telegraph Company won the contract. In 1861, Benjamin Franklin Ficklin joined Hiram Sibley in helping to form the Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska.

At the same time, Jeptha Wade was asked by Hiram Sibley to consolidate smaller telegraph companies in California. While the Pacific Telegraph Company built west from Omaha, Nebraska, the Overland Telegraph Company of California was thus formed and built east from Carson City, Nevada. With their connection in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 24, 1861, the final link between the east and west coasts of the United States of America was made by telegraph. The First Transcontinental Telegraph led to the immediate demise of the Pony Express. The Pacific Telegraph Company and Overland Telegraph Company of California were eventually absorbed into the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Telegraph Peak (Lander County, Nevada)

Telegraph Peak is a summit in the U.S. state of Nevada. The elevation is 8,537 feet (2,602 m).Telegraph Peak was named in commemoration of the first transcontinental telegraph.

Telegraphy

Telegraphy is the long-distance transmission of textual messages where the sender uses symbolic codes, known to the recipient, rather than a physical exchange of an object bearing the message. Thus flag semaphore is a method of telegraphy, whereas pigeon post is not. Ancient signalling systems, although sometimes quite extensive and sophisticated as in China, were generally not capable of transmitting arbitrary text messages. Possible messages were fixed and predetermined and such systems are thus not true telegraphs.

The earliest true telegraph put into widespread use was the optical telegraph of Claude Chappe, invented in the late eighteenth century. The system was extensively used in France, and European countries controlled by France, during the Napoleonic era. The electric telegraph started to replace the optical telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century. It was first taken up in Britain in the form of the Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph, initially used mostly as an aid to railway signalling. This was quickly followed by a different system developed in the United States by Samuel Morse. The electric telegraph was slower to develop in France due to the established optical telegraph system, but an electrical telegraph was put into use with a code compatible with the Chappe optical telegraph. The Morse system was adopted as the international standard in 1865, using a modified Morse code developed in Germany.

The heliograph is a telegraph system using reflected sunlight for signalling. It was mainly used in areas where the electrical telegraph had not been established and generally uses the same code. The most extensive heliograph network established was in Arizona and New Mexico during the Apache Wars. The heliograph was standard military equipment as late as World War II. Wireless telegraphy developed in the early twentieth century. Wireless telegraphy became important for maritime use, and was a competitor to electrical telegraphy using submarine telegraph cables in international communications.

Telegrams became a popular means of sending messages once telegraph prices had fallen sufficiently. Traffic was became high enough to spur the development of automated systems – teleprinters and punched tape transmission. These systems led to new telegraph codes, starting with the Baudot code. However, telegrams were never able to compete with the letter post on price, and competition from the telephone, which removed their speed advantage, drove the telegraph into decline from 1920 onwards. The few remaining telegraph applications were largely taken over by alternatives on the internet towards the end of the twentieth century.

Timeline of North American telegraphy

The timeline of North American telegraphy is a chronology of notable events in the history of electric telegraphy in the United States and Canada, including the rapid spread of telegraphic communications starting from 1844 and completion of the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861.

Utah in the American Civil War

The Utah Territory (September 9, 1850 - January 4, 1896) during the American Civil War was far from the main operational theaters of war, but still played a role in the disposition of the United States Army, drawing manpower away from the volunteer forces and providing its share of administrative headaches for the Lincoln Administration. Although no battles were fought in the territory, the withdrawal of Union forces at the beginning of the war allowed the Indian tribes to start raiding the trails passing through Utah. As a result, units from California and Utah were assigned to protect against these raids. Mineral deposits found in Utah by California soldiers encouraged the immigration of non-Mormon settlers into Utah.

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