Telegraph Archive

It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet. Be sure to check out this episode of the podcast as well where we trace today’s concerns back to their origins.

Letters Versus Telegrams

The New York Times  | August 14th, 1885

A telegram should be followed with a letter, unless communication has been well established by wire. Letters are distributed by grown men, expert in their business to a degree that astonishes any one who contemplates triumphs of their art. But telegrams are delivered by sleepy and stupid little boys…


The Ocean Telegraph – Relative Evils and Triumphs

The New York Times | August 19th, 1858

I am not one of those who have been able to perceive the actual benefits of even a successful Ocean Telegraph. That it will be of very great use cannot be questioned, but how will its uses add to the happiness of mankind? Has the land telegraph done any good? Has it banished any evil, mitigated any sorrow?

…Upon the whole, is any more money gained or lost by the cotton speculators of New York and New Orleans, because they know the variations of both markets five minutes, rather than five days, before their operations take effect?


Telegraphy and Mesmerism

The New York Times  | August 5th, 1883

The idea of using electricity as a means of communication between parties many miles apart seemed ridiculous even to many learned statesmen at that time, and it was then characterized as a twin brother to mesmerism and millerism. In the House, when an appropriation of $80,000 was asked to enables Prof. Morse to continue his experiment with the magnetic telegraph, it was moved to divide the amount between Prof. Morse and Mr. Fish, to enable the latter, who was an expert in mesmerism to carry on his experiments in the mesmeric art.


The Privacy of Telegrams

The New York Times | March 29th, 1884

H e had received a subpoena from the Superior Court yesterday calling on him to produce all messages sent by Wilkinson and Bunting to Ottawa since Jan. 22 last. He had looked the messages over, and found that nearly all of them referred to important private matters having no apparent connection with the conspiracy, and he submitted that he was not compelled to produce such messages. They were in his possession simply as a servant of the company, and in failing to produce them no contempt or want of respect was intended as to the authority of the court.


Inviolability of Telegrams

The New York Times | January 11th, 1880

Asking for them the same protection as for letters in the mails.

The recent instance in which the Western Union Telegraph Company was compelled to produce certain telegrams before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections has led to a movement to secure for telegrams the same protection given to letters. 


Cutting Telegraph Wires

The New York Times | July 9th, 1886

A cable of the Commercial Telegram Company maliciously severed.

Some miscreant, armed with a strong and sharp pair of shears, climbed a telegraph pole on lower Broadway early on Wednesday morning, and cut a cable strung there belonging to the Commercial Telegram Company.

A Hoax Exposed

The New York Times  | December 24th, 1863

No truth in the Alleged Charelston Telegram

There is, therefore, no doubt that the dispatch in question was a hoax, and as the agent at Fortress Monroe always mails a copy of his dispatches here, it is certain that the attachment of his name to the telegram was a forgery.


Telegraph Secrets Violated

The New York Times | February 26th, 1881

A telegram from Hartford was published yesterday saying that a few days ago a bale of paper stock, on its way from the railroad station to a mill in East Hartford, burst open, and a large number of private telegrams, originally sent through the Western Union Telegraph company, fell out and were carried off by children, and are now affording amusement to the gossips of the town.

The Use and Abuse of Ocean Telegraphy

The New York Times | December 14th, 1872

I t is precisely the extension of the electric telegraph across the Atlantic …which has facilitated the instant publication of all such words and criticisms, generally without context, and not unfrequently with malicious additions, in every city of the United States. The mischief thus occasionally done can hardly be overstated.

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