The Progress of the Electric Telegraph

“It has made possible, on this continent, a wide-spread, yet closely linked, empire of States, such as our fathers never imagined.”

Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. — Psalms, xix, 4.

Among the impossibilities enumerated to convince Job of his ignorance and weakness, the Almighty asks, —

“Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are?”

At the present day, every people in Christendom can respond in the affirmative.

The lines of electric telegraph are increasing so rapidly, that the length in actual use cannot be estimated at any moment with accuracy. At the commencement of 1848, it was stated that the length in operation in this country was about 3000 miles. At the end of 1850, the lines in operation, or in progress, in the United States, amounted to 22,000. In 1853, the total number of miles of wire in America amounted to 26,375.

It is but fifteen years since the first line of electric telegraph was constructed in this country and at the present time there are not less than 50,000 miles in successful operation on this continent, having over 1400 stations, and employing upwards of 10,000 operators and clerks.

The number of messages passing over all the lines in this country annually is estimated at upwards of 5,000,000, producing a revenue of $2,000,000; in addition to which, the press pays $200,000 for public despatches.

In Europe there are lines rivalling those in America. The electric wire extends under the English Channel, the German Ocean, the Black and Red Seas, and the Mediterranean it passes from crag to crag on the Alps, and runs through Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, and Russia.

India, Australia, Cuba, Mexico, and several of the South American States have also their lines and the wires uniting the Pacific and Atlantic States will shortly meet at the passes of the Rocky Mountains.

The electric telegraph, which has made such rapid strides, is yet in its infancy. The effect of its future extension, and of new applications, cannot be estimated, when, as a means of intercourse at least, its network shall spread through every village, bringing all parts of our republic into the closest and most intimate relations of friendship and interest. In connection with the railroad and steamboat, it has already achieved one important national result. It has made possible, on this continent, a wide-spread, yet closely linked, empire of States, such as our fathers never imagined. The highest office of the electric telegraph, in the future, is thus to be the promotion of unity, peace, and good-will among men.

In Europe, Great Britain and Ireland have the greatest number of miles of electric telegraph, — namely, 40,000. France has 26,000; Belgium, 1600; Germany, 35,000; Switzerland, 2000; Spain and Portugal, 1200; Italy, 6600; Turkey and Greece, 500; Russia, 12,000; Denmark and Sweden, 2000.

In Italy, Sardinia has the largest share of lines, having about 1200 miles; and in Germany, after Austria and Prussia, the largest share belongs to Bavaria, which has 1050. Saxony has 400 miles; Würtemberg, 195.

The distance between stations on lines of Continental telegraph is from ten to twelve miles on the average, and the number of them is about 3800.

In France the use of the electric telegraph has rapidly increased within the last few years. In 1851, the number of despatches transmitted was 9014, which produced 76,723 francs. In 1858, there were 463,973 despatches transmitted, producing 3,51 6,634 francs. During the last four years, that is to say, since all the chief towns in France have been in electric communication with Paris, and consequently with each other, there have been sent by private individuals 1,492,420 despatches, which have produced 12,528,591 francs. Out of the 97,728 despatches exchanged during the last three months of 1858, 23,728 were with Paris, and 15,409 with the thirty most important towns of France. These 15,409 despatches are divided, as to their object or nature, as follows: — Private and family affairs, 3102; journals, 523; commerce and manufactures, 6132; Bourse affairs, 5253; sundry affairs, 399.

In Australia, the electric telegraph is in constant use, affording a remunerating revenue, and the amount of business has forced on the government the necessity of additional wires.

Cuba has six hundred miles of wire in operation. Messages can be transmitted only in Spanish, and the closest surveillance is maintained by the government officials over all despatches offered for transmission. From the fact that no less than a dozen errors occurred in a despatch transmitted by a Boston gentleman from Cardenas to Havana, we judge that the telegraphic apparatus, invented by our liberty-loving American, Professor House, rebels at such petty tyranny.

Several hundred miles of electric telegraph have been constructed in Mexico; but the unfortunate condition of the country fir the last few years has precluded the possibility of maintaining it in working order, and it has, like everything else in the land of Montezuma, gone to decay.

The English and Dutch governments have come to an understanding upon a system of cables which will unite India and Australia, and eventually be extended to China. The arrangements between the governments are: — That the Indian and Imperial governments shall connect India with Singapore; that the Dutch government shall connect Singapore with the southeast point of Java; that the Australian governments shall connect their continent with Java. The cable for the Singapore-Java section was to have been laid during the last month; the Indian-Singapore section is to be laid this spring; and the connection with Australia will, it is believed, be completed in the course of next year.

The Red Sea and India Telegraph Company have announced the arrangements under which they are prepared to transmit messages for the public between Alexandria and Aden. Messages for Australia and China will be forwarded by post from Aden. It is considered probable that a direct communication with Alexandria will be established through Constantinople in the course of a few weeks, and then the news from India will reach London in ten or eleven days.

A late European steamer brings a report that two Russian engineers have proceeded to Pekin, China, to make preparations for a telegraphic connection between that place and the Russian territory.

There is reason to believe that arrangements will soon be made at St. Petersburg, through private companies and government subsidies, for completing the line of telegraph from Novgorod to the mouth of the Amoor, and thence across the straits to Russian America. In the mean time, a company has already been formed and incorporated in Canada, under the name of the Transmundane Telegraphic Company, which will afford important aid in continuing the proposed line through British America. The plan is, to carry the wires from the mouth of the Amoor across Behring’s Strait, to and through Russian and British America. From Victoria a branch will be extended to San Francisco, and another to Canada. The line from San Francisco to Missouri is under way, and Mr. Collins, who is engaged in the Russian and Canadian enterprise, thinks that by the time it is in operation he shall have extended his line to San Francisco.

This is unquestionably the most feasible route for telegraphic communication between America and Europe; and, though the longest by several thousand miles, it would afford the most rapid means of communication, owing to the great superiority of aërial over subaqueous lines.

No limit has yet been found to aërial telegraphing; for, by inserting transferrers into the more extended circuits, renewed energy can be attained, and lines of several thousands of miles in length can be worked, if properly insulated, as surely as those of a hundred. The lines between New York and New Orleans are frequently connected together by means of transferrers, and direct communication is had over a distance of more than two thousand miles. No perceptible retardation of the current takes place; on the contrary, the lines so connected work as successfully as when divided into shorter circuits.

This is not the case with subaqueous lines. The employment of submarine, as well as of subterranean conductors, occasions a small retardation in the velocity of the transmitted electricity. This retardation is not due to the length of the path which the electric current has to traverse, since it does not take place with a conductor equally long, insulated in the air. It arises, as Faraday has demonstrated, from a static reaction, which is determined by the introduction of a current into a conductor well insulated, but surrounded outside its insulating coating by a conducting body, such as sea-water or moist ground, or even simply by the metallic envelope of iron wires placed in communication with the ground. When this conductor is presented to one of the poles of a battery, the other pole of which communicates with the ground, it becomes charged with static electricity, like the coating of a Leyden jar, — electricity which is capable of giving rise to a discharge current, even after the voltaic current has ceased to be transmitted.

Professor Wheatstone experimented upon the cable intended to unite La Spezia, upon the coast of Piedmont, with the Island of Corsica. It was one hundred and ten miles in length, and contained six copper wires one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter, individually insulated, and each covered with a coating of gutta-percha one-twelfth of an inch in thickness. The cable was coiled in a dry pit in the yard, with its two ends accessible. The ends of the different wires could be united, so as to make of all these wires merely one wire six hundred and sixty miles in length, through which the electric current could circulate in the same direction. This current was itself furnished by an insulated battery formed of one hundred and forty-four Wheatstone’s pairs, equal to fifty of Grove’s.

In the first series of experiments, it was proved, that, if one of the ends of the long wire, whose other end remained insulated, were made to communicate with one of the poles of the battery, the wire became charged with the electricity of that pole, which, so long as it existed, gave rise to a current which was made evident by a galvanometer: but, in order to obtain this result, the second pole of the battery must communicate with the ground, or with another long wire similar to the first.

In a second series of experiments, Professor Wheatstone interposed three galvanometers in the middle and at the ends of the circuit, determining in this manner the progress of the current by the order which they followed in their deviation. If the two poles of the battery were connected by the long conductor of six hundred and sixty miles, the precaution having been taken to divide it into two portions of equal length, it was observed, on connecting the two free extremities of these two portions in order to close the circuit, that the galvanometer placed in the middle was the first to be deflected, whilst the galvanometers placed in the vicinity of the poles were not deflected until later.

By a third series of experiments, Wheatstone, with the galvanometer, has shown that a continuous current may be maintained in the circuit of the long wire of an electric cable, of which one of the ends is insulated, whilst the other communicates with one of the poles of a battery whose other pole is connected with the ground. This current is due to the uniform and continual dispersion of the statical electricity with which the wire is charged along its whole length, as would happen to any other conducting body placed in an insulating medium.

It was owing to the retardation from this cause that communication through the Atlantic Cable was so exceedingly slow and difficult, and not, as many suppose, because the cable was defective. It is true that there was a fault in the cable, discovered by Varley, before it left Queenstown but it was not of so serious a character as to offer any substantial obstacle to the passage of the electric current.

As everything pertaining to the actual operation of the Atlantic Cable has been studiously withheld from the public, until it has come to be seriously doubted whether any despatches were ever transmitted through it, we presume it will not be out of place here to give the actual modus operandi of this great wonder and mystery.

The only instrument which could be used successfully in signalling through the Atlantic Cable was one of peculiar construction, by Professor Thompson, called the marine galvanometer. In this instrument momentum and inertia are almost wholly avoided by the use of a needle weighing only one and a half grains, combined with a mirror reflecting a ray of light, which indicates deflections with great accuracy. By these means a gradually increasing or decreasing current is at each instant indicated at its due strength. Thus, when this galvanometer is placed as the receiving instrument at the end of a long submarine cable, the movement of the spot of light, consequent on the completion of a circuit through the battery, cable, and earth, can be so observed as to furnish a curve representing very accurately the arrival of an electric current. Lines representing successive signals at various speeds can also be obtained, and, by means of a metronome, dots, dashes, successive A-s, etc., can be sent with nearly perfect regularity by an ordinary Morse key, and the corresponding changes in the current at the receiving end of the cable accurately observed. The strength of the battery employed was found to have no influence on the results curves given by batteries of different strengths could be made to coincide by simply drawing them to scales proportionate to the strengths of the two currents. It was also found that the same curve represented the gradual increase of intensity due to the arrival of a current and the gradual decrease due to the ceasing of that current.

The possible speed of signalling was found to be very nearly proportional to the squares of the lengths spoken through. Thus, a speed which gave fifteen dots per minute in a length of 2191 nautical miles reproduced all the effects given by a speed of thirty dots in a length of 1500. At these speeds, with ordinary Morse signals, speaking would be barely possible. In the Red Sea, a speed of from seven to eight words per minute was attained in a length of 750 nautical miles. Mechanical senders, and attention to the proportion of the various contacts, would materially increase the speed at which signals of any kind could be transmitted. The best trained hand cannot equal the accuracy of mechanism, and the slightest irregularity causes the current to rise or fall quite beyond the limits required for distinct signals. No important difference was observed between signals sent by alternate reverse currents and those sent by the more usual method. The amount of oscillation, and the consequent distinctness of signalling, were nearly the same in the two cases. An advantage in the first signals sent is, however, obtained by the use of Messrs. Sieman’s and Halske’s submarine key, by which the cable is put to earth immediately on signalling being interrupted, and the wire thus kept at a potential half-way between the potentials of the poles of two counter-acting batteries employed, and the first signals become legible, which, with the ordinary key, would be employed in charging the wire.

A system of arbitrary characters, similar to those used upon the Morse telegraph, was employed, and the letter to be indicated was determined by the number of oscillations of the needle, as well as by the length of time during which the needle remained in one place. The operator, who watched the reflection of the deflected needle in the mirror, had a key, communicating with a local instrument in the office, in his hand, which he pressed down or raised, as the needle was deflected; and another operator occupied himself in deciphering the characters thus produced upon the paper. As the operator at Trinity Bay had no means of arresting the operations at Valentia, and vice versá, and as the fastest rate of speed over the cable could not exceed three words per minute, it will not surprise the reader that the operators were nearly two days in transmitting the Queen’s despatch.

However, notwithstanding all the difficulties in the way, there were transmitted from Ireland to Newfoundland, through the Atlantic Cable, between the 10th of August and the 1st of September, 97 messages, containing 1102 words; and from Newfoundland to Ireland, 269 messages and 2840 words, making a total of 366 messages, containing 3942 words. Among these were the message from the Queen to the President of the United States, and his reply; the one announcing the safety of the steamer Europa, her mails and passengers, after her collision with the Arabia; and two messages for Her Majesty’s War-Office, which last effected a very large saving to the revenue of the English government.

In Liverpool, £150,000 have already been subscribed to the project of completing or relaying the Atlantic Cable.

A contract has been recently made by the English government for a cable to be laid from Falmouth to Gibraltar, 1200 miles, which is to be ready in June next. This will be succeeded by one from Gibraltar to Malta and Alexandria, thus giving England an independent line, free from Continental difficulties.

Steamers were to have left Liverpool at the end of the last month, with the remainder of the cable to connect Kurrachee with Aden. The cable to connect Alexandria with England is now to be laid through the islands of Rhodes and Scio to Constantinople, and not by way of Candia, as previously intended; it is expected to be laid this season. Hellaniyah, one of the Kuria-Muria Islands, has been decided on as a station for the Red Sea Telegraph.

The new electric cable between Malta and the opposite coast of Sicily at Alga Grande is safely laid. Two previous attempts bad been made; but, in consequence of the late strong winds, nothing could be done. The shore end on the Malta side had been laid down and connected with the company’s offices before the expedition started; the outer end, about one mile off the Marsamuscetto harbor, into which the cable has been taken, being buoyed ready to complete the communication from shore to shore the moment the cable was submerged. The operation of paying out the cable was completed without the least accident. The mid-portion of the cable is of great strength, being able to sustain a strain of ten or twelve tons without parting, and the shore ends are of nearly double that strength. The depth of water throughout is within eighty fathoms so that, if any accident should ever occur, it may be remedied without much difficulty.

A great change in the rates to Sicily and the Italian States will result from the completion of this new line, a reduction in some cases of seventy-five per cent. being made, — a great boon to the English merchants. Messages in French, English, or Italian will be transmitted, and we must congratulate the company upon their success in inducing the Neapolitan government to make this concession, and upon the exceedingly low tariff proposed.

Mr. De Sauty is the electrician of this company. He will be remembered by the reader as the mysterious operator at Trinity Bay, from whom an occasional vague and exceedingly brief despatch was received in relation to the working of the cable. Nothing really satisfactory could ever be obtained, and, when visited by some officers connected with the United States Coast Survey, he would not permit them to enter the office or examine the apparatus. His name was published in the daily journals with several different varieties of spelling, and for this reason, and in consequence of his extreme reticence, one of them perpetrated the following:

Though operator, silent, glum,
   Why wilt thou act so naughty?
Do tell us what your name is, — come:
   De Santy, or De Sauty?

Don’t think to humbug any more,
   Shut up there in your shanty, —
But solve the problem, once for all, —
   Se Sauty, or De Santy?

Electric telegraphy in the Ottoman Empire has within a few months had a remarkable development. Several lines are already in course of construction. A direct line from Varna to Toultcha, passing by Baltschik. A line from Toultcha to Odessa, passing by Reni and joining the Russian telegraph at Ismail. The subaqueous cable from Toultcha to Reni, on the Danube, is the sixth in the Ottoman Empire. This line, which will place Constantinople in direct communication with Odessa, will not only have the advantage of increasing and accelerating the communications, but will very considerably reduce their cost.

There is also to be a line from Rodosto to Enos and Salonica; and from Salonica to Monastir, Valona, and Scutari in Albania. The line from Salonica to Monastir and Valona will be joined by a submarine cable crossing the Adriatic to Otranto, and carried on to Naples. It will have the effect of placing Southern Italy in communication with Constantinople, and also of reducing the cost of messages. A convention to this effect has been signed by a delegate of the Neapolitan government and the director-general of the telegraphic lines of the Ottoman Empire, touching this line to Naples. The ratification of the two governments will shortly be given to this convention.

A line from Scutari in Albania to Bar-Bournon, and thence to Castellastua, passing round the Montenegrin territory by a submarine cable. This line is already laid, and will begin working immediately on, the completion of the Austrian lines to the point where it ends.

A line from Constantinople to Bagdad. Three sections of this are being simultaneously laid down. The first from Constantinople to Ismid, Angora, Yuzgat, and Sivas: the works on this have been already carried to Sabanja, between Ismid and Angora. The second section, from Sivas to Moussoul: the works on this line are in a state of favorable preparation, and the line will be actively gone on with. The third section, from Bagdad to Moussoul: for this also the preparations have been made, and the works will begin when the season opens, the materials being all ready along the line. From Bagdad this line will extend to Bassora, to join a submarine cable to be carried thence to British India.

A projected line from Constantinople to Smyrna. For this, two routes are thought of: one, the shortest, but most difficult, would run from Constantinople to the Dardanelles, Adramyti, and Smyrna; the other, the longest, but offering fewest difficulties, would pass from Constantinople by Muhalitch, Berlick-Hissar, and Maneesa, to Smyrna.

A line from Mostar to Bosna-Serai. Mostar is already connected with the Austrian telegraphs at Metcovich.

Other lines have been in the mean time completed and extended, and will soon be opened to the public. Thus, a third and fourth wire are being laid on the line from Constantinople to Rodosto; from the latter point three wires have been carried to Gallipoli and the Dardanelles, two of which are for messages from Gallipoli to the Dardanelles, and the third is to join the submarine cable connecting Constantinople, Candia, Syra, and the Piræus. The communications between Constantinople and Candia would already have begun but for an accident to the engineer. Those with Syra and the Piræus will begin as soon as the ratification of the convention entered into between the Ottoman and Greek governments on this subject shall have taken place. The laying of the cable between Candia and Alexandria, which has not yet succeeded, will be resumed this spring.

Thus, after the completion of these lines, Constantinople will be in communication with nearly all the chief provinces and towns of the empire, with Africa, and with Europe, by five different channels, — by the Principalities, by Odessa, by Servia, by Dalmatia, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. With such a development of the system, it will be imperatively necessary to increase the telegraphic working-staff. Already the number of despatches arriving every day renders the service very difficult, and occasions much confusion and many grievous mistakes. Nothing is easier than to remedy all this by increasing the number of the employés.

The great distinguishing feature of the telegraphs used in Great Britain is, that they are of the class known as oscillating telegraphs, —that is, telegraphs in which the letters are denoted by the number of motions to the right or left of a needle or indicator. Those of France are of the class called dial telegraphs, in which an index, or needle, is carried around the face of a dial, around the circumference of which are placed the letters of the alphabet; any particular letter being designated by the brief stopping of the needle. A similar system has been used in Prussia; but, recently, the American, or recording instrument of Professor Morse, has been introduced into this, as well as every other European country; and even in England, the national prejudice is gradually giving way, and our American system is being introduced.

In America none but recording instruments have ever been used. Of these we have many kinds, but only five are in operation at present, namely: — The electro-magnetic timing instrument of Professor Morse; the electro-magnetic step-by-step printing of Mr. House; the electro-magnetic synchronous printing of Mr. Hughes; the electro-chemical rhythmic of Mr. Bain; and the combination-printing, combining the essential parts of the Hughes instrument with portions of the House. The Morse apparatus is, however, most generally used in this country and every other. Out of the two hundred and fifty thousand miles of electric telegraph now in operation or in the course of construction in the world, at least two hundred thousand give the preference to it.

Although the Morse apparatus is a recording one, yet, for the last six years, the operators in this country have discontinued the use of the paper, and confined themselves to reading by the ear, which they do with the greatest facility. By this means a great saving is made in the expense of working the telegraph, and far greater correctness insured; as the ear is found much more reliable in comprehending the clicks of the instrument, than the eye in deciphering the arbitrary alphabet of dots and lines.

The rapidity of the several instruments in use may be given as follows: — Cooke and Wheatstone’s needle telegraph of Great Britain, 900 words per hour; Fromeat’s dial telegraph, of France, 1200; Bregnet’s dial telegraph, also French, 1000; Sieman’s dial telegraph, formerly used upon the Prussian lines, 900; Bain’s chemical, in use between Liverpool and Manchester, and formerly to a considerable extent in the United States, 1500; the Morse telegraph, in use all over the world, 1500; the House printing, used in the United States to a limited extent, and in Cuba, 2800; Hughes’s and the combination instruments, 2000. The three last systems are American inventions; thus it will be seen, that to our country is due the credit of inventing the most rapid and the most universally used telegraphic systems.

But though we surpass all other nations in the value of our electric apparatus, we are far behind many, and indeed most countries, in the construction of our lines. This does not arise from want of knowledge or of means, but from the custom which obtains to a great extent among all classes and professions in this country, of providing something which will answer for a time, instead of securing a permanent success.

But to my mind, — though I am native here,
And to the manner born, — it is a custom
More honored in the breach than the observance, —

especially in building lines of electric telegraph, where the best are always the cheapest.

When Shakspeare made Puck promise to put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes, he undoubtedly supposed he would thereby accomplish a remarkable feat; but when the great Russo-American line viá Behring’s Strait and the Amoor is completed, and the Atlantic Cable is again in operation, we can put an electric girdle round about the earth before Puck could have time to spread his wings!

In view of what must actually take place at no distant day, — the girdling of the earth by the electric wires, — a singular question arises: — If we send a current of electricity east, it will lose twenty-four hours in going round the globe; if we send one west, it will gain twenty-four, or, in other words, will get back to the starting-place twenty-four hours before it sets out. Now, if we send a current half-way round the world, it will get there twelve hours in advance of, or twelve hours behind our time, according as we send it east or west; the question which naturally suggests itself; therefore, is, What is the time at the antipodes? is it yesterday or to-morrow?