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Telegraph in America, 1832–1920

by David Hochfelder Johns Hopkins University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 264 pages
AU$64.00 NZ$66.09
Product Status: Title is Print on Demand - May take 4 weeks
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Telegraphy in the nineteenth century approximated the internet in our own day. Historian and electrical engineer David Hochfelder offers readers a comprehensive history of this groundbreaking technology, which employs breaks in an electrical current to send code along miles of wire.  The Telegraph in America, 1832–1920 examines the correlation between technological innovation and social change and shows how this transformative relationship helps us to understand and perhaps define modernity.


The telegraph revolutionized the spread of information—speeding personal messages, news of public events, and details of stock fluctuations. During the Civil War, telegraphed intelligence and high-level directives gave the Union war effort a critical advantage. Afterward, the telegraph helped build and break fortunes and, along with the railroad, altered the way Americans thought about time and space. With this book, Hochfelder supplies us with an introduction to the early stirrings of the information age.

Introduction Why the Telegraph Was Revolutionary
1. "Here the Telegraph Came Forceably into Play"
2. "As a Telegraph for the People It Is a Signal Failure"
3. "There Is a Public Voracity for Telegraphic News"
4. "The Ticker Is Always a Treacherous Servant"
5. "Western Union, by Grace of FCC and A.T.&T."
Conclusion The Promise of Telegraphy
Chronology of the American Telegraph Industry
Essay on Sources

"Hochfelder's work provides an excellent overview of the history of the telegraph in the USA, particularly, from the 1860s to the 1920s. The book offers much insight into the role of telegraphy in shaping American society. It provides an excellent history of the industry from a business perspective and uses this to advance our understanding of debates concerning monopolies, as well as state ownership and regulation of utilities in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America."

David Hochfelder is an associate professor of history at University at Albany, SUNY.