Comparisons and contrasts from two historic events – the telegraph and the internet – came into focus in the power-point presentation “Victorian Internet” presented by Dick Castonguay (left) at the April meeting of the DuBois Area Historical Society.
Castonguay traced how the development of the electric telegraph was as world changing as the more recent development of the Internet. The telegraph’s rapid development took place during the 1837-1901 reign of England’s Queen Victoria.
American Samuel F. B. Morse played a key role in developing the telegraph. He sent the first message, “What hath God wrought,” from Washington, D. C., to Baltimore, Md., on May 24, 1844. Things exploded from there.
“An issue of Scientific American in 1852 commented that the telegraph’s influence grew so rapidly, that track of it couldn’t be kept,” said Castonguay. “Between 1846 and 1852, the telegraph grew more than 600 percent.”
A London to Paris line opened in 1852 and by 1861 the United States with lines following the paths of the rapidly growing railroad system, was connected coast to coast. This system would be used to relay information, orders and news during the U. S. Civil War. A trans-Atlantic cable was completed in 1866 connecting the old and the new worlds. People became addicted to fast messages and at least two future outstanding Americans Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison both got their starts as telegraph messenger boys.
Castonguay explained that just like today telegraph users had user names and codes were developed to shorten messages and therefore the cost of sending them. Unlawful activities also abounded with “hackers” intercepting messages and sending scams of their own.
“There was information overload,” said Castonguay. “Businessmen became more interested in price and speed of delivery, resulting in the establishment of head offices. Newspaper circulation grew because news was available immediately. Ironically, the Internet speeded up news distribution and has hurt newspaper circulation.”
Castonguay, retired Sandy Township Manager, became interested in communication methods when he was a radio operator in the United States Marine Corps. He used international Morse Code while fulfilling his duties learning that while his radio was one means of long-range communication that the telegraph would send it greater distances.