The Newberry Library Seminar on Technology, Politics, and Culture
Friday, June 8, 2007, 3:30–5:00 p.m.
Professor Morse’s Lightning: The Political Origins of the Telegraph Industry in the United States
Richard R. John, University of Illinois at Chicago
Commentator: James Schwoch, Northwestern University
Social commentators from Henry Adams to Anthony Giddens have hailed the completion by the United States government in 1844 of a telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore as a landmark in the making of the modern world. Even so, the actual history of this project--as well as its broader significance for American public life--remains shrouded in mystery. This paper reconsiders this project, and, more broadly, the beginnings of the electric telegraph industry in the United States. In particular, it shows how governmental institutions and civic ideals shaped the initial, failed, commercialization of the electric telegraph as a government agency. In addition, it explains why so many contemporaries regarded government control of the new medium as a political imperative and describes how its highly selective memorialization in the post-Civil War era shaped public conceptions of telecommunications, government-business relations, and the nature of innovation.
All papers are pre-circulated electronically to those who plan to attend the seminar in person. For a copy of the paper, e-mail Jenny Fink at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 312-255-3524. Please do not request the paper unless you plan to attend the seminar.
Co-sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northwestern University's School of Communications
The Newberry Library
Dr. William M. Scholl Center for
Family and Community History
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, Illinois 60610
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