Article ID: CBB795249724

Why Wire Mattered: Building U.S. Networked Infrastructures, 1845–1910 (January 2021)


Histories of technology, communications, or infrastructure typically draw few distinctions between the telegraph machine and its network. Yet that vast wired infrastructure not only made telegraph machines socially useful, it established a material foundation for telephone- and electrical-service networks. This article emphasizes American telegraph-network development and argues that the telegraph's needs catalyzed an electrical-wire supply industry with important continuities for later wired-network technologies. This study also shows that when telegraph networks emerged in the mid-1800s, industrial constraints meant the best wire available was still abjectly deficient for network needs. Wire vexed telegraph-line builders everywhere, but especially in the United States, where promoters favored less expensive but more vulnerable overhead lines. This article demonstrates that successfully networking the American nation involved decades of building and rebuilding, hundreds of mechanical inventions, hard-won industrial advances, and considerable individual sacrifice.

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Authors & Contributors
Billington, David P., Jr.
Sánchez Miñana, Jesús
Ferrer, Bruno
Figueroa, Javier
Giusti, Juan
Sola, Cesar
History and Technology
British Journal for the History of Science
Transactions - Newcomen Society for the Study of the History of Engineering and Technology
Journal of the Communications Network
Business History Review
Journal of Design History
Greenwood Press
Princeton University Press
University of South Carolina
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
Telegraphs; telephones
Telephone industry
Technology and society
Communication technology
Inventors and invention
Morse, Samuel Finley Breese
Collins, Perry McDonough
Hubbard, Gardiner
Bell, Alexander Graham
Lincoln, Abraham
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
United States
Manchester (England)
North America
United States Coast and Geodetic Survey
United States. Army. Signal Corps

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