You've Got...A Telegram - Decoding the Past [Part 3]

Published on October 2nd, 2015

Telegram History continued…learn how companies formed and dissolved and reformed. You may even recognize them by name!


1851 – By 1851, over 50 separate telegraph companies were operating in the United States. In April 1851, Hiram Sibley and Samuel Selden of New York acquired and united all of the telegraph companies west of Buffalo into a new system called the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company (NYMVPTC).


A competitive struggle between two rival systems of the NYMVPTC led to unreliable and inefficient service. In the end, the NYMVPTC purchased the competitors, recapitalized, and began a plan for building and acquisition. Among these was the purchase of the Morse patent rights for the Midwest from the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company.


1852 – The term “telegram” was coined and replaced “telegraphic dispatch” or “telegraphic communication”.


1856 – NYMVPTC becomes the Western Union Telegraph


1857-1861 – This time period was marked by the emergence of six major telegraph companies that consolidated systems across the United States according to geographic region. These companies cooperated in a friendly alliance, and other small companies were civil as well.


1860 – A strong commercial incentive to construct a telegraph line to connect across the western plains to each coast emerged. Under President James Buchanan’s approval, Congress passed the Pacific Telegraph Act. Thus, the Secretary of the Treasury was permitted to seek bids for a project that would construct a transcontinental line. Sibley won the contract by default and the Pacific Telegraph Company was created, and the line was completed in October 1861.


1866 – The Western Union made the final consolidation by exchanging stock for the stock of the American Telegraph Company and the U.S. Telegraph Company.


1871-1872 – The president of the Franklin Telegraph Company invented Duplex Telegraphy which he sold to the Western Union when he could not convince his own company to buy. It enabled two messages to be sent in opposite directions over the wire and the same time. This was surpassed by Thomas Edison’s Quadruplex which allowed four messages to be sent over the same wire at the same time, two in each direction.


1873 – The Western Union moved into the foreign telegraph market with the purchase of the majority of shares in the International Ocean Telegraph Company. A few years later, the Western Union failed to take control of the major telephone patents and the Bell Telephone Company became the victorious industry leader.


Struggling to maintain a monopoly through patents, the Bell Telephone Company directly competed with independent companies and changed its name to the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T).


P.S. If you happened to miss last week’s history on the telegram, you can catch up with Part 1 and Part 2!

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