The Telegraph Has Arrived: “Time and Space Has Been Completely Annihilated”

By Rebecca J. Rosen (The Atlantic, 2/14/2012)

There have been many, many times over the last few decades when a new technology delivered a certain moment of awe: the first time I saw a video stream over the Internet, or the first time I navigated a touchscreen. But what must it have been like for those in the 19th century who learned of the ability to send information — Morse code — across electrical lines at speeds previously inconceivable?

Writer and technologist John Battelle is researching early responses to the new telegraph technology, and says that “the invention incited an innate religious response.” The machine, he notes, “as such a massive shift in the possible, it was best to ascribe its power to God.” Fittingly, when Samuel Morse sent a message to open the first telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore, he selected a Biblical quotation as his text: “What Hath God Wrought.”

Inspired by Battelle’s description, I decided to go looking into the archives of the Baltimore Sun, which had closely covered the progress of the Baltimore-Washington line (and whose archives are available going back to 1837 on ProQuest). I didn’t find the religious sensibility he described, but what I did find pulses with an earlier iteration of the technological hope and wonder that we continue to experience today. Below are a few of my favorite clips.

May 31, 1844:

“Prof. Morse’s Telegraph has already, during the first week of its operations, been proved to be of the greatest public importance. Time and space has been completely annihilated.”

Continue reading “Time and Space Has Been Completely Annihilated” at The Atlantic.

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