The more we advance, the more we tend to forget that we came from
I am writing this comment on the evening of Sunday, November 5, 2006. I am typing it on a device called a computer, that is allowing me to put my ideas and writing down in front of possibly thousands of people on what is called a "Web Site", and on what is known as "the Internet", and a search organ called "Google." All well and good, but this is not news to the reader.
But what came before these items - none of which were in existence in 1970, except for the typing, which would have been done on a typewriter. Computers in 1971 were large and for universities or large companies or the military (government had not quite caught up to it). The technology of 1971 is still with us (we have telephones and television, for example), but it is high definition television, with items like DVDs, which did not exist, and telephones were not cell phones.
You can begin to see the picture. Every development we have is built on older ones, many frequently discarded. Television was spurred on by motion pictures and radio. Radio is from Marconi's wireless, which was spurred on by telegraphs. And it is with telegraphs (invented between 1837 in England - Wheatstone and Cooke - and 1844 in America - Joseph Henry and Samuel Morse) that we begin.
Samuel Morse was an interesting fellow - and like many American inventors controversial. He was a bigot - a leading Nativist and supporter of the Know Nothing or American Party. He was also a pretty good portrait painter (he studied in London in with the artist Benjamin West). But his interest turned to transmitting messages over wires over long distances. The British scientists Wheatstone and Cooke designed an interesting machine that pointed out letters for the messages (no "Q" - a later historic message involving a criminal named Tawell, who was a Quaker, was partly impossible to understand because the word was spelled like "Kwaker".). Morse created an entire code, which allowed dots and dashes to become letters and words and sentences. Backed by Government money (which Congressman Millard Fillmore got the appropriation on) and with scientific assistance from Dr. Joseph Story of the Smithsonian Institute, Morse sent the first modern telegraph message in March 1844 from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.: "What hath God wrought?" So far so good. Telegraphs soon spread across the country. But it could not get across the Atlantic. The ocean blocked passage of the telephone wires.
This episode of "Cavalcade of America" dealt with one of the great engineering feats of the middle 19th Century: the laying of the Atlantic Cable by New York based financier Cyrus Field, assisted by Morse, Peter Cooper, and Ezra Cornell (the financial backer of Morse, and founder of Cornell University). It was a very difficult and heartbreaking labor - the cables kept breaking under water. The cable seemed laid in 1858, but broke. The American Civil War interfered with the laying. Eventually Field had to use the great ocean liner, the Great Eastern, to lay the cable in the deepest Atlantic. It was after several attempts that in 1866 the cable was finally laid. At the time it was greatly celebrated - a section of the painted frieze of the dome of the U. S. Capitol Building shows the Great Eastern and some of the men (including Morse and Field) involved.
The hero of this, Cyrus Field, was a leading financier until about 1890, when he lost most of his fortune due to a financial coup planned by his rival Jay Gould. The Atlantic Cable was Field's finest hour. We ran into his family before. His younger brother, Rev. Henry Field, married Helen Deluzy-Desportes, the governess to the Duc and Duchesse of Choiseul - Praslin. Their tragedy was the subject of the Bette Davis
Charles Boyer film "All This And Heaven Too".
Field's other brothers were also famous: Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, and New York Attorney David Dudley Field. It was quite a family.
But note, for all the storm and stress of the laying of the cable, most of us are barely aware of the great event that brought the two hemispheres together. Yet the cable is one step forward in communications in the revolutions that led to me typing these words to you on the Internet!
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