Monday, October 24

From sea to shining sea

You know how excited you were when you went wireless?

Well, that's how excited folks were when we got wired 150 years ago today.

The First Transcontinental Telegraph line across the United States was completed on Oct. 24, 1861, ending the 18-month-old Pony Express which had boasted it could deliver a letter from Sacramento, Calif., to St. Joseph, Mo., in 10 days when it first began on April 3, 1860.

With the push of a button, California's chief justice, Stephen J. Field, wired a message from San Francisco to President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., congratulating him on the transcontinental telegraph's completion that day.

To Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States:

In the temporary absense (sic) of the Governor of the State I am requested to send you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph line which connects the Pacific with the Atlantic States. The people of California desire to congratulate you upon the completion of the Great Work. They believe that it will be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and the West to the Union, and they desire in this--the first message across the Continent--to express their loyalty to the Union and their determination to stand by its government on this its day of trial. They regard that government with affection and will adhere to it under all fortunes.
Stephen J. Field
Chief Justice Of California

The First Transcontinental Telegraph was a milestone in electrical engineering and in the formation of the United States of America. It electronically connected a nation from sea to shining sea that was also tearing itself apart in the Civil War.

The overland telegraph line was operated until 1869, when it was replaced by a multi-line telegraph that was constructed beside the route of the Transcontinental Railroad.

(Incidentally, when the final piece of track connecting the transcontinental railroad was laid in Promontory, Utah in 1869 a young news organization called The Associated Press sent out a story about it on the wire.)

Finally, telegraph operators were one of the few socially acceptable jobs for young "bachelor" working girls at the time. Rose Wilder Lane learned telegraphy after high school graduation in 1904 at the Mansfield, Mo., railroad station where the station master was a school friend's father.

By the age of 18 Lane was working for Western Union in Kansas City as a telegrapher. She worked as a telegrapher in Missouri, Indiana and California for the next five years before becoming a newspaper reporter.

Her famous mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, later visited in her in San Francisco where she lived in an apartment on, where else? Telegraph Hill.

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