The Victorian Internet: the Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's Online Pioneers

The Victorian Internet: the Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's Online Pioneers

Paperback

By (author) Tom Standage

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  • Publisher: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
  • Format: Paperback | 224 pages
  • Dimensions: 122mm x 196mm x 20mm | 222g
  • Publication date: 1 April 1999
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0753807033
  • ISBN 13: 9780753807033
  • Illustrations note: Colour 32
  • Sales rank: 1,170,310

Product description

Beginning with the Abbe Nollet's famous experiment of 1746, when he successfully demonstrated that electricity could pass from one end to the other of a chain of two hundred monks, Tom Standage tells the story of the spread of the telegraph and its transformation of the Victorian world. The telegraph was greeted by all the same concerns, hype, social panic and excitement that now surround the Internet, and Standage provides both a fascinating insight into the past and a context in which to think rather differently of today's concerns. Standage has a wonderful prose style and an excellent eye for the telling and engaging story. Popular history at its best.

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Author information

Tom Standage is science correspondent at the ECONOMIST. He is married and lives in Greenwich.

Editorial reviews

The telegraph, which now seems a curious relic, was once cutting-edge technology, every bit as hot, Standage reminds us, as today's Internet. Rapid delivery of messages to distant places was a wild dream for most of history; only on the eve of the French Revolution did a workable system come into existence. That first mechanical telegraph used visual signals relayed along a series of towers; but already scientists had experimented with signaling with electricity, which was thought to travel instantaneously. By the 1830s, Samuel Morse in the US and William Cooke in England had independently developed workable electric telegraphs. Curiously, neither had much initial luck finding backers. Morse's first demonstration of his device to Congress drew no support; even after a second demonstration won him funding, many congressmen believed they had seen a conjuring trick. Despite some dramatic successes - aswhen British police wired ahead of felons escaping by train and had them arrested in a distant city - it was some time before the telegraph was more than a high-tech toy. But by the mid-1840s, both British and American telegraphy companies were showing profits, and by the end of that decade, growth was explosive. And by then, the elaborate culture of the telegraph system was taking shape. Telegraph operators and messenger boys became familiar parts of the social landscape. There was a growth industry in telegraph-based jokes, anecdotes, seams, and even superstitions. The charge per word transmitted made messages terse; the expense made most people use them only to report deaths in the family or other grave news. Technical improvements - notably in the laying of submarine cables - eventually led to a worldwide network. Standage, most recently (and suitably) editor of the London Daily Telegraph's technology section, competently relates all this, and the eventual erosion of the telegraph's power by the telephone - which was at first seen merely as an improvement in the telegraph. A fascinating overview of a once world-shaking invention and its impact on society. Recommended to fans of scientific history. (Kirkus Reviews)