Hi, Winnie Griggs here. Today I want to share a little bit of history I uncovered in one of the many rabbit trails I find myself following when doing research. I had, of course, heard of the Transcontinental Railroad and the ceremonial driving of the golden spike. But I hadn't given much thought to when and where our communication lines, namely the telegraph, were first linked coast to coast.
On October 24th, 1861, Western Union Telegraph Co. linked the eastern and western networks of telegraph systems at
. For the first time in our nation’s history,
nearly instantaneous communication between Washington D.C and Salt Lake City, Utah
was possible. The first transcontinental
telegraph was actually sent by the chief justice of San Francisco, CA , Stephen Field, and was sent to
President Abraham Lincoln. In the
historic missive, Field predicted that the newly established communication
venue would help ensure that the western states would remain loyal to the California Union during the Civil War.
A little of the story behind this historic event: An efficient telegraph system was first developed in the 1830s and in the ensuing years spread with phenomenal speed. By 1850 lines covered most of the eastern part of the country as well as the fast growing
. When territory of California
achieved statehood in 1850 it became the first state not contiguous with the rest
of the country. Almost immediately there
was a major push to connect this new state with the rest of the country via communication
and travel services. In 1860, Congress
passed the Pacific Telegraph Act and awarded a contract to Hiram Sibley,
president of the Western Union Company.
Mr. Sibley took the contract and formed a consortium between his company
and telegraph companies in California
to undertake the commission. California
The task involved building lines to connect the system at the western-most edge of
and the one at . Sibley formed the Pacific Telegraph Co. to
construct the eastern leg and the Carson City,
telegraph companies consolidated into the Overland Telegraph Company to build
the western leg. The two lines would eventually
meet at California . Salt Lake City, Utah
Most of 1860 was spent collecting materials for the project, and construction began in earnest in 1861. Right from the start there were significant problems along the way with provisioning the construction teams. Glass insulators and wire had to be shipped to
San Francisco by sea and then transported to
the construction sites in the west by wagon - this included a trek over the Sierra Nevada.
Finding sources for telegraph poles was also a challenge in the mostly treeless
plains areas as well as the deserts of the Great Basin.
|The Route Of The First Transcontinental Telegraph|
The line from
in the east made it to
first, arriving on October 18, 1861. The
Transcontinental connection was completed six days later when the line from Salt Lake city joined it on
October 24, 1861. Carson city
An almost immediate result of this momentous accomplishment was that it made the Pony Express obsolete. On October 26th, a scant two days after the lines were joined, this adventurous, dedicated relay mail service, which had previously provided the fastest means of communication between the western and eastern
officially closed. United States
So what do you think - what did you find most surprising about this story?
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