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The Train and the Telegraph

A Revisionist History

Benjamin Sidney Michael Schwantes

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A challenge to the long-held notion of close ties between the railroad and telegraph industries of the nineteenth century.

Winner of the Alice Hanson Jones Biennial Prize by the Economic History Association

To many people in the nineteenth century, the railroad and the telegraph were powerful, transformative forces, ones that seemed to work closely together to shape the economy, society, and politics of the United States. However, the perception—both popular and scholarly—of the intrinsic connections between these two institutions has largely obscured a far more complex and contested…

A challenge to the long-held notion of close ties between the railroad and telegraph industries of the nineteenth century.

Winner of the Alice Hanson Jones Biennial Prize by the Economic History Association

To many people in the nineteenth century, the railroad and the telegraph were powerful, transformative forces, ones that seemed to work closely together to shape the economy, society, and politics of the United States. However, the perception—both popular and scholarly—of the intrinsic connections between these two institutions has largely obscured a far more complex and contested relationship, one that created profound divisions between entrepreneurial telegraph promoters and warier railroad managers.

In The Train and the Telegraph, Benjamin Sidney Michael Schwantes argues that uncertainty, mutual suspicion, and cautious experimentation more aptly describe how railroad officials and telegraph entrepreneurs hesitantly established a business and technical relationship. The two industries, Schwantes reveals, were drawn together gradually through external factors such as war, state and federal safety regulations, and financial necessity, rather than because of any perception that the two industries were naturally related or beneficial to each other.

Complicating the existing scholarship by demonstrating that the railroad and telegraph in the United States were uneasy partners at best—and more often outright antagonists—throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, The Train and the Telegraph will appeal to scholars of communication, transportation, and American business history and political economy, as well as to enthusiasts of the nineteenth-century American railroad industry.

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The Train and the Telegraph

Benjamin Sidney Michael Schwantes

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Reviews

Reviews

Well-researched, and very readable overview of the relationship between trains and telegraphs in the United States. It overturns a narrative of a seamless complementarity between the two, highlighting the endless tensions and great variability in usage.

The Train and the Telegraph blows up the assumption of many historians—myself included—that railroad and telegraph development unfolded in a kind of mutually beneficial way. It is rare to see a complete inversion of a well-established historical assumption; Schwantes should be congratulated on making his case so forcefully and effectively. This is a great book: clean, concise, effective, and tightly organized.

Schwantes effectively weaves together the technologies of transportation and communication during the nineteenth century, debunking many of the myths that have appeared in earlier, and on occasion quite scholarly, works. Expanding our understanding of the symbiotic relationship between business history and the history of technology, this lucid book is well researched and well written; it should be of interest to a diverse readership.

Schwantes's history of the relationship between the American telegraph and railroad industries shows us that the processes of technological diffusion and adoption are highly complex and contingent. Historians of technology and of capitalism will profit from this engagingly written and thoroughly researched book.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
224
ISBN
9781421429748
Illustration Description
10 halftones
Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1. Rights-of-Way
Chapter 2. Dangerous Expedient
Chapter 3. At War with Time and Space
Chapter 4. The American System
Chapter 5. The Struggle for Standards
Chapter

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1. Rights-of-Way
Chapter 2. Dangerous Expedient
Chapter 3. At War with Time and Space
Chapter 4. The American System
Chapter 5. The Struggle for Standards
Chapter 6. Telegraphers and Regulators
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio