Makers of the Telegraph

Samuel Morse, Ezra Cornell and Joseph Henry

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About the Book

The single-wire telegraph revolutionized long distance communication but it was not the brainchild of one inventor, Samuel Morse. His colleagues and employees—specifically Ezra Cornell and Joseph Henry—made crucial contributions.
Examining the careers of the three men and the key events, this book presents Morse as primarily a businessman and consolidator of ideas who, frequently in conflict with his associates, sought to present the telegraph as a uniform system under his sole imprimatur. The battle between Morse and Cornell over the invention of the magnetic relay was central to the drama.
What emerges is a complex portrait of three ambitious and brilliant innovators and the age in which they lived.

About the Author(s)

Kenneth B. Lifshitz has lectured widely on such topics as the great chain across the Hudson and The Franklin Marble. Also a bass player, he has performed with local and regional symphony orchestras. He lives in the Catskill region of New York.

Bibliographic Details

Kenneth B. Lifshitz
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 344
Bibliographic Info: 17 photos & illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6559-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2681-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments x

Notes on Abbreviations xi

Preface 1

Introduction 6

Section I: Knickerbocker Tales

 1. The American Experiment 17

 2. SPAAM (The Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Arts and Manufactures) 33

 3. T. Romeyn Beck 37

 4. The Albany Academy 42

 5. The Big Ditch 43

 6. A Tale of Two Cities 45

 7. Portrait Painter 48

 8. The Man Who Sneezed So Singularly 52

Section II: Henry’s Influence on Morse

 9. The New, Old School 57

10. The Vision at Palmyra 61

11. Ghost Story 66

12. Wrap Artist 68

13. The American Achievement 72

14. Que Viva Mexico 75

15. Endless Debate 80

16. Quantity vs. Intensity 86

17. The Barnaby Mooer ­Side-Hill Plow 92

18. Catching Colt 96

19. Out of the “Fog” of Invention 103

20. The Plow in Maine 107

21. Sins of the Father 112

Section III: The Madman and the Telegrapher

22. A Federal ­No-Show Job 117

23. Cable Problems 123

24. Big Confab at Little Relay 129

25. The Trouble with Fisher … 133

26. On the Third Floor of the Patent Office 138

27. The Burden of Big Science 145

28. Bartlett’s Contract 149

29. ­Cross-Cut! 153

30. A Fight Over Pole Insulators 156

31. Out of the Frying Pan 158

Section IV: Relay Race

32. The Magnetic Telegraph Company 169

33. A Red Herring 173

34. The Mule Kicks Back 177

35. The State Fair 182

36. Raising Cash 187

37. When the Going Gets Tough … 191

38. … The Tough Go to Europe 196

39. Trompe l’œil 198

40. “The Telegraph for Dummies” 203

41. O’Reilly 210

42. Saxton Faxton’s ­Love-Hate Relationship 217

43. Organization Man 220

44. Crossing the Rubicon 225

Section V: Prodigal Son

45. Audubon’s Laundry 233

46. Tit for Tat 238

47. An Indispensable Plague 241

48. The New ­York–Offing Line 244

49. Rebirth of a Notion 248

Coda: King Edward of Kalamazoo 256

Afterword 262

Appendix A: Morse’s Deposition 267

Appendix B: Questions Prepared for Professor Henry by Morse, 1839 269

Chapter Notes 270

Bibliography 321

Index 325

Book Reviews & Awards

“The sections on Cornell are fascinating”—Carleton Mabee, Pulitzer Prize winning author and biographer of Samuel Morse; “This outstanding work, peppered with insightful details, is an extraordinary history based on fresh research about three colorful and controversial characters. An absorbing narrative to the very last page! Sure to be part of the library of every transportation and communication scholar.”—Michelle P. Figliomeni, President, Orange County Historical Society; “Lifshitz provides a delight-to-read examination of a pivotal event in the history of American technology. At many points he challenges accepted wisdom and offers new interpretations of the motivations of the actors and their actions”— Marc Rothenberg, former editor of the Joseph Henry Papers Project.