Some of my friends, to whom I have related at different times the incidents that are to follow, have expressed the belief that they have enough of historical interest to entitle them to be put in form for perusal. I am not so sure of their value in that respect, but thinking that perhaps they might afford some entertainment, I have yielded to their judgment and solicitation and have jotted down something of what I remember of former days.
I regret that I shall have to make much use of the personal pronoun, as all my life long I have tried not to exploit myself, nor permit others to do it; but as I can only speak of my own experience or events within my knowledge, "I" and "my will necessarily have to be frequently in evidence.
As I quite early became identified with one of the great engines for usefulness-the Electric Telegraph-it is to that that most of the events of which I shall speak will have reference.
Born in Pittsburgh, I have seen the major part of the development of the great city. My first employment was as a "carrier" of the first issue of the Pittsburg Dispatch, my route being the territory covered by what was known as Lawrenceville A little later I was employed by "The Mercantile Library Association," but soon after I went to work in a lamp store, kept by my brother in a building still standing, directly back of the Bank of Pittsburgh, on Third Avenue. Here, I believe the initial effort was made to introduce petroleum as an illuminant. Mr. Peterson was getting more " Rock oil" out of his salt wells, near Tarentum, than a rheumatic public could use, and he prevailed upon my brother to let him send a barrel of it to the store. Between what we were able to sell or give away and what leaked out, we got rid of about half a barrel, and the remainder was returned. As part of my duty was the han- dling of the greasy, ill-smelling stuff, I was greatly rejoiced when I saw the barrel on a dray going towards the canal, homeward bound.
When I was 14 years of age I entered the Telegraph service as a messenger. At this time Andrew Carnegie, Robert Pitcairn, David Mc- Cargo, and George K. Leet were employed in the same capacity. Later, during the civil war, Leet was an adjutant on General Grant's staff. The careers of the others are well known.
At the period about which I write, the Electric Telegraph was new, there being only one wire in most directions, and only two to Philadelphia and Cincinnati for several years after. The company that employed me was very poor, suffering all the hardships incident to a new enterprise in an undeveloped country. Those were the days of the stage coach and the canal boat, and, I might add, " wild cat money" - notes issued by banks of more or less doubtful solvency, and which were subject to frequent, and sometimes appalling, fluctuations. A man starting on a journey might have his pockets bulging with notes that would buy him anything he wanted at home, but along the course of his journey he would find them steadily depreciating, until finally at his destination they would not buy him a dinner. When I was local manager of the Lake Erie Telegraph Company (of which I shall speak further on), there was at one time a panicky feeling abroad, and the treasurer instructed me to check out all the money on deposit. Two days later he "wired" me to redeposit it, which I did in the same " banking house" from which it had been withdrawn, taking the same notes that had been paid to me, but in the interim they had depreciated twenty per cent. It was no uncommon thing for a merchant, when a customer tendered a note of some distant bank, to ask him to be seated while a messenger made the round of the banking houses to ascertain its value. Things moved with sluggish pace. Merchants bought their supplies six months ahead of the time of their expected delivery. There was no occasion for haste, and the telegraph was but little used. Pay day was by no means a fixed date with us. I remember one occasion when the company's credit had sunk so low that the manager had difficulty in finding a livery man who would "trust" him for the hire of a horse and buggy to go "out the pike" to repair the broken wire. The charge for "the rig " was only one dollar and fifty cents for a whole day.
There were two telegraph offices in Pittsburgh, the "O'Reilly Lines," representing the Atlantic and Ohio (Philadelphia to Pittsburgh), the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Louisville (Pittsburgh to Louisville), and the "Lake Erie" Telegraph Companies. The A. & O. followed the Philadelphia pike; the P., C. & L. was on the pike to Steubenville, thence along the Ohio River to Wheeling, and west from Wheeling on the "National Road." The office was in the "Odeon Building," where now stands the Keystone Building, on Fourth Avenue. It was a three story building with centre hall. On one side was the Mayor's office, and the O'Reilly office on the other. The operating room was on the second floor. The "Morse Lines" office was on the ground floor of the St. Charles Hotel, on Wood Street. The combination consisted of the Western Telegraph Company (Baltimore to Pittsburgh, via "the National Road"); the New Orleans and Ohio Company (Pittsburgh to Louisville, on the National Road to Wheeling, thence following the Ohio River), and a line to Cleveland along the canal from Rochester, Pa. It may be well to state here that at this period (about 1850) the key of the whole telegraph business of the country rested at Pittsburgh. It could have been within the control of J. K. Moorhead had he devoted himself to the business.
The duties of a messenger in those days were various, and the hours long. I do not remember of any complaints. There certainly were no strikes. Necessity was too close to our heels to inspire the aid of a child labor society. We had to " sweep out" the office, clean the batteries (an exceedingly unpleasant task; poor McCargo lost an eye at that work), and were sometimes required to assist in repairing the wires. In delivering messages we had at times to cover long distances without any of the modern aids. There was an " omnibus line " (two vehicles in all) to Lawrenceville, and a ferry boat from the foot of Grant Street to about Tenth Street, " Birmingham," and another from the foot of Penn Street to "Saw Mill Run," to help us on our journey; but in other directions we had to walk.
When I entered the Telegraph service there were still some incredulous people, and some amusing incidents occurred. One man mistrusted the information in the message because he knew it was not his son's signature. I delivered a message to a house where a woman and her three daughters, all adults, lived. They were reluctant to receive the message, and when one of them did at last take it, she was seized with fear about opening it. The mother would not break the seal and passed it on to Jane, who in turn handed it to Mary, and thus it passed from hand to hand, each saying, "No, you open it," until finally I was appealed to to tear off the envelope. No sooner had I done it than there was a chorus of voices, "Don't read it." When they got control of themselves I was permitted to read, " We have a new baby." In the midst of the confusion that followed I made my escape.
One morning when I was "sweeping out," a man came in the office and said he "wanted to see a letter go." I told him to go outside and watch the wire. "Oh, no!" he exclaimed, "you can't fool me. I live out the pike and have watched the pole in front of my house ever since it was put there."
Captain Leslie, who kept the Leslie House, at New Castle, Pa., always sent his messages in rhyme. The following are samples:
'' Mr. Blank, I scarce do know,
When to Pittsburgh I can go;
If all is true the doctor says,
I will be there in a few days."
" My health is good, 'tis seldom better;
I'll come next week or send a letter."
An amusing error occurred in a message that was repeated at Pittsburgh. At that time there were no long distance transmissions. A Philadelphia firm wired their correspondent at St. Louis to "make a loan." In due time they answered, "Loan made." In some unaccountable way, this message reached Philadelphia "Lone Maid." The Philadelphia house never got through twitting the Telegraph manager by inquiring if he had heard anything further about that solitary female.
The latter part of 1852, all of the Telegraph lines in Pittsburgh were combined in a working arrangement and moved into one office, at the corner of Wood Street and Third Street (now avenue), and later became part of what is now known as the Western Union.
At this time the wires were all on the highways, or along the canals. The first wires entering Pittsburgh on the right of way of the railroad was from the west, over the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad, now known as the Port Wayne. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company made use of the A. & O. wires, and it was the opening of an office at " Outer Depot" for convenience of Thomas A. Scott that took Carnegie into the railroad service. At the time Carnegie was transferred to Mr. Scott's office, I was (at the age of 16 years) the operator in charge, and only representative of the " Lake Erie " Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh, and continued in that capacity until some 18 months later, when I was sent to Wheeling. It will, perhaps, not be out of place to state here that a few years later, when Carnegie was Superintendent of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pitcairn was Superintendent of the Middle Division, McCargo was Superintendent of LaCrosse Railroad, and I was superintendent of one of the divisions of the Western Union Telegraph Company. Carnegie, Pitcairn, McCargo and myself were nearly of the same age, and became operators about the same time, though Carnegie learned to " read by sound " sooner than the others. Alexander Wilson, now and for many years an honored member of the Washington County Bar, was one of the earliest "sound readers."
I was a full fledged operator when I was 15 years old. In those days we read from impressions made on a strip of paper by a needle on the end of a movable bar. Long after we could "read by sound" we were required to use paper to guard against errors. I never knew when I learned to read by sound. It came to my consciousness by feel in a somewhat astonishing manner. I had gone "out on the lines" with the repair man, Leander D. McCandless, familiarly known as "Jack." We found the wire broken at a bend in the road near where Dixmont is located. After mending the break, Jack fastened a rope to the wire to help draw it up and over to the pole, and he told me to "take hold and help." It was a rainy day and I was standing in the mud. The moment I touched the wire I felt the pulsations and read distinctly a message that was being sent by an operator named Kelly. It is one of the characteristics of operating that each operator has a style as distinctly his own as his penmanship. I told Jack of my discovery, but he was incredulous, and calling me a blanked fool, ordered me to " lay hold and pull." Years after I had occasion to use this method once when no instruments were at hand.
There was even at this time still much mystery surrounding the Telegraph, and one who could operate was thought to be above the average of men. On one occasion when I went with the lineman "out on the pike," we were not able to repair the break before night was upon us, and we had to " put up " at the village " tavern." During the evening the lineman happened to make some remark that referred to me as an operator, which caused the landlord to ask, " Can that boy telegraph?" Being assured that I could, he disappeared, and soon the villagers came straggling in to get a look at me. It was an embarrassingsituation, and I was glad to slip off to bed. John P. Glass, who had been for years "window clerk " in the Post Office, and who was thought to have a speaking acquaintance with every resident, was the first business manager in the Telegraph Office in Pittsburgh. He left the Telegraph Office in 1854 to engage in the hotel business with one Dan Carr. They refitted the hotel still standing at the corner of Third and Smithfield, and named it the "City Hotel." He was succeeded in the Telegraph Office by his brother Robert, one of the cleanest cut gentlemen with whom I have ever been associated.
In 1854 there was an epidemic of cholera, and the number of deaths caused widespread alarm. The Telegraph lines were used more than usual. Some of the operators became panic-stricken and left the city, but we boys " stood our ground like men."
Mr. Jackson Duncan was superintendent of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & Louisville Telegraph Company at this time, and to his friendly offices I was indebted for much of my early success, and our friendship lasted through his life. He had observed with what care I had looked after the interests of the Lake Erie Telegraph Company (whilst I was uncon[s]cious of doing more than any other boy would do), and in the autumn of that year, (I was then not 18 years of age,) he sent me to Wheeling to take charge of the office in that city. I had for assistants four men (three of whom were married) and two boys. I remained in chargefor six years, until the breaking out of the War of the Rebellion in 1861.
As an incident of the history of the times, I will introduce an experience I had in the late "fifties," and not long before the Civil War. I had imbibed very early strong anti-slavery views and was accustomed to the discussion of the slavery question openly and freely, but not long after my arrival at Wheeling I found a different sentiment prevailing. There were only a few slaves in Wheeling, and not many throughout Western Virginia (the State of West Virginia was not erected until some years later), but notwithstanding this, the general sentiment was not unfavorable to slavery, and discussion was but seldom indulged in, and then only by those holding anti-slavery views.
There was an old trusty slave named Ben, a very religious man, who frequently brought messages to the Telegraph office. He was an interesting character, and there grew up between us quite a friendly intimacy. We did not often speak of slavery, but he understood my attitude and there was no room for doubting his. He confided to me that he had on more than one occasion conducted a "runaway slave" across the Ohio River on his way to Canada, then the only safe refuge for an escaped slave. One day Ben came to my office wearing a perplexed countenance and cautiously asked, "Is da any one hea?" It happened that I was alone. He must have seen the others leave the office, for it was unusual forme to be entirely alone. Being- assured, he startled me by asking if I would ferry a " runaway " across the river that night. He had had him in hiding for three days and was now alarmed lest it be found out. Although holding, as I did, decided views against slavery, I was not prepared to violate the laws, and promptly refused. He was so distressed over my decision that, out of sheer sympathy for him, I said I would think the matter over and for him to return later in the day for my final answer. He did not return, and some days after he informed me that the " runaway " had got safely over. Years after I met this man in a hotel in Rochester, N. Y., where he was porter, bootblack, etc. I got into conversation with him while he was polishing my shoes, and learned that he was an escaped slave from Virginia. I told him I had lived in Wheeling, Virginia, before the war. His face brightened and he asked if I had known old Ben, also a Mr. David. I said yes, that my name was David. Whereupon he exclaimed, " Youse is de man dat boated me over de river." I set him right about that. Ben had doubtless told him at first that I would be the ferryman, and had never corrected the statement.
The political campaign of 1860 was one of unusual earnestness, unlike any that had preceded it, for the outcome presaged far-reaching consequences. In no part of the country was the seriousness of the situation felt more than in the so-called "Border States." In Wheeling there were a goodly number of Republicans, as alsothroughout Western Virginia, but by far the greater number of citizens were favorable to the South, and as the campaign progressed, the denunciation of " Black Republicans," as we were called, became more violent and offensive. At the Democratic meetings this seemed to be the main theme, and our candidate for President was portrayed as almost a fiend incarnate, and while I remember many of the vile names applied to Mr. Lincoln, I cannot bring myself to repeat them now.
Roger A. Pryor, of Richmond, Va., who was one of those erratic men who were spoken of at the North as "Fire-eaters," delivered one of his characteristic speeches at the old Athenaeum Building, in Wheeling. He had recently challenged Congressman Potter, of Wisconsin, to fight a duel. Potter accepted the challenge and chose " bowie knives." Pryor objected, claiming that it was a weapon unknown to "the code." Potter stood his ground, asserting that it was a southern invention, and its use confined to the South. Friends intervened and an amicable adjustment was made, but the general feeling was that it was a "back down" on the part of Pryor. On the occasion of the speech, Pryor had his audience with him, and the applause encouraged him in his violent talk until at one point he declared that "if Lincoln was elected and there was none other, he would be the Brutus who would stab him on the steps of the Capitol." The words had scarcely passed his lips when a voice from the gallery said, "Potter." Pryor was nonplussed. Therewere two well known men sitting in the front row of the parqnette engaged in conversation, and who happened to laugh at the moment. Pryor thinking that they were amused at his situation, seized the occasion to recover himself, and coming to the front of the stage, pointed his finger at them and said, "Any man who would applaud such a sentiment is more despicable than the man who uttered it." One of the gentlemen, who was himself no stranger to the duello, drew a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and threw it upon the stage. Later in the evening the matter was explained, and nothing further came of the incident.
There were laws in Virginia at this time which declared certain books on slavery, and certain newspapers, to be "incendiary documents," and having them in one's possession made the person liable to imprisonment for a term of years. One of these coming through the mails, the postmaster, in the line of his duty as a government official, was bound to deliver it, but as a citizen of Virginia, he could have the party to whom he handed it arrested for having an "incendiary document." To make these laws more effective, and drive from the state persons inimical to slavery, the voting was required to be viva voce. The judges of the election stood at the window and announced your name, and then opening your ballott, one of them read it aloud for the clerk to record. It was under these circum- stances that I cast my first Presidential vote—for Abraham Lincoln. I shall never forget the expression on the countenance of one of the judges whenhe heard my vote. My political standing being thus proclaimed, I became an object of some interest, because of my position in the only Telegraph office, for there had already passed through my hands some information which would be very damaging testimony under certain conditions, and it practically gave notice to those who favored secession that one channel of communication was closed. I received a number of anonymous letters of warning. On the other hand, the leaders among the Union men magnified my importance, and took more comfort from my position than the facts warranted, and frequently communicated with me. I invented a cypher to be used by them, but I am not sure that much use was made of it.
Men who lived in the Border States knew well the temper of the South, and were conscious of the seriousness of the situation after Mr. Lincoln's election. Sharing this feeling, and having voted for Mr. Lincoln, I was desirous of seeing him, and when it was known that he would make a brief stop at Steubenville, Ohio, en route for Washington, I went up to see him and hear him speak. Looking at him as he stood on the temporary platform listening to an address of welcome, with his hands clasped before him, and his eyes cast down, a feeling of disappointment came over me. I felt that he would not measure up to the great work, but, when he raised his eyes and began to speak, my opinion changed instantly, for there stood another man. I likened the change in him to a darkened house having the lights suddenlyturned on. It was the most marvelous change that I ever beheld in a man. I can now almost hear the tone of his voice as he uttered this modest sentence: "I greatly fear I shall not be equal to the trust of which you have made me the repository." The word "greatly" as he used it sounded about three feet long, and was very impressive.
I saw Mr. Lincoln months after, when trying experience had really changed the man.
Soon after the election of Mr. Lincoln I was asked by Hon. William H. Seward to keep a close watch on what transpired along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and advise him. In the performance of this task I got to know what operators were loyal men, and having a further very thorough general knowledge of conditions throughout the state, it was by natural sequence that as soon as military operations became evident, I was put in charge of all wires in Western Virginia, as Superintendent of Military Telegraphs, and at an early stage of the war I built the first Telegraph line following an army. In view of the fact of how necessary and useful the Telegraph was in the war, it will surprise some to learn that the regular army officers opposed its use at first, believing the system of couriers was more suitable. Gen. McClellan had been identified with civil pursuits, and had to this extent broken with old methods, and ordered the line to be built. I personally "took the field," with a company of detailed soldiers followed his army from Clarksburg to Rich Mountain battlefield, and thence to Beverly, and on tothe top of Allegheny Mountain. I was on Rich Mountain battlefield the morning after the battle. Although this battle was but a small affair when compared with those that followed in the war, it was a new and trying experience. The day was cold and rainy. Lying on the ground under the porch of the only house (which was being used as a hospital) were wounded men covered with blankets, and around were pathetic evidences of the surgeons' work. The faces of the soldiers who stood about showed plainly the impression that was being made—that this was to be no holiday affair. Some rebel prisoners passing my tent were awakened to the fact that the Government was in dead earnest, for, seeing the wire, one exclaimed, "My God, fellows! here is a Telegraph office." This line, with others in Western Virginia, was maintained until the end of the war. The only thing of special interest attached to this event was that it marked the fact that it was the first Telegraph line to follow an army. In other departments, east and west, greater things were done and accomplished afterwards.
In 1862 I was ordered to Washington, and spent several days in consultation with my chief, Col. Anson Stager, at the War Department. Up to this time I had served as a civilian, but now, in order to make me personally responsible for the money and property in my care, I was given a commission as Captain and Assistant Quarter- master. This document, having the signatures of Abraham Lincoln and Edwin M. Stanton attachedto it, was burned in a recent fire which destroyed all of my "household gods." I saw Mr. Lincoln several times, when he had come over to the War Department Telegraph Office to learn "the situation." Gen. Pope had superseded McClellan and was preparing for the movement which later eventuated in the second Bull Run disaster. The result of my visit was my being ordered to St. Louis to reorganize the Military Telegraph in "The Department of the Mississippi," which comprised parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri, and I was occupied in this work some six weeks. In arranging for its supervision, I put one of the divisions in charge of Robert C. Clowry, and the seat I gave him was in the train that carried him ultimately into the president's chair of the Western Union Telegraph Company.
After completing my work I returned to West Virginia where, with the exception of one occasion when I was ordered to accompany the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, to Steubenville, as cypher operator, I remained on duty till the end of the term of my service in the war. While I was responsible, through my chief, directly to the Secretary of War, I nevertheless was a sort of ex officio member of the staff of each succeeding commanding general in the department, and held close relations with them.
I will interrupt the current of my story by introducing here parts of a letter written recently by me to Mr. David H. Bates, while his articles on "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office" were being published in the Century Magazine:
"The experience you relate with the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, in writing to his dictation, recalls a little experience of my own which I can now laugh over, but which carried no amusement for me at the time. You will remember the occasion of Mr. Stanton attending the funeral of his brother-in-law) Assistant Secretary of War Walcott) at Steubenville, Ohio. I was ordered to join the party en route over the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. After a day or two at Steubenville, we returned by the same route east. I accompanied them no farther than Cumberland. On the way our ‘special' train was stopped at a station where a long cypher message was being received. I quickly took in the situation, and saw that the train would be detained and we would miss an important 'passing point' (the road was then only a single track), and I gave instructions to have Wheeling send the message to the next station ahead. There were a number of stations on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad where operators were only needed in emergencies, and as operators were exceedingly scarce, the Superintendent of Telegraph had to employ 'plugs' [a designation for second-rate operators] for such offices. It so happened that this 'next station' was manned by one of these. Our train slowing up, this pursuing cypher was handed to me. I at once took possession of the sleeping apartment of the (officers') car, and then tackled what was perhaps the most wonderful cypher message that was ever put into anyone's hands to decipher. I wish I had the copy for an embellishment to your book. It was deficient in every guide to translation; words were not only missing, but others were supplied compared with which our war 'arbitary' code words were plain English. They were as original in their composition as they made the message bewildering. I recall one, 'facegiving,' which I found was meant for 'frequency.' Well! I labored with that thing for hours, it seemed to me, while the per- spiration poured from me. I was so long at it that W. Prescott Smith, the General Manager of the road, who was one of the party, remarked to me privately, 'There must be bad news in that message.' I simply held a wooden face. I managed to work out a result which I read to Mr. Stanton. It was some semi-naval engagement (I do not recall what, if I even knew then) which was not altogether favorable to us. Mr. Stanton remarked, ‘That is not very good news.'
"You will doubtless recall that this was at the time when the 'habeas corpus' was suspended. The President and the Secretary of War were liable to arrest if caught outside the District of Columbia, and it was apprehended that some 'sorehead' would proceed against Mr. Stanton from motives of pure 'cussedness.' One night when we were at Steubenville, Mr. Stanton slipped up to Pittsburgh to visit some friends. He removed his glasses and wore a soft felt hat. Recurring to the return trip east; there is, or was, a platform built at a pointon the mountains where was afforded a fine scenic view, and it was the custom for all trains to make a brief stop there. Our train was stopped for the purpose. Soon after we descended to the platform, Mr. Stanton seized me by the arm and walked to the farther end, away from the others. He had discovered a new face among the returning party and asked, ' Captain, who is this new man?' He seemed relieved when I told him he was Mr. Smith's stenographer.
"The night before we left Steubenville I went up to the house (Mrs. Walcott's) to inform the Secretary of War about the arrangements for our return journey on the following day. After all was told, I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do. After a little hesitancy he said he would send a message to Judge Shaler, who he was disappointed in not finding at home in Pittsburgh the night before. As he sat writing (I was just across the table) I was struck with his resemblance to a bulldog. When I returned to the Telegraph office I spoke of this to the operator, who had known him for 30 years, and he promptly exclaimed, 'That is just the man. He will hang on until he gets what he is after.' Some years after, in talking with a lawyer who had 'read law' with Shaler & Stanton, I told him of the impression made upon me that night at Steubenville, and of the operator's comment. He said, 'Your friend's criticism was exactly right,' and then he related the following: 'When Shaler & Stanton occupied two rooms in a small two-story building on FourthStreet [now Avenue], Pittsburgh, Mr. Stanton was retained in the McCormick Reaper case. He locked himself in the upper room, and for a week we could hear the model of the reaper being run over the floor. It seems to me now that he did not even go out to eat or sleep.' This was the case when on trial at Cincinnati that Stanton all but ignored the presence of Lincoln, who was also retained by McCormick.
"I was present when Mr. Stanton delivered by request a speech at Old City Hall, Pittsburgh, in the first 'Grant Campaign.' The stage was crowded by his old friends. He bore evidence of having broken his health in the war. I met him the next day in company with General Stager, and it was pathetic to hear him boast that he never spoke with more freedom in his life. He could not be heard five seats from the stage.
"I agree with you that no manner of justice has been done to Mr. Stanton, and I think you might well rewrite that portion of your book and give better emphasis to the fact."
Probably at no period of my life did I have so trying experience as at this time, when I was the responsible head of the Telegraph service in the military territory to which I was assigned. I was constantly menaced by the fear that at the supreme moment the Telegraph might fail. The lines were all within territory infested by "Bushwhackers" (outlaws attached to, or in sympathy with the rebel army), and subjected to their depredations. This, added to the other causes of interruption, made it that I always went to bed with an anxiety that disturbed if it did not prevent sleep. I was assisted by a brave and loyal set of men, some of whom endured hardship and took great risks; most of them are long since dead.
In the hurried construction of the Military Telegraph lines, trees were often used instead of poles, and quite recently I found an insulator embedded in a tree, incased by the growth of 45 years. I might add that the rings answered exactly to the number of years of growth.
In 1864, the business of the Western Union Telegraph Company having grown to such proportions that closer supervision was needed, I was tendered the position of Superintendent of one of the divisions. The Secretary of War being assured that I would still be able to give good service to the war, consented to accept my resignation, which bore the following endorsement:
"I respectfully ask that Captain T. B. A. David's resignation be duly accepted. Capt. D. was the first to take the field in the U. S. Military Telegraph Service after the breaking out of the rebellion. He has served to the present time with great ability and with untiring energy and devotion in promoting the public service.
"(Signed) ANSON STAGER,
"Col. & Supt. U. S. Military Telegraphs.
"Approved and accepted,
"EDWIN M. STANTON, Sec'y of War."
I entered upon my work as a superintendentof the Western Union Company February 1st, 1864, at Columbus, Ohio, but a year later I moved to Pittsburgh. In those days we used voltaic (acid and zinc) batteries, and one of the several and varied duties of a superintendent was to determine, as near as might be, what the weather would be in his division on the succeeding day, in order that, as a matter of economy, the batteries might be increased or diminished, as the conditions demanded. As an operator I had experienced all of the trials incident to Telegraph lines in bad weather, and had watched storms and wind currents with no little interest for years. I cannot dignify my observations by saying that I made a study of the subject, and yet I did gather enough information to enable me, on assuming the duties of my new position, to make as fair a guess as the others at what the weather might be on the following day, by reckoning from the weather conditions at certain distant places. I cannot say that we did better than the "Weather Bureau" does today, but I am sure we did as well. This was over 40 years ago, and we had no data to guide us.
I held the position of Superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company until 1869, when I withdrew to engage in other business. In 1872 I was stricken with nervous prostration, and for two years was unable to do any work. There were times when I thought I would be bereft wholly of reason. The doctors gave me no relief, nor any considerable encouragement, and I had about come to the conclusion that my days of usefulness wereover, when the late William Coleman advised me to consult Dr. Brown-Sequard, then regarded as the highest authority on nervous disorders, who was on a visit to this country, which I did, and had to undergo some heroic treatment, in which an iron, at white heat, was used repeatedly. When passing from the hands of Dr. Brown-Sequard, he warned me never again to take up any business that would tax me severely. Puzzled to know just what to turn to, as all business is trying, I finally decided to return to Pittsburgh and establish a system, of local Telegraph, which would put all of the larger manufacturers in communication with each other, by means of Printing Telegraph instruments, through a central office. Up to this time all communication between them was by mail or by personal interview. This was in 1874. William Orton, the then President of the Western Union Telegraph Company, was a warm personal friend, and gave me every encouragement, and later all the help that he could. The result was that a charter was taken out by Governor Cornell (representing the Western Union Telegraph Company), General Lefferts (representing the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company) and myself, to put my plan in operation. Gov. Cornell was at that time President of the American District Telegraph Company, and was anxious to have the system extended, and favored naming the new company "American District." I had no liking for the messenger feature, and fearing that the American District Company might dominate the business, I gave the name"Central District" (as that -was the Division of the Western Union Company where I had formerly been a superintendent) and "Printing Telegraph," because we would use instruments that printed. General Lefferts objected to the length of the name, which caused me to remark that it would perhaps keep Governor Cornell from writing. The Governor gave a grim. smile. My original intention was to give it the name of "Pittsburgh Local Telegraph Company." The manufacturers readily took up with the plan, and within a few months the system was in full operation.
During the progress of development, I had to visit New York frequently, and on one occasion when I was unable to go on with the business in hand, and was wandering up Broadway, my attention was attracted by a notice in a window of a mechanical writing machine. Having some taste for mechanics I went in and spent most of the afternoon with the inventor. The next day I was again in that neighborhood and was invited in to be told of the distress they were laboring under, and it ended in my leaving the room the owner of fourteen machines. What I was to do with them when I got home troubled me) for they were wholly outside of my business. It was only after great effort that I was able to dispose of them, mostly to preachers. That is how the "Typewriter" was introduced to Pittsburgh. Before I begin to tell of the addition of the Telephone to the Printing Telegraph system, I will give some account of my early connection withthat wonderful invention.
Early in 1877 I made the acquaintance of Gardiner G. Hubbard, who was then in full control of the invention of Graham Bell—the Bell Telephone. He had no well matured plan for introducing the then crude invention, and I urged an arrangement with the Western Union Telegraph Company as the speediest method of introducing it to commercial use. On one occasion he spent an entire day in my room at the Astor House, New York, where we went over the whole subject again and again, with the result that, could I have been certain that the Western Union Company would have closed the arrangement promptly, I could have bought the Bell Telephone for $200,000, and a yearly royalty of one dollar for each instrument used. When we parted at ten o'clock that night, Mr. Hubbard said, with some hesitancy, "I guess you had better not make the offer, for if they reject it, their action might discredit me elsewhere." They would have refused the offer, as I learned indirectly later on, feeling secure in their ownership of Gray's and Edison's inventions.
I ought perhaps to explain in this connection that Elisha Gray, the inventor of the Printing instruments we were using, had, while experimenting in the effort to make each note of the musical scale carry, simultaneously, a message over a single wire, covered all of the ground for which Graham Bell received his patent for his Telephone, and was therefore entitled to make and use telephones. His rights, with those of Edison, were secured bythe Western Union Telegraph Company. The first experiments that were made with the Telephone in Pittsburgh were between my house on Shady Avenue and a building on the rear of the lot, and soon after I had a wire strung from my office in the First National Bank Building to the Iron Exchange on Fourth Avenue for public exhibition. It was generally looked upon as scarcely more than a wonderful toy. What is now known as the "Receiver" was then used both for speaking with, and for hearing. The results were not very satisfactory, nor promising. It was not until the "Transmitter" had been invented that the Telephone took on practical form. At this stage of its development capital was very shy of it. Many men who possess the gift of "hindsightedness" have told me in these later years what they would have done had they had the opportunity. One successful business man in Pittsburgh, who was believed to have an income beyond his power to invest, gazed at me as though he thought me a fit subject for Dixmont when I told him of the possibilities of the Telephone, and there were others equally incredulous. The useful feature was what attracted me and absorbed my attention. I spent much time with Mr. Edison, at Menio Park, in developing his " Transmitter," and he was kind enough to make public acknowledgment of the help I gave him. The following note from him indicates a stage of progress in his invention immediately following some experiments which we had made some days before at his laboratory. "Your pair " was for further experimenting at Pittsburgh:
MENLO PARK, N. J., Aug. 27, 1877.
Just finished our new set of telephones, two receivers and two senders. They are now as small as Bell's and much louder than you have ever heard, and the articulation is so perfect that everybody gets what is said without any effort. The strain on the ears appears to have departed, at least in my case. You know I have only Batch and Kreusi that can work, so you see that it will be a few days before I can send you your pair.
One of my visits to Menio Park happened on the day that the first Phonograph was finished, so that I was one of the first to test that instrument. When the Telephone was added to the business of the Central District and Printing Telegraph System, it was by an arrangement with Mr. Hubbard, which permitted us to use either the Bell or the Gray and Edison Telephones. Early in the spring of 1878—to be exact, on March 25th of that year—Mr. Hubbard informed me that he had arranged for the reorganization of the Bell Telephone Company (of the U. S.) and offered me a large interest at a low price if I would become a director, but remembering Mr. Orton's kindness to me at the serious time already mentioned, I could not do otherwise than refuse any offer that would put me in antagonism to him.
My personal relations with Mr. Hubbard continued friendly, and I more than once urged the Western Union people to let me make a permanent arrangement with Mr. Hubbard that would secure my company in its territory, which I could have done on vastly better terms than were obtained later on. The Western Union people refused, because, as they claimed, it would strengthen the hands of the (parent) Bell Company against the Western Union in the negotiations for consolidation then pending, and I was assured that my Company's interests were being cared for. But, alas! When the critical time for me came, Mr. Orton was dead, and "a new king which new not Joseph" was on the throne. My interests had not been protected, and lacking this support, I fell under the efforts of as heartless a lot of men as ever breathed.
In establishing the system of the Telephone Exchange, every feature had to be invented, and I may fairly lay claim to having contributed a considerable share. At this day when the Telephone is in as common use as any of the other indispensable things, it can hardly be believed that there could have been opposition to its speedy adoption, but there was. When its usefulness became evident, after a short trial (usually without pay) complaints became as numerous as flakes of snow in a storm. I was "called up" all through the day to answer some question about improving the service, and the questioner generally wound up withtelling me that " the thing was a fraud and a humbug." It was hard for men who had sold sugar and flour all their lives to comprehend that in so new and complicated a business, covering so much, every part required no end of thought and experimenting. Consequently the inference was that I was making no effort to improve the service. Why! I could not sleep, pursued as I was by the difficulties to be overcome. Some of our patrons would even lie in wait for me on the street as I came from the station in the morning, to complain and abuse, so that I frequently came to my office by way of Spring Alley, in order to avoid them. It was not until years after I had quit the business, and experience had taught her lesson, that the service became satisfactory. The pressure at times made me painfully conscious of a near approach to the condition of health that Dr. Brown-Sequard had warned me against, and it did finally compel me to give up and ever after devote myself to less trying pursuits. It was with regret that I had to abandon the business which I had originated, and the foundation of which I laid, and it is also with regret that I have to record the fact that some influential persons, to divert attention, as I believed, from their own actions, gave another and wholly wrong impression.
When I was a Superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company, I suggested to Mr. Orton, the then President of that company, that a low rate be made for messages to be sent during the night and dropped in the post office, to be delivered by the postman on his first rounds. The purpose was twofold; (1) to occupy the wires that were idle at night; (2) and to give employment to more men. The suggestion was not received with favor, for the evident reason that it would be an admission that, in one respect, the Government could perform a service as well, if not better, than the company, and at less cost.
Soon after the induction of John Wanamaker into the office of Postmaster General, I submitted to him a more elaborate plan, which practically covered that which I had suggested to Mr. Orton, and yet with such method that it would antagonize neither the Telegraph Companies nor that class of persons who oppose anything having the least tendency towards Government ownership. I was pleased to speak of the plan as a "tentative effort" —a sort of test or trial leading up to the Government ultimately handling the Telegraph business as it does that of the mails. The plan, in brief, so far as the public was concerned, meant that the Post Office Department would sell a blank (the price of which would cover all expense) on which a telegram could be written, and the message at its destination be written on a postal card and dropped in the post office. It was suggested that the Post Office Department contract with the Telegraph Companies and other companies owning and operating telegraph lines, for a rate so low that it would encourage that class of communications which do not require great haste, to be transmitted and delivered within twenty-four hours, neither theGovernment nor the Telegraph Companies to be liable for any pecuniary damages) the Government work and connection with the business to be limited to its being the seller of the "telegraph blank" and the deliverer of the message at destination. Mr. Wanamaker was favorably impressed with the plan, but unfortunately he took counsel of others and added that instruments and operators be placed in the post offices; in other words, establishing branch (Government) telegraph offices. I was not aware that Mr. Wanamaker had made this addition until I saw his annual report. I wrote to him promptly that his recommendation would fail —that he invited the very opposition that I sought to avoid. Both opposing parties were up in arms at once. A bill was introduced in Congress covering the plan recommended, but it was "killed" in committee.
When the "three score and ten" limit is reached, retrospective views are more apt to be indulged in than projective thoughts of possible coming events, and the temptation was present to enlarge the scope of these reminiscences. It is a great thing to have lived through the period when nearly or quite all of the important discoveries of modern times have been made, and to have had a part in their development, however small the part may have been. To have traveled by "stage-coach," "canal-boat," steamboat, and by rail before the day of the parlor and sleeping car; to have seen the unenveloped letter, with its 12 1/2 cents postage charge written upon it; and the line ofTelegraph poles with the wire yet unstrung on down to the Long Distance Telephone and Wireless Telegraph; from the "tallow dip" candle along the advancing line of artificial light, by way of the oil lamp and the gas jet, to the brilliant electric light; from the lumbering "omnibus " and the "horse-car" to the trolley car and the automobile—and the other innumerable wonders that the age has produced, is an experience not many have had, and in the full light of these marvelous events, one is led to use the words of the first message sent over a Telegraph line—
"WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!"
West Virginia Sequicentennial