A precursor of the mobile phone ?

train phone pic 001Today, thanks to mobile phone technology, we can easily hold a conversation on a train with someone hundreds of miles away. Back in 1930, many decades before the mobile was developed, experts at Canadian National Telegraphs were bringing this convenience to rail travellers.

According to a short piece in the issue of Armchair Science for July 1930, a passenger on the ‘ International Limited ‘ service of Canadian National Railways was now able to ‘ complete a call from the moving train to his residence or place of business ‘. In addition, it was now possible for someone ‘ in Montreal, Toronto, or elsewhere to establish communication with a friend on the train, whether in motion or standing ‘. It was not explicitly stated what the maximum range in miles might be for these calls. What is certain though, is that for possibly the first time the phrase ‘I’m on the train ‘ was heard by fellow passengers who frankly couldn’t have cared less.

This radical development in telecommunications was made possible, it seems, by ‘the setting up of a series of “channels” on one wire circuit ‘ by means of which ‘ a number of messages can be sent in each direction at the same time.’ This was, according to the article, a form of ‘broadcasting ‘, using wires and was known amongst telegraphists as “wired wireless”. [R.M.Healey]

Twelve Miles from a Lemon

img_1366-624x380Found in a bound volume of The Idler Magazine (Chatto & Windus, 1892. Volume 1, February to July. pp 231 – 232) this piece by regular contributor Robert Barr. The Idler was edited by Barr with  Jerome K Jerome. It ran from 1892-1911. This piece was found in the always interesting section ‘The Idler’s Club’, fairly heavy on the whimsy but never unamusing– see an earlier jot  where, among other things, Barry Pain proposed that ‘..amateur dramatics would be much improved if performed in total darkness and thus they would also be able to avoid paying a licence fee…’ This piece by Robert Barr has a curiously modern feel about it (if you substitute the internet for the telegram) and the idea of being 12 miles from a lemon echoes the current city dweller’s fear of being more than ‘four miles from a latte..’

Some years ago, somebody* wrote a book entitled ‘Twelve Miles from a Lemon’. I never read the the volume, and so do not know whether the writer had to tramp  twelve miles to get the seductive lemon toddy, which cheers and afterwards inebriates, or the harmless lemon squash, which neither cheers nor inebriates. I think there are times when most people would like to get twelve miles away from everything – including themselves. I tried to put a number of miles between me and a telegraph instrument, and flattered myself for a time that I had succeeded. I dived into the depths of the New Forest. The New Forest is popular in summer, deserted in winter, and beautiful at any season. I found a secluded spot in the woods, and thought I was out of reach of a telegram. I wish now I had not got so far away from the instrument. The boy came on horseback with the message. It was brief, coming well within the sixpenny range, and it stated tersely that the printer was waiting for these paragraphs. The boy said calmly that there would be fifteen shillings and sixpence to pay for the delivery of that yellow slip of paper. Continue reading

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The Laying of the Atlantic Cable (1866) in verse

This scrap of doggerel, found among a collection of holograph letters, has no name attached. It is bad enough to be by William McGonagall, the second worst poet who ever lived (the first being Amanda Ros), but is dated at around 1866, which must surely be too early for him.

Hark ? that noise, what meaning that Gun
The Great Eastern has arrived, the Goal is won
All the world must now precedence yield
To the Proprietors Glass, Canning and Field
For the (longest) Rope is made & successfully ran
That ever was made by the Hands of Man
To Capt. Anderson & all his officers too
For their strict perseverance all Credit is due
Likewise, all on board did as far as they were able
Every assistance render to lay our Glorious Atlantic Cable.

The first transatlantic telegraph cable manufactured by Glass and associates was laid in 1858 from Western Ireland to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, with Cyrus Field as entrepreneur.  Unfortunately, the poor quality of the cable meant that it functioned well for only a few weeks and was irretrievably damaged in September of the same year when too much current was passed through it. Undaunted, Field and associates raised more money and in 1865 Brunel’s huge ‘Great Eastern’ steamship, was commissioned to lay a new improved cable along the same route. Under Captain James Anderson and with Canning as chief engineer, the ship sailed westwards from Ireland, but after 1,062 miles the end of the cable was accidentally dropped into the sea, where it sank to the depth of over two miles. The mission was abandoned and the Great Eastern sailed back to obtain a new cable. This was duly laid in July 1866, to universal acclamation .The poem seems to celebrate this astonishing feat of seamanship and engineering, but it may have been composed a few months after this initial success, when thanks to the 'strict perseverance' of Anderson and his officers the lost first cable was somehow retrieved from the depths of the Atlantic, spliced to a new cable, and the whole laid along the same route to Newfoundland. Thus, by September 1866 two working transatlantic cables were in operation.

The new communications link to America was an astounding boon to commerce, diplomacy and the military—reducing the time taken to send and receive messages from ten days to a few minutes.  [R R]

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Forget Marconi – here’s Tesla

Found - this astonishing and admiring piece about Tesla from The Courier-Journal coming out of Louisville, Kentucky (Sunday, August 22, 1897)- although this was probably a syndicated article. It has some very good descriptions of the appearance and lifestyle of Tesla (His eyes are blue,deeply set, and they burn like balls of fire, those weird flashes of light he makes with his instrument seem also to shoot from them...) and manages to make light of Marconi's recent achievements as rather minor compared to Tesla (in May 1897, the 22 year old Marconi had sent the world's first ever wireless communication over open sea.)

....almost coincident with the announcement that (Tesla) has solved the great problem upon which he has been at work for nearly seven years comes the news that an Italian youth, Guglielmo Marconi has discovered a means of telegraphing without wires. The scientific world acknowledges the value of Marconi's invention. It admits its practical use. The same men who honor Marconi worship Tesla. Marconi has explained, and his methods are easily grasped. Tesla has simply said that he has accomplished his great work, and they believe. Years ago those recognised as masters admitted that Tesla had no peer in abstract electrical research. To-day the most scientific, the farthest advanced, look upon him with rapt admiring eyes. That which he says he has accomplished seems like the dream of an intoxicated god.

Continue reading

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E.H.W. and the Telephone

Edward Harry William Meyerstein (1889 – 1952) was an English writer, poet and scholar. He wrote novels, poetry and short stories, also a Life Of Thomas Chatterton.His book Bollond and Other Stories is a posthumous work with an introduction by his friend Rowland Watson. It has this to say about E.H.W. and the telephone. Interesting to note that as late as the 1930s it was regarded with suspicion and of no possible use...

It was only at the approach of middle age, after an agony of self-examination, he submitted to the telephone and typewriter. When he adopted the telephone he wrote to R. N. Green-Armytage on November 19th, 1932:

"I am glad you think the installing of the telephone stimulates hope. I have not made a single call or received one, save from the telephone exchange on the day it was installed. There it stands like a revolver at my bed. It will be interesting to see what the bill for no calls will be. A publicity-seeker might make a good letter to The Times out of that. When my name is in the telephone book I shall await the experience of blackmail with some avidity - but at present there is silence, as of the dead."

It was another picture in the autumn of 1946 when I found him in bed, only slightly unwell. Lying on his back, his toothless mouth rapidly opening and shutting, a wicked twinkle in his eye, thoroughly happy, he said, pointing to the instrument: "That thing is a Godsend. I lie in bed, pull the strings and there is a constant procession up my stairs with gifts of food." Mark well the year - 1946!

As for the typewriter E.H.W. was known to make such a row on it while writing that disturbed neighbours used to knock on his door  to see if he was all right - "…he always bowed his tonsured head, with a polite answer:'Thank you for enquiring. I am in the throes of composition.' "