Archive for September, 2011
Louis Jaques Mande Daguerre revolutionized the world with the invention of the daguerreotype, thus turning the concept of photography into a reality. The daguerreotype became incredibly popular because it could produce exact copies of a subject in significantly less time than it would take a professional painter to produce a less exact image. Daguerre’s invention enabled visual world to be recorded with amazing new detail and accuracy.
In order to create a successful image using Daguerre’s method, the daguerreotypist had to follow a rigorous series of steps that would put his attention to detail to the test. M. Susan Barger and William B. White explain Daguerre’s five-step process as it was presented to the Institute of Paris on August 19, 1839, by Francois Arago, who spoke on behalf of Daguerre: First, a silver plate was shined until it had the reflective quality of a mirror, using a pumice-oil solution that is cleaned off with water afterwards. The plate was then exposed to iodine vapor until it attained a bright golden color, in a process known as “sensitizing.” Next, the plate is put into the camera, where it was exposed to light coming through the lens, and thus imprinted the image onto the plate. After that, the plate was exposed to mercury vapors, which made the image visible. Finally, the plate was “desensitized” by a salt solution, and meticulously rinsed with water afterwards.
Even though there was a distinct step-by-step process for the daguerreotype by 1839, experimentation with the process was constant. One of the reasons why daguerreotype studios became so prevalent was because Daguerre opted to have his findings published, and thus relinquished his potential control over the market and allowing for unrestricted experimentation. The fact that anyone could alter or improve the process could keep the daguerreotype up to date, and can be seen as a major reason why the daguerreotype stayed in fashion for so long.
For all the success and acclaim that the daguerreotype received, there were still many problems that held it back. The daguerreotype was incredibly sensitive to movement, requiring the subject to remain still for as long as thirty minutes, as well as keep their eyes shut. There was also the possibility that the daguerreotypist would contract mercury poisoning, which could cause, among other things, blindness or death. Severe health concerns can be crippling to any invention, so that fact that people were willing to risk them is indicative of just how in demand the daguerreotype was for the greater population. Another problem was the inconvenience of the plate, itself: it was large, heavy, required an incredible amount of maintenance, and had no negative. If even the smallest detail were to be overlooked by the daguerreotypist, then the plate would be ruined and the image would be lost forever. This meant that as popular as the daguerreotype may have been, there would always be a limit to how much it could improve.
 Bates Lowery and Isabel Barrett Lowry, The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1998), 47.
 M. Susan Barger and William B. White. The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), 1-2.
 (Lowry and Lowry 1998, 47)
 Ibid, 46.
 John Wood, The Scenic Daguerreotype (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press), 8.
 Kenneth E. Nelson “A Thumbnail History of the Daguerreotype.” The Daguerreian Society. http://www.daguerre.org/resource/history/history.html (accessed September 25, 2011).
Barger, M. Susan and William B. White. The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.
Lowry, Bates and Isabel Barrett Lowry. The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1998.
Wood, John. The Scenic Daguerreotype: Romanticism and Early Photography. Iowa City: The University of Iowa Press, 1995.
Nelson, Kenneth E. “A Thumbnail History of the Daguerreotype.” The Daguerreian Society. http://www.daguerre.org/resource/history/history.html (accessed September 25, 2011).
The spread of information through newspaper print and publishing went through a massive makeover at the turn of the 20th century. From the early 1900’s to the present, journalists have followed 3 major rules: “accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy.” These three rules have established modern journalism as people know today. This radical system of publication was the creation of one man named Joseph Pulitzer.
After moving to New York from St. Louis to take over the failing New York World, Pulitzer began to change the layout of the newspaper immediately. The first difference in the World that could be seen was the headlines of the newspaper. Before Pulitzer, the World published newspaper with boring headlines that took up too much space, for instance: “Bench Show of Dogs: Prizes Awarded on the Second Day of the Meeting in Madison Square Garden.” Just a few weeks after Pulitzer took the reigns at the Herald, headlines looked very different: “Baptized in Blood.” The story summarized the deaths of 11 people at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on a Sunday where a riot broke out.
These luring headlines enticed readers to take a look, but the stories themselves made the people, and more importantly, the editors want to read the newspaper. Pulitzer’s formula for success was very simple, to write a story so simple that anyone could read, but also so colorful that no one would forget. Another technique Pulitzer encouraged his journalists to incorporate in articles were interviews. A new idea at the time, Pulitzer wanted the voices of the city to be heard as in the articles the World published.
In complete harmony with pushing the boundaries of the text itself in journal articles, Pulitzer in addition integrated pictures into the stories he published. As Jack Shafer states in “The Lost World of Joseph Pulitzer,” halftone photos, dramatic and comic illustrations, inset graphics, hand-lettered headlines, and buckets of color enlivened these artful pages. The picture inlayed with the text of an article gives the World a three-dimensional quality that is very real and engaging with the reader, a quality only the World possessed at the beginning.
At a time when radio wasn’t for sale to the public, television was still a theory, and film had not reached its full potential, the newspaper was the only source of information and even entertainment. Pulitzer was able to give the subscribers of the World both the entertainment they wanted, and the accurate information they needed to live their lives.
 Judith Sheppard, “Playing defense,” American Journalism Review, September 1998, 49.
 James McGrath Morris, “Man of the World,” Wilson Quarterly 34, Winter2010, 28-33.
 Jack Shafer, The Lost World of Joseph Pulitzer, http://www.slate.com/id/2126420 (accessed September 28, 2011).
The exchange of information in and between the thirteen colonies prior to the American Revolution depended on the rudimentary and relatively limited royal postal system that Benjamin Franklin took over as Postmaster General in 1775 when the Continental Congress established the American postal system. During the revolution, postal service became so slow and unreliable that prominent military commanders “established their own independent teams of postriders” rather than rely on the existing postal system to convey information. By 1788, only 69 postal offices operated in cities located primarily along the Atlantic seaboard. Following the revolution, however, the postal system emerged as “the only long-distance communications technology” for keeping the citizens of the new republic informed. Congress recognized the importance of receiving and transmitting information by passing the Post Office Act of 1792, a key event in America’s communications revolution. The provisions of the Act enabled the system to expand rapidly so that by 1828, with 7,500 post offices, it was the largest in the world.
The Postal Act enabled the widespread dissemination of information throughout the expanding republic by allowing newspapers to be mailed at extremely low rates, thereby accelerating the growth of the press. The Act also established procedures to control the designation of new post routes so that as America gradually expanded westward, “far-flung citizenry” enjoyed access to “subsidized, time-specific information on business and public affairs.” The extension of post roads into America’s interior essentially created the stagecoach industry, through which the federal government encouraged the settlement and development of the frontier. The arrival of the mail by stagecoach in cities and towns became a major event, especially since merchants routinely sent cash and other forms of negotiable currency through the mail to settle their accounts. As has been depicted so often in early Western movies, bandits occasionally stopped and robbed “the stage,” yet merchants would not have continued to use the mail if it had not been, for the most part, safe and reliable. The early postal system’s most crucial role, however, was in satisfying the public’s voracious demand for information and creating a national business community through its transmission (via newspapers) of market information.
The volume of information conveyed by the postal system increased dramatically during the early nineteenth century. During the 40 years from 1800 to 1840, the annual number of newspapers transmitted by mail increased from approximately two million to forty million, which reflected “the determination of ordinary Americans to maintain close ties with the wider world.” But more information did not lead to greater social harmony. Until the policy was changed in 1912, many post offices around the country remained open on Sunday, which caused significant conflict between church and government officials. Nineteenth-century abolitionists regularly used the postal system in their moral crusade against slavery, which frequently caused social unrest, especially in the South. Finally, the early postal system routinely excluded women and blacks from employment, thereby institutionalizing sexual and racial discrimination. Yet despite these problems and conflicts, the development of the early American postal system represented a vital part of the first communications revolution in American history. It facilitated the exchange of information on an unprecedented scale and constituted perhaps the most important element in the history of the information age in America.
Richard R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1998), 27.
Richard R. John, “Recasting the Information Infrastructure for the Industrial Age.” In Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. and James W. Cortada, eds. A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 58.
Ibid., 58-59. John contends that the Post Office Act of 1792 “deserves to be remembered as a key event in the history of information in the United States” (58). The Act “had three main provisions. First, it barred government officials from opening personal letters to monitor domestic subversion; second, it admitted newspapers into the mail at extremely low rates; and third, it transferred control over the designation of new post routes from the executive branch to Congress” (58-59). See also John, Spreading the News, 31.
John, “Recasting,” 60. See also John, Spreading the News, 5. John asserts that by 1828, “the American postal system had almost twice as many offices as the postal system in Great Britain and over five times as many offices as the postal system in France. This translated into 74 post offices for every 100,000 inhabitants compared with 17 for Great Britain and 4 for France.”
John, “Recasting,” 59.
 It is interesting to note that the western edge of the University of Mary Washington’s main campus is adjacent to Jefferson Davis Highway, or Route 1, originally known as “The King’s Highway” (named after King Charles II), the major north-south post road that connected Boston with Charleston, South Carolina during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Prior to 1779, the Kings Highway followed the same route as US Highway 1 from Alexandria to Fredricksburg, then Virginia Highway 2 through Bowling Green, then southeast on Virginia Highway 721. The old route crossed the Mattaponi River into King William County, then the Pamunkey River into New Kent County, then on to Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Hampton, where a ferry crossing landed at Norfolk, Virginia. After the capital of Virginia was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1779, the Post Road approximated what is now Route 1, connecting Richmond with Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C. From Boston to Charleston on the King’s Highway was about 1300 miles, and it was possible to travel this road by freight wagon or stagecoach that could average 20-25 miles per day, depending on the weather and the condition of the road at the time. Beverly Whitaker, “The Kings Highway,” http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gentutor/King.pdf. See also http://www.carolana.com/NC/Royal_Colony/the_kings_highway.html.
John, Spreading the News, 112-115. Federal post offices did not have their own buildings until after the Civil War. Early post offices were frequently located in hotels or stores, law offices, or sometimes in the postmaster’s house. As John points out, many post offices were located in country stores, “a friendly, inviting place where men, women, and even a dog or two could come together to get their mail and catch up on the affairs of the day” (115). See also John, “Recasting,” 63-65.
John, “Recasting,” 63.
John, Spreading the News, 169-205. It was official policy for a post office to open when mail was received, and many businessmen wanted to collect their mail on Sunday. See also John, “Recasting,” 63-64.
John, Spreading the News, 257-280. In 1835, a group of men broke into the post office in Charleston, South Carolina to destroy several thousand abolitionist periodicals that a New York-based anti-slave society had transmitted in support of emancipation.
Ibid., 138-139. Beginning in 1802, Congress decreed that “no one besides a ‘free white person’ would be permitted to carry the mail,” and “women held [only] eighty-one postmasterships in the entire United States in 1852.”
In the 1830’s, it was pretty well known to many telegraphy experimenters that the flow of current in the coils of an electromagnet could affect mechanical movement by the attraction of an iron pole piece. Since many of the telegraphy experimenters were too busy trying to establish a working system based on magnetic needles, the greater potential of the electromagnet was not realized until later by Samuel Morse who invented the most successful telegraph.
Samuel Morse defined his telegraphy system as having a “marking instrument”, an electromagnet to impress the instrument on a moving strip of paper, a “system of signs” identifying the information transmitted, and a “single circuit of conductors.” (1) Morse’s original design was not very complicated. The marking instrument, consisting of a pencil or a pen, was suspended from a pendulum. As a person opened and closed the electrical circuit, the pendulum swung and the pencil marked the paper strap which was held up by a wooden frame. (2) Morse devised a code of short dots and long dashes that were combined to represent the letters of the alphabet. At first, Morse wanted to use dots and dashes to represent numbers that could be translated into words until he realized that this idea would be too impractical. In order for the receiver to read the messages, he would have needed a huge dictionary. Morse himself had said in one of his letters that “a very short experience showed the superiority of the alphabetic mode and the big leaves of the numbered dictionary were discarded.” (3)The sender would make the various letters by opening and closing the electrical circuit for shorter “dot” or longer “dash” marks. The receiving telegraph operator would then be able to translate the pencil marks into letters, words, and sentences.
Although the telegraph helped speed up communication at the time, the use of the telegraph did lead to complications as well. Coding, recording of coded messages, and decoding were operations that required a certain amount of operator skill. If the receiver was not quick enough, he or she could mess up the message. Many companies could not afford to have these kind of mistakes. In order to simplify the process, a number of direct-reading printing telegraphs were later created in which the message could be printed directly in readable type. In some instances, delays were often common since some messages needed to be repeated several times and were sent to different telegraph stations. This could have led to problems especially if it was an important message that needed to be received immediately. (4) Since the telegraph was not wireless at this time, cities also had to decide whether to use overhead wires or bury the wires underground. Overhead wiring was more popular because it was the cheaper solution. The only problem was that the wires could easily become detached from their fixtures through bad weather or an accident which could in turn lead to communication issues. (5)
1 Ken Beauchamp, History of Telegraphy (London: The Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2001), 55.
2 Edward Morse, Samuel F.B. Morse: Letters and Journals (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914), 38-39.
3 Morse, Samuel F.B. Morse: Letters and Journals, 65.
4 Beauchamp, History of Telegraphy, 85-86.
5 Lewis Coe, The Telegraph (London: McFarland & Company, 1993),82.
Beauchamp, Ken. History of Telegraphy. London: The Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2001.
Coe, Lewis. The Telegraph. London: McFarland & Company, 1993.
Morse, Edward. Samuel Morse: Letters and Journals. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914.
Edward Murrow began broadcasting in the 1940s during the outbreak of World War 2. His fame was accomplished by his ability to bring the war directly into countless American homes. At this time radio was in nearly every American home, thus making it the mode of communication. As many Americans sent loved one off to this dreaded war they held comfort that Murrow and his fellow war correspondents would tell them exactly what their loved ones faced. With an introduction of, “This…is London,” Murrow began his bright future that would eventually lead to a news correspondent job with CBS.
Murrow’s bright career began in 1935 as a manager at CBS. When the war broke out Murrow determined to make CBS’ “voice of authority” should be one of credited authority Murrow built a team from his fellow news staff. Murrow chose these individuals not on the radio experience but on their experience with European battlefields. These fellow correspondents would be known as Murrow’s Boys. Murrow’s broadcasts found him on the roof tops of London buildings during the 1940’s German Blitz and flying in over twenty bombing missions over Berlin. Bill Shadel, a Murrow Boy, was the first Allied correspondent to report on the Nazi death camps.
Radio was the means to gather individuals together. To gather around a radio was a clear and concise method that many families part took in either during dinner or after dinner, as is evident through Edward Murrow’s ‘I Believe’ radio broadcast. Radio back then was an avenue of connecting with the world. An owner of a radio could hear any point of view from any number of multiple individuals from every walk of class, color and creed. Radio was their outside communication with the world when the war started.
 PBS. “Edward Murrow.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/edward-r-murrow/this-reporter/513/ (accessed September 17, 2011).
 PBS. “Edward Murrow.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/edward-r-murrow/this-reporter/513/ (accessed September 17, 2011).
 Edward Murrow, NPR. “The 1951 Introduction to ‘This I Believe’”. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4566554 . (accessed September 26, 2011)
NPR. “Edward R. Murrow: Broadcasting History, New Book Recounts the Early Days of Radio, TV Journalism.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1872668 (accessed September 19, 2011).
PBS. “Edward Murrow.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/edward-r-murrow/this-reporter/513/ (accessed September 17, 2011).
Murrow, Edward NPR. “The 1951 Introduction to ‘This I Believe’”. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4566554 . (accessed September 26, 2011)
The Radio Hall of Fame. “Edward Murrow.” http://www.radiohof.org/news/edwardmurrow.html (accessed September 26, 2011).
Of all of Alexander Graham Bell’s inventions, the one that initially comes to mind is the telephone. It was a groundbreaking invention that made communication between cities and even states possible. What few know is that Bell was also working on another invention, one that would make coast-to-coast information transmission possible, wirelessly. This invention used nothing but the light produced by the sun to transfer voice from a transmitter to a receiver. The photophone, as it became known, would redirect sunlight against a hair thin mirror, which vibrated as the sound waves from your voice hit against the back of it. As this was happening, the waves of light were then transferred across the air to the receiver, which of course had to be in direct line of the transmitter. Bell and his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter viewed this new invention as greater than the telephone. Their invention would enable the transmission of information without the need for running miles of numerous cables through lakes and across rough terrain. This also became the precursor to modern day fiber-optic communications.
The first call with the photophone was made on April 1, 1880, from the roof of the Franklin School in Washington, D.C. to Bell’s laboratory window, which was roughly seven hundred feet away. After the successful transmission of sound, Bell was thrilled. He sent his father a letter stating, “I have heard articulate speech produced by sunlight! I have heard a ray of the sun laugh and cough and sing!” He was so proud in fact that he wanted to name his second daughter after the invention. Bell had hoped that the photophone would negate telephone lines and make ship to shore communication possible. Unfortunately for Bell and Tainter, the euphoria would be short lived.
Bell and Tainter had invented an apparatus ahead of its time, where people still used candles to light houses and relied primarily on horses for work and transportation. In 1880, some people still viewed cabled phones with a sort of primitive skepticism. People were skeptical of such technology and along with that, the duo had to fight against environmental forces as well. Much like light from the sun, when fog, snow, and rain move in very little light can penetrate the density of the obstructions. Unlike its modern counterparts like fiber-optic cable, it was unshielded, leaving it completely at the mercy of the weather. Bell Laboratories continued to try and improve on the photophone long after its invention, hoping to produce one with enough power to negate the weather forces and become a reliable form of communication. Regrettably, this never came true.
Bell, Alexander G. “On the Production and Reproduction of Sound by Light.” The American Journal of Science 20 (1880): 305-324.
Bell, Alexander G. 1880. Apparatus For Signaling and Communicating, Called “Photophone”. U.S. Patent 235,199, Filed August 28, 1880, and Issued December 7, 1880.
Bell, Alexander G. 1880. Photophone-Transmitter. U.S. Patent 235,496, Filed September 25, 1880, and Issued December 14, 1880.
Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Carson, Mary K. Alexander Graham Bell: Giving Voice To The World, New York: Sterling Publishing, 2007.