The Role of the Telegraph in Everyday Life in the 19th Century

The Role of the Telegraph in Everyday Life in the 19th Century

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The above 1950s song lyrics from the song titled “Uncle Sam’s Farm,” by Jesse Hutchinson Jr, capture the very essence of everything that the electric telegraph, which was introduced in 1837 by Samuel Morse, is made of. The social revolution that resulted from the arrival of the telegraph was very extreme. The invention of the telegraph is said to have paved the way for future technological breakthroughs, as it was the largest advance in technology of its time.

Before the nineteenth century, technology had changed very little. As depicted in the article “Inventions and Technology of the 19th Century,” people still relied on horses to deliver their messages before the invention of the telegraph. After the telegraph was introduced, people’s everyday lives changed very rapidly in the following ways:

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Business Life in the Nineteenth Century

Business life changed quickly. Companies were now able to communicate with each other almost instantly, which greatly improved their business ventures and work productivity levels. As explained in the article “1830s to 1860s – Telegraph,” politics and businesses were constrained by their geographical location before the telegraph was invented. However, after the telegraph’s invention, levels of communication transformed more than anyone had ever seen before. Even foreign countries were now able to communicate with each other.

As shown in the video “How the Victorians Wired the World,” the transformation that occurred as a result of the telegraph was the most extraordinary and fundamental change to ever occur at this time. For example, the currency market boomed, as the changing of dollars and pounds could now be signalled across boarders instantly. With rapid transfers of price information, the telegraph also boosted more traditional forms of trade. Even certain people, such as fishermen, were able to telegraph their catch to markets so that they could ascertain the best place and price to sell their merchandise.

According to the article Innovation and Technology in the 19th Century,” the arrival of the telegraph threatened the integrity of the family, as many people were ‘drawn away from home to work in factories.’ This was because telegraphers were required to convey messages being sent through the telegraph. As seen in the video “How the Victorians Wired the World,” this seemed to be positive in many ways. It created jobs for a number of people, including women, who were previously constrained to their houses, as society had always dictated this as a social norm for women.

Because of the telegraph, career opportunities also opened up within many other businesses. Most businesses were evolving, and therefore needed more employees to keep them up to date with this revolutionary technology. News agencies had also been established, as news stories were coming in faster than ever. The rapid transformation of the news changed the manner in which the government worked, especially when it came to war and diplomacy. For example, The Crimean War, which took place in the nineteenth century, was different than previous wars. Thanks to the telegraph, certain information was becoming more widely and quickly available during this war, and the need for secrecy was greater than ever.

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Personal Relationships in the Nineteenth Century

According to the below video, the workforce became a lot more modern in the nineteenth century. There was great excitement, as women had newly joined the workforce. By 1870, there was a mix of 74,000 telegraphers at work across the world. Telegraphers often chatted with each other, and sometimes they formed online relationships. Funnily enough, some couples even got married via telegraph.

Not All Changes Were Good

It should be noted that not all changes at this time were good. The article “Inventions and Technology of the 19th Century,” states that in the nineteenth century, ‘the revolution also brought many problems. There was a new demand for sources of energy and fuel.  Factories and new forms of transportation brought pollution and some new dangers.’

Everyday life in the nineteenth century changed significantly because of the telegraph. Whether these changes were positive or negative, they were a major turning point in society. Everything we have achieved today, and will achieve in the future, is because of the telegraph and the social revolution that it created.

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References:

Buescher, J. 2012, ‘Innovation and Technology in the 19th Century’, Teaching History Website, viewed 19 March 2015,
http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24470

Elon.edu, ‘1830s to 1860s – Telegraph’, Elon University School of Communications Website, viewed 19 March 2015,
http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/150/1830.xhtml

Evans, N 2015, A Global Village or a Global Empire?lecture notes taken in Global Media and Social Justice at The University of Wollongong, on 10 March 2015.

Nave221 YouTube Channel. 2013, ‘How the Victorians Wired the World’, viewed 19 March 2015,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6_R70S1pLg

Studyzone.org, ‘Inventions and Technology of the 19th Century’, Study Zone Website, viewed 19 March 2015,
http://www.studyzone.org/testprep/ss5/b/ecotech19l.cfm

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2 thoughts on “The Role of the Telegraph in Everyday Life in the 19th Century

  1. Love the pictures, especially the ‘telegrammed boyfriend’ one. It’s a good use of old school technology and new combined in one. The blog post was very insightful, as it elaborated and went into depth on what the telegram is and the effect that it had on not only technology but the modern workforce. Great post!

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