A to Z Index
these letters About EJ
Telecommunications and other technologies
Telegraph Telephone Air conditioning Electricity Elevators Family planning Household technology Photography Railroads Economics of Railroads Refrigeration Transportation Typewriters Web Money
It isn't just now that technologies are an important part of culture and life. I feel fortunate to have so many photographs -- a professional necessity for EJ Phillips. While a telephone number only appears once in these letters in Vancouver in 1896, the telegraph was in constant use. As I plan to retrace some of the transcontinental train route I acquired a iPad to record the trip and minimize the weight of reading and reference materials, and music to travel with and ways to keep up with some work while traveling. I need to be more adept with my digital camera, though iPhone and iPad photos are good too -- and I need to improve my photo organization skills.
After the first messages were transmitted over the Atlantic Cable in August 1858 between Valentia, Ireland, and Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, September 1st was declared as the official day of celebration in New York City. The day began with services at Trinity Church, which was filled to overflowing. At noon Cyrus Field and the ships' officers landed at Castle Garden and received a national salute. A procession formed and extended from the Battery to the Crystal Palace at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, where many addresses were made. This was followed by a fireman's torchlight parade. [Pictures by Napoleon Sarony] http://www.atlantic-cable.com/1858NY/
An experimental line from Baltimore to Washington, built with $30,000 appropriated by Congress, opened in 1845. The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1857 (and lasted only two weeks). A transcontinental line was opened in 1866. In that year there were 2,250 telegraph offices. By 1895 there were 21,360 offices and over 58 million telegrams were sent (with receipts estimated at $25 million). [Depew?]
The importance of the telegraph is amply
noted in the letters
Telegram from EJ Phillips to Albert, from San Francisco, Aug 10, 1888
Chicago, June 7, 1886 Hope I shall hear from you to-morrow -- if I do not I shall feel inclined to telegraph to see what is the matter
Chicago June 13, 1886 Telegraph me if you decide to go -- as a letter takes two days to reach me, and that is a loss of time. Should Mr. Riley's reply be satisfactory and you go, telegraph "All is well" and I shall understand you are going. I mention this way of telegraphing supposing you may want to keep your departure unknown until prepared to go. ...Should you make arrangements to go, telegraph all you want by night message and I will pay for it here. My heart is with you in all you do -- It is hard to have you so far away
Chicago, July 5, 1886 Well, [Herbert] Kelcey and [AM] Palmer are having a good time by telegraph. Mr. Palmer having cast Mr. [Frederic] Robinson for Jim the Penman and Mr. Kelcey not only refused to play a part named Percival that he is cast for, but demands the part of "Jim". Mr. Palmer telegraphed this morning that he would not change the cast. So Kelcey and wife will leave they say.
Chicago, July 9, 1886 Mr. [Herbert] Kelcey claimed the part of Jim the Penman -- He refused the part of Percival for which he was cast and demanded Jim or he would leave the theatre!! Well there was a great time telegraphing between him and Palmer, and between Wallack and Kelcey....Mrs. Kelcey telegraphed Palmer that Sealed Instructions must be withdrawn from next week's programme or she would resign! Well it is withdrawn and Our Society takes its place.
San Francisco, July 31, 1886 I found out last night that it cost only one dollar to telegraph to NY or Phila, so I telegraphed you both, but I dare say that Hattie will telegraph you too as I told her to do so - as I thought a telegraph would cost 2 dollars, so I sent two on learning it would only cost the same for two as one.
Telegraph Hill, San Francisco Aug. 21, 1886
Denver, Sept 26, 1886 There has been a great deal of telegraphing and excitement about our staying, the management here offering a big certainty for our stay.
San Francisco Aug. 14, 1888 Telegraphing is expensive. I paid $1.15 for the telegram I sent you.
San Francisco Aug. 23, 1888 My first impulse on reading your letter was to telegraph you my congratulations, but M'[iddle]town being a small place, I thought it might get abroad, and any amt of conjectures and constructions put thereon, the secrecy of the Telegraph to the contrary notwithstanding.
April 1889 New York
"Telegraph poles are being pulled down"
By 1878 the problem of overhead telegraph wires in the city's business district
had grown to such a point that there were calls for laws requiring that they be
buried.. By the early 1880s, with the widespread use of the telephone, the
problem had grown much worse. ..In 1883, the New York Board of Alderman voted to
require the burial of wires within two years. Many argued that this process
should be part of a larger infrastructure project, the construction of a
"Subway" in which gas and water mains, steam pipes, pneumatic tubes, and all
manner of cabling could be housed. ... the great blizzard of 1888 would
unexpectedly intensify the urgency of subway construction ... On April 16, 1889,
a crew of workers armed with axes and shears climbed the tall telegraph po9les
at Fourteenth Street and Broadway and, before crowds of cheering citizens,
toppled them to the ground, thereby striking a decisive blow in the long awaited
war against the city's most visible symbol of technological blight:
Overhead Wires, in Stern, Robert, Thomas Mellins and David
Fishman, New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age, New York:
Monacelli Press, 1999 pp 59-61.
New York Times April 23 1887 Wires still falling http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C0CE1D7163BE033A25750C2A9629C94689FD7CF Was this connected with the Centennial of George Washington's Inauguration?
Denver, Aug, 31, 1890 According to telegraphic news the weather was pretty hot in New York City last week.
The 1897 Hotel Aragon, Atlanta letterhead has the only cable address in these letters.
Bell's telephone was put into commercial use in 1877, and had been exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial. The first (and only) sign of a telephone in these letters is a number on hotel stationery in 1896 -- in Vancouver, British Columbia. The line from New York to Chicago did not open until 1892.
However there was an ad for telephones in an 1895
Sporting Duchess program in New York
Metropolitan Telephone & Telegraph Co, 10 Cortlandt St.
In 1881 there were 47,880 telephone subscribers. By 1893 there were 243,432. In contrast, the British Isles (with more than half the US population) had only 75,000 subscribers. Depew 100 Years of American Commerce, 1895
conditioning in Steele MacKaye's Madison
"In 1879, after it [Fifth Avenue Theatre] was remodeled by Steele MacKaye with the backing of the Mallory brothers, it was renamed the Madison Square Theatre. It boasted the remarkable elevator stage pictured below, as well as a primitive but effective air conditioning system. Ice was brought in every day, and air was circulated over it and through the same ventilating system that carried heated air in the winter. This was a great innovation and created quite a stir. " Wayne S. Turney, Madison Square Theatre http://www.wayneturney.20m.com/madisonsquaretheatre.htm
"In 1877 Steele MacKaye took over the Madison Square Theatre and redesigned the interior to incorporate his innovations and inventions which were ultimately adopted by other theatre builders. Edwin Booth consented to play Petruchio in an abridged version of The Taming of the Shrew at the Madison Square for a performance to benefit the erection of an Edgar Poe Memorial Statue. It was a sweltering 100 degree day. The English novelist, Mary Duffus Hardy was in New York at the time and in spite of the heat could not resist an opportunity to see the celebrated Booth perform. Her description of the afternoon: armed with fans, smelling salts and sundry antidotes to fainting fits, [we} panted our way from Forty-fifth Street to a Sixth Avenue car, which landed us close to the theatre. Immediately on entering, we felt as though we had left the hot world to scorch and dry up outside, while we were enjoying a soft summer breeze within. Where did it come from? The house was crowded — there was not standing-room for a broomstick; but the air was as cool and refreshing as though it had blown over a bank of spring violets. We learned the reason of this. By some simple contrivance the outer air, circulating through and among tons of ice, is forced to find its way through a thousand frozen cracks and crevices before it enters the auditorium, thus a flow of fresh air is kept in constant circulation, which renders an afternoon in Madison Square Theatre a luxury among the hottest of dog days.” Booth's New York Days Sept 27 On this day in history Brooklyn Daily Eagle , 2006 http://www.brooklyneagle.com/archive/category.php?category_id=23&id=8621
The Lyceum Theatre was built in 1885 (demolished in 1902) by Steele MacKaye who had recently been forced out of the Madison Square Theater. The new theatre incorporated many of the innovations of the older auditorium and was the first theatre erected with electrical lighting throughout the building. The lighting was supervised by MacKaye's friend Thomas Edison." MacKaye's Madison Square Theatre also had a very early form of air conditioning.
Letters between Thomas Edison and Percy MacKaye, son of Steele says that the Bijou Theatre in Boston was the first theater to be lit by Edison's lights. The Lyceum was the second. http://edison.rutgers.edu/NamesSearch/DocDetImage.php3
While the gas
business in New York was well established by the late 1870s, the work of Thomas
Edison, the "Wizard of Menlo Park," was soon to cause great changes.
… Backed by financiers, including J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family, Edison
established the Edison Electric Light Company to own and license his patents in
the electric light field. After more than a year of experiments, Edison and his
young assistant, Francis Upton, finally developed a carbon filament that would
burn in a vacuum in a glass bulb for forty hours. They demonstrated the light
bulb to their backers early in December 1879, and by the end of the month were
exhibiting the invention to the public. … The
Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York was incorporated on December
17, 1880, to develop and install a central generating station. … At 3 p.m. on
September 4, 1882, Edison's electric illuminating system went into operation.
With the opening of Pearl Street, it was now possible for homes and businesses
to purchase electric light at a price that could compete with gas. By October 1,
1882, less than a month after the opening of the station, Edison Electric
boasted 59 customers. By December 1, it had 203, and a year later, 513. Pearl
Street became the model that led the way for electrification in cities and towns
across the United States. The plant remained in operation until 1895, and a
commemorative plaque from 1917 marks the location today.
Brief history of Con Edison Electricity
http://www.coned.com/history/electricity.asp History of Con Ed
As the blizzard [of 1888] grew in strength, the wooden poles that carried the city's electric, telephone, and telegraph wires listed severely under the weight of ice, snow and, especially, the gusting wind. The poles, and the lines they carried, had grown in number and increased in the voltage since 1880, when Brush Electric Light Company set up a central electric station on West 25th Street that powered arc lights on Fifth Avenue, 14th Street, and 34th Street. Arc lighting was the city's first form of electric lighting, and replaced the dirty and low-luminance gas lighting that had illuminated New York City streets and homes since the 1830s. In the years after 1880, Brush Electric Company built additional power stations at West and Bank Streets, on Elizabeth Street, and on Washington Street. By 1886, over fifteen hundred arc lights lit New York City's streets. .. In the hours after the blizzard hit early Monday morning, poles came crashing down from the weight of accumulating snow or after being struck by falling trees. Poles fell all over the city, taking neighboring trees and poles with them, and leaving sizzling, mangled wires that further obstructed streets already clogged with snowdrifts and blown down sign boards. Telegraph and telephone service was knocked out in every sector of the city. After several electrical wires snapped during the morning–and company linemen refused to climb up during the blizzard to perform repairs–the city’s electric companies decided, for the most part, to shut down service in anticipation of severe problems. By evening, with snow still blowing, the only light in the city was gas light and candle light, remnants of decades past... While the Blizzard of 1888 drew significant attention to the threat the wires posed to public safety, resolution of the situation was still nearly two years away. Hugh Grant defeated Abraham Hewitt in the fall mayoral election, and after his inauguration in January 1889 the new mayor stated his commitment to banishing the wires below ground. Legal wrangling over the question continued for most of the year until a series of very public accidents increased public outrage at corporate resistance to the city’s efforts to make the streets safer. Blizzard of 1888 Building the Invisible City http://www.virtualny.cuny.edu/blizzard/building/building_fr_set.html
New York, April 17, 1889 New York is in an uproar [in preparation for the Centennial of George Washington's Inauguration. Seats for the crowds being erected all through the line of March. Telegraph poles being pulled down and altogether things are lively. Last night the City was dark as we had no electric light & the gas was not in good trim.
Philadelphia, Oct. 4, 1891 The house is entirely new, same rent as this one, but with more advantages in the way of electricity, lighting, gas and gas burners in cellar
Syracuse, Nov, 18, 1892 So dark, I had to turn on the electric light. This is a grand new hotel and elegantly furnished. I have parlor & bedroom, $3 per day.
The Columbian Exposition
included an Electric Building. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_Columbian_Exposition#Electricity_at_the_fair
Electricity at the Fair and the Opening Ceremony http://www.teslasociety.com/columbia_expo2.htm
bulbs, lighting and lamps, Mary Bellis
City Lights Antique Lighting, Cambridge MA http://www.citylights.nu/ has wall sconces and chandeliers c1850 to the 20th century.
Electricity at the Pan American Exposition, Buffalo 1903 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GHMD-lkImc&feature=youtu.be
Pre-hydraulic passenger elevators had been invented by 1857 and the Otis Elevator Company installed their first one in a store in New York City in the same year. By 1875, according to the Otis Elevator Company Historic Archives in Farmington, Connecticut, the company had installed passenger and freight elevators throughout the United States including in New Orleans, St. Louis, and at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. Nevada State Archives, Historical Myth a Month Myth # 26, "Would You Believe: The First Elevator West of the Mississippi?!" Guy Rocha, Nevada State Archivist http://panicof1907.com/hotel.html
An undated Sarony photograph notes Elevator from the Street
New York Mar. 5, 1894 Aberdeen Hotel $7 per week for room on the 5th floor but there is a "lift" after arriving at the 1st floor.
John Dolman (Hattie's husband) was an enthusiastic photographer. So was Dr. Nagle, as Jacob Riis recounts. Invention of flash powder as reported by Jacob Riis.
ad for Wizard camera $5 to $100 1895 Sporting Duchess program, New York
Photography as advertising EJ Phillips' professional photographs
San Francisco, Aug. 1883 A photographer took a picture of the visitors who were there, some sitting, others standing among the rocks [of Pike's Peak]
New York, Feb. 19, 1886 Your letter with tintype enclosed rec'd yesterday.
New York, Mar. 29, 1886 Our pictures have not yet been delivered from [Napoleon] Sarony's
Perhaps this is the Sarony photograph she referred to. Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896)
Napoleon Sarony, University of Pennsylvania
Napoleon Sarony and Mark Twain http://www.twainquotes.com/sarony/sarony.html and the unknown fate of Sarony's negatives.
Napoleon Sarony and Sister Carrie http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA02/volpe/theater/theater/sarony.html
New York, Apr. 17, 1890 I have had to go to Photographers two days to sit for pictures for our travels.
Boston, April 29 1890 I hope you got that package, as it contained an ambrotype likeness of Albert's father, which I wished him to have, and take care of. The picture was taken in 1859, and is the only one that was taken -- and I am sure Albert will miss it.
San Francisco July 29, 1890 Yesterday I sent my photographs taken here. I think they are very good. Hope they will reach you in good condition. I had 27 of them and have only two left.
Philadelphia, Aug. 7, 1892 Mr. [Ramsey] Morris sent for Photographs to make lithographs from the week before last so I conclude from that he is at work. I may receive some parts to study in a week or two.
Aug 21, 1896, San Francisco I may sit for some more [photographs] here. Have had invitations from two galleries to do so -- but it is such a trouble!
Guide to the 19th century Actors, Carte de Visite
19th century Actors Photographs, Univ of Washington Libraries Digital Collections http://content.lib.washington.edu/19thcenturyactorsweb/
ambrotype A photograph made on glass
by backing a thin negative with a black surface. pictures of
Ambrotype process History of Photography http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/ambrotyp.htm 1850s-late 1880s. Tintypes are variant of this.
The name "Kodak" was born and the KODAK camera was placed on the market, with
the slogan, "You press the button - we do the rest." This was the birth of
snapshot photography, as millions of amateur picture-takers know it today."
Kodak Chronology http://www.kodak.com/ek/US/en/Our_Company/History_of_Kodak/Milestones_-_chronology/1878-1929.htm The Brownie camera wasn't introduced until 1900.
Philadelphia 5-30-94 Has Ted had a ride in the electric cars yet?
Philadelphia Sept. 18, 1894 No doubt the Trolley will be very convenient, but I hope Ted will be very careful about crossing the street. It is a dangerous luxury, and will spoil the nice driveway.
EJP also mentions cabs and carriages, and driving a horse drawn carriage (briefly) in San Francisco in July 1890.
Tacoma, June 1890 "street cars here worked by electricity"
Denver Aug 29, 1890 They have both cable cars and electric here,
Los Angeles, Sept. 17, 1888 This seems to be quite a thriving City. Has horse cars, cable cars, and all the modern improvements in lighting.
Blizzard of 1888: Building the Invisible City,
Virtual New York, New Media Lab, CUNY
Blizzard of 1888: Moving the Masses, Virtual New York, New Media Lab, CUNY http://www.vny.cuny.edu/blizzard/masses/moving_fr_set.html
While New York subway construction did not begin until 1900, the first elevated railroad opened in 1868 (from Greenwich Street from the Battery to Cortlandt Street). "Joseph Warren Beach opens pneumatic subway under Broadway from Warren to Murray Streets and Ninth Avenue El reaches 30th Street" in 1870. "Sixth Avenue El opens from Rector Street to Central Park" in 1880. [Blue guide, 1983]
Proposals for municipal railways went back to the 1830s, but serious progress on rapid transit waited until the 1860s, when, inspired by the opening of the innovative London subway, Alfred Beach tried to open a "pneumatic underground railway, only to run into Boss Tweed's opposition... The only other option for rapid transit -- that is, for transportation that did not have to negotiate Gotham's glutted streets -- was to run the trains in the air on elevated stilts above the city streets. Charles Harvey and his associates raised the world's first elevated line in 1867. A crude single-track railroad supporte4d by thin stanchions, it was drawn by cable from the Battery to 30th Street, along Ninth Avenue. [Kessner, Capital City p. 180]
Into the middle 19th century most streets remained unpaved, but tracks allowed
smooth public transport by horse
were eventually electrified as trolleys.
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_transportation_in_New_York_City#19th_century accessed 2018 Jan 13.
Ferries "Scores of [steam ferry boats] now traverse the waters around the city ...much more serviceable than they appear." [Kings NYC]
Brick streets in New York, Forgotten NY, http://forgotten-ny.com/1998/08/brick-streets-in-williamsburg-brooklyn-jamaica-bay-ridge-and-the-west-village/
Philadelphia trolleys Railroads made a huge impact. Prior to the transcontinental railroad (and the building of the Panama Canal in the 20th century) trips to California involved lengthy and treacherous voyages around the southern tip of South America or travel through the malaria infested isthmus. And bicycles became hugely popular in the 1890s.
American Roads and Turnpikes, Federal Highway Administration 2011
Highway History: Back in Time, Federal Highway Administration, 2011 http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/backintime.cfm
America's Byways, Federal Highways Administration http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/
EJP to Albert, Newark Apr. 6, 1894 Allow me to congratulate you on your success in typewriting. The longest letter I have rec'd from you in two years.
Harper's Weekly on typewriters:
Early Office Museum: Typewriters http://www.officemuseum.com/typewriters.htm
1876 Centennial, Philadelphia office equipment http://www.officemuseum.com/centennial%20exposition.htm
History of Household Technology, Library of Congress Tracer Bullet http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/tracer-bullets/householdtb.html
"the nights so warm that we have not lighted the gas [lighting?]" Philadelphia, June 1888
Boston, Apr. 29, 1890 I sent the [sewing?] machine belongings in another package -- all but oil can. That you will have to replace, as the one I had leaked, and was not worth sending.
I can't imagine what other type of machine this might be.
Sewing machine ads
ads in Hammerstein's Harlem Opera House program, week of Jan. 24, 1895 Camille
No mention of "ice boxes" or of ice delivery, but a Jan 23rd, 1887 letter talks of storage "I have a storage bill to pay on Thursday. I guess it will be pretty heavy as I sent the refrigerator to Mrs. Dolman, & bureau, machine chair [what is this?] &c. here. .
The only references are to ice cream in 1895 and 1896 and "a very cold apollonian lemonade" in April 1891.
But Odell mentions that "During the summer [run of Prince Karl with Richard Mansfield at the Madison Square Theatre in 1886] ladies in the audience were served gratis with ices from Maillard's, just a few steps from the theatre, at the corner of Broadway and 24th Street.
Internet and web: While these were far in the future for EJ Phillips, they have been invaluable for my work. When this project started in 1992 I didn't even have email and the web wasn't available outside high tech labs. I had email by 1993 or 1994 and some web access -- but no search engines until Alta Vista came along in Dec. 1995. I learned to use it in 1996. Google came out in 1998. While I've spent a fair amount of time in libraries and archives, with printed resources, the web has been invaluable in researching these letters, and the amount of historical material available continues to increase. The availability of digitized newspapers is wonderful and the quantity continues to grow.
Chauncey Depew, 100 Years of American Commerce 1895 http://www.archive.org/stream/17951895onehundr01depeuoft/17951895onehundr01depeuoft_djvu.txt
Greenberg, Stanley and Thomas H. Garber, Invisible New York: The Hidden infrastructure of the City, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998
Marvin, Carolyn, When Old Technologies were New: Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century, Oxford Univ. Press, 1990 https://www.amazon.com/When-Old-Technologies-Were-Communication/dp/0195063414
Melosi, Martin V. The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present (Creating the North American Landscape), Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1999 https://www.amazon.com/dp/0801861527/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
Nye, David E. American Technological Sublime, MIT Press, 1994?
Nye, David E. Electrifying America, MIT Press, 1990 https://www.amazon.com/Electrifying-America-Meanings-Technology-1880-1940/dp/0262640309
Weible, Robert and Francis R. Walsh, The Popular Perception of Industrial History, American Association for State and Local History, 1989
American Memory, Library of Congress, Technology & Industry http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/browse/ListSome.php?category=Technology,+Industry
Harpers Weekly Business Machines 1857-1912 http://businessmachines.harpweek.com/
Science in the 19th Century, University of Sheffield, University of Leeds http://www.sciper.org/index.html Searchable
Last Updated Jan 13, 2018
A to Z Index
these letters About EJ