Chronicles of America 

Agents of Communication

Communication is one of man's primal needs. There was indeed a time when no formula of language existed, when men communicated with each other by means of gestures, grimaces, guttural sounds, or rude images of things seen; but it is impossible to conceive of a time when men had no means of communication at all. And at last, after long ages, men evolved in sound the names of the things they knew and the forms of speech; ages later, the alphabet and the art of writing; ages later still, those wonderful instruments of extension for the written and spoken word: the telegraph, the telephone, the modern printing press, the phonograph, the typewriter, and the camera.

The word "telegraph" is derived from Greek and means "to write far"; so it is a very exact word, for to write far is precisely what we do when we send a telegram. The word today, used as a noun, denotes the system of wires with stations and operators and messengers, girdling the earth and reaching into every civilized community, whereby news is carried swiftly by electricity. But the word was coined long before it was discovered that intelligence could be communicated by electricity. It denoted at first a system of semaphores, or tall poles with movable arms, and other signaling apparatus, set within sight of one another. There was such a telegraph line between Dover and London at the time of Waterloo; and this telegraph began relating the news of the battle, which had come to Dover by ship, to anxious London, when a fog set in and the Londoners had to wait until a courier on horseback arrived. And, in the very years when the real telegraph was coming into being, the United States Government, without a thought of electricity, was considering the advisability of setting up such a system of telegraphs in the United States.

The telegraph is one of America's gifts to the world. The honor for this invention falls to Samuel Finley Breese Morse, a New Englander of old Puritan stock. Nor is the glory that belongs to Morse in any way dimmed by the fact that he made use of the discoveries of other men who had been trying to unlock the secrets of electricity ever since Franklin's experiments. If Morse discovered no new principle, he is nevertheless the man of all the workers in electricity between his own day and Franklin's whom the world most delights to honor; and rightly so, for it is to such as Morse that the world is most indebted. Others knew; Morse saw and acted. Others had found out the facts, but Morse was the first to perceive the practical significance of those facts; the first to take steps to make them of service to his fellows; the first man of them all with the pluck and persistence to remain steadfast to his great design, through twelve long years of toil and privation, until his countrymen accepted his work and found it well done.

Morse was happy in his birth and early training. He was born in 1791, at Charlestown, Massachusetts. His father was a Congregational minister and a scholar of high standing, who, by careful management, was able to send his three sons to Yale College. Thither went young Samuel (or Finley, as he was called by his family) at the age of fourteen and came under the influence of Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Chemistry, and of Jeremiah Day, Professor of Natural Philosophy, afterwards President of Yale College, whose teaching gave him impulses which in later years led to the invention of the telegraph. "Mr. Day's lectures are very interesting," the young student wrote home in 1809; "they are upon electricity; he has given us some very fine experiments, the whole class taking hold of hands form the circuit of communication and we all receive the shock apparently at the same moment." Electricity, however, was only an alluring study. It afforded no means of livelihood, and Morse had gifts as an artist; in fact, he earned a part of his college expenses painting miniatures at five dollars apiece. He decided, therefore, that art should be his vocation.

A letter written years afterwards by Joseph M. Dulles of Philadelphia, who was at New Haven preparing for Yale when Morse was in his senior year, is worth reading here:

"I first became acquainted with him at New Haven, when about to graduate with the class of 1810, and had such an association as a boy preparing for college might have with a senior who was just finishing his course. Having come to New Haven under the care of Rev. Jedidiah Morse, the venerable father of the three Morses, all distinguished men, I was commended to the protection of Finley, as he was then commonly designated, and therefore saw him frequently during the brief period we were together. The father I regard as the gravest man I ever knew. He was a fine exemplar of the gentler type of the Puritan, courteous in manner, but stern in conduct and in aspect. He was a man of conflict, and a leader in the theological contests in New England in the early part of this century. Finley, on the contrary, bore the expression of gentleness entirely. In person rather above the ordinary height, well formed, graceful in demeanor, with a complexion, if I remember right, slightly ruddy, features duly proportioned, and often lightened with a genial and expressive smile. He was, altogether, a handsome young man, with manners unusually bland. It is needless to add that with intelligence, high culture, and general information, and with a strong bent to the fine arts, Mr. Morse was in 1810 an attractive young man. During the last year of his college life he occupied his leisure hours, with a view to his self-support, in taking the likenesses of his fellow-students on ivory, and no doubt with success, as he obtained afterward a very respectable rank as a portrait-painter. Many pieces of his skill were afterward executed in Charleston, South Carolina."1

That Morse was destined to be a painter seemed certain, and when, soon after graduating from Yale, he made the acquaintance of Washington Allston, an American artist of high standing, any doubts that may have existed in his mind as to his vocation were set at rest. Allston was then living in Boston, but was planning to return to England, where his name was well known, and it was arranged that young Morse should accompany him as his pupil. So in 1811 Morse went to England with Allston and returned to America four years later an accredited portrait painter, having studied not only under Allston but under the famous master, Benjamin West, and having met on intimate terms some of the great Englishmen of the time. He opened a studio in Boston, but as sitters were few, he made a trip through New England, taking commissions for portraits, and also visited Charleston, South Carolina, where some of his paintings may be seen today.

At Concord, New Hampshire, Morse met Miss Lucretia Walker, a beautiful and cultivated young woman, and they were married in 1818. Morse then settled in New York. His reputation as a painter increased steadily, though he gained little money, and in 1825 he was in Washington painting a portrait of the Marquis La Fayette, for the city of New York, when he heard from his father the bitter news of his wife's death in New Haven, then a journey of seven days from Washington. Leaving the portrait of La Fayette unfinished, the heartbroken artist made his way home.

Two years afterwards Morse was again obsessed with the marvels of electricity, as he had been in college. The occasion this time was a series of lectures on that subject given by James Freeman Dana before the New York Athenaeum in the chapel of Columbia College. Morse attended these lectures and formed with Dana an intimate acquaintance. Dana was in the habit of going to Morse's studio, where the two men would talk earnestly for long hours. But Morse was still devoted to his art; besides, he had himself and three children to support, and painting was his only source of income.

Back to Europe went Morse in 1829 to pursue his profession and perfect himself in it by three years' further study. Then came the crisis. Homeward bound on the ship Sully in the autumn of 1832, Morse fell into conversation with some scientific men who were on board. One of the passengers asked this question: "Is the velocity of electricity reduced by the length of its conducting wire?" To which his neighbor replied that electricity passes instantly over any known length of wire and referred to Franklin's experiments with several miles of wire, in which no appreciable time elapsed between a touch at one end and a spark at the other.

Here was a fact already well known. Morse must have known it himself. But the tremendous significance of that fact had never before occurred to him nor, so far as he knew, to any man. A recording telegraph! Why not? Intelligence delivered at one end of a wire instantly recorded at the other end, no matter how long the wire! It might reach across the continent or even round the earth. The idea set his mind on fire.

Home again in November, 1832, Morse found himself on the horns of a dilemma. To give up his profession meant that he would have no income; on the other hand, how could he continue wholeheartedly painting pictures while consumed with the idea of the telegraph? The idea would not down; yet he must live; and there were his three motherless children in New Haven. He would have to go on painting as well as he could and develop his telegraph in what time he could spare. His brothers, Richard and Sidney, were both living in New York and they did what they could for him, giving him a room in a building they had erected at Nassau and Beekman Streets. Morse's lot at this time was made all the harder by hopes raised and dashed to earth again. Congress had voted money for mural paintings for the rotunda of the Capitol. The artists were to be selected by a committee of which John Quincy Adams was chairman. Morse expected a commission for a part of the work, for his standing at that time was second to that of no American artist, save Allston, and Allston he knew had declined to paint any of the pictures and had spoken in his favor. Adams, however, as chairman of the committee was of the opinion that the pictures should be done by foreign artists, there being no Americans available, he thought, of sufficiently high standing to execute the work with fitting distinction. This opinion, publicly expressed, infuriated James Fenimore Cooper, Morse's friend, and Cooper wrote an attack on Adams in the New York Evening Post, but without signing it. Supposing Morse to be the author of this article, Adams summarily struck his name from the list of artists who were to be employed.

How very poor Morse was about this time is indicated by a story afterwards told by General Strother of Virginia, who was one of his pupils:

I engaged to become Morse's pupil and subsequently went to New York and found him in a room in University Place. He had three or four other pupils and I soon found that our professor had very little patronage.

I paid my fifty dollars for one-quarter's instruction. Morse was a faithful teacher and took as much interest in our progress as--more indeed than--we did ourselves. But he was very poor. I remember that, when my second quarter's pay was due, my remittance did not come as expected, and one day the professor came in and said, courteously: "Well Strother, my boy, how are we off for money?"

"Why professor," I answered, "I am sorry to say that I have been disappointed, but I expect a remittance next week."

"Next week," he repeated sadly, "I shall be dead by that time."

"Dead, sir?"

"Yes, dead by starvation."

I was distressed and astonished. I said hurriedly:

"Would ten dollars be of any service?"

"Ten dollars would save my life. That is all it would do."

I paid the money, all that I had, and we dined together. It was a modest meal, but good, and after he had finished, he said:

"This is my first meal for twenty-four hours. Strother, don't be an artist. It means beggary. Your life depends upon people who know nothing of your art and care nothing for you. A house dog lives better, and the very sensitiveness that stimulates an artist to work keeps him alive to suffering."2

In 1835 Morse received an appointment to the teaching staff of New York University and moved his workshop to a room in the University building in Washington Square. "There," says his biographer3, "he wrought through the year 1836, probably the darkest and longest year of his life, giving lessons to pupils in the art of painting while his mind was in the throes of the great invention." In that year he took into his confidence one of his colleagues in the University, Leonard D. Gale, who assisted him greatly, in improving the apparatus, while the inventor himself formulated the rudiments of the telegraphic alphabet, or Morse Code, as it is known today. At length all was ready for a test and the message flashed from transmitter to receiver. The telegraph was born, though only an infant as yet. "Yes, that room of the University was the birthplace of the Recording Telegraph," said Morse years later. On September 2, 1837, a successful experiment was made with seventeen hundred feet of copper wire coiled around the room, in the presence of Alfred Vail, a student, whose family owned the Speedwell Iron Works, at Morristown, New Jersey, and who at once took an interest in the invention and persuaded his father, Judge Stephen Vail, to advance money for experiments. Morse filed a petition for a patent in October and admitted his colleague Gale; as well as Alfred Vail, to partnership. Experiments followed at the Vail shops, all the partners working day and night in their enthusiasm. The apparatus was then brought to New York and gentlemen of the city were invited to the University to see it work before it left for Washington. The visitors were requested to write dispatches, and the words were sent round a three-mile coil of wire and read at the other end of the room by one who had no prior knowledge of the message.

In February, 1838, Morse set out for Washington with his apparatus, and stopped at Philadelphia on the invitation of the Franklin Institute to give a demonstration to a committee of that body. Arrived at Washington, he presented to Congress a petition, asking for an appropriation to enable him to build an experimental line. The question of the appropriation was referred to the Committee on Commerce, who reported favorably, and Morse then returned to New York to prepare to go abroad, as it was necessary for his rights that his invention should be patented in European countries before publication in the United States.

Morse sailed in May, 1838, and returned to New York by the steamship Great Western in April, 1839. His journey had not been very successful. He had found London in the excitement of the ceremonies of the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the British Attorney-General had refused him a patent on the ground that American newspapers had published his invention, making it public property. In France he had done better. But the most interesting result of the journey was something not related to the telegraph at all. In Paris he had met Daguerre, the celebrated Frenchman who had discovered a process of making pictures by sunlight, and Daguerre had given Morse the secret. This led to the first pictures taken by sunlight in the United States and to the first photographs of the human face taken anywhere. Daguerre had never attempted to photograph living objects and did not think it could be done, as rigidity of position was required for a long exposure. Morse, however, and his associate, John W. Draper, were very soon taking portraits successfully.

Meanwhile the affairs of the telegraph at Washington had not prospered. Congress had done nothing towards the grant which Morse had requested, notwithstanding the favorable report of its committee, and Morse was in desperate straits for money even to live on. He appealed to the Vails to assist him further, but they could not, since the panic of 1837 had impaired their resources. He earned small sums from his daguerreotypes and his teaching.

By December, 1842, Morse was in funds again; sufficiently, at least, to enable him to go to Washington for another appeal to Congress. And at last, on February 23, 1843, a bill appropriating thirty thousand dollars to lay the wires between Washington and Baltimore passed the House by a majority of six. Trembling with anxiety, Morse sat in the gallery of the House while the vote was taken and listened to the irreverent badinage of Congressmen as they discussed his bill. One member proposed an amendment to set aside half the amount for experiments in mesmerism, another suggested that the Millerites should have a part of the money, and so on; however, they passed the bill. And that night Morse wrote: "The long agony is over."

But the agony was not over. The bill had yet to pass the Senate. The last day of the expiring session of Congress arrived, March 3, 1843, and the Senate had not reached the bill. Says Morse's biographer:

In the gallery of the Senate Professor Morse had sat all the last day and evening of the session. At midnight the session would close. Assured by his friends that there was no possibility of the bill being reached, he left the Capitol and retired to his room at the hotel, dispirited, and well-nigh broken-hearted. As he came down to breakfast the next morning, a young lady entered, and, coming toward him with a smile, exclaimed:

"I have come to congratulate you!"

"For what, my dear friend?" asked the professor, of the young lady, who was Miss Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of his friend the Commissioner of Patents.

"On the passage of your bill."

The professor assured her it was not possible, as he remained in the Senate-Chamber until nearly midnight, and it was not reached. She then informed him that her father was present until the close, and, in the last moments of the session, the bill was passed without debate or revision. Professor Morse was overcome by the intelligence, so joyful and unexpected, and gave at the moment to his young friend, the bearer of these good tidings, the promise that she should send the first message over the first line of telegraph that was opened.4

Morse and his partners5 then proceeded to the construction of the forty-mile line of wire between Baltimore and Washington. At this point Ezra Cornell, afterwards a famous builder of telegraphs and founder of Cornell University, first appears in history as a young man of thirty-six. Cornell invented a machine to lay pipe underground to contain the wires and he was employed to carry out the work of construction. The work was commenced at Baltimore and was continued until experiment proved that the underground method would not do, and it was decided to string the wires on poles. Much time had been lost, but once the system of poles was adopted the work progressed rapidly, and by May, 1844, the line was completed. On the twenty-fourth of that month Morse sat before his instrument in the room of the Supreme Court at Washington. His friend Miss Ellsworth handed him the message which she had chosen: "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!" Morse flashed it to Vail forty miles away in Baltimore, and Vail instantly flashed back the same momentous words, "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!"

Two days later the Democratic National Convention met in Baltimore to nominate a President and Vice-President. The leaders of the Convention desired to nominate Senator Silas Wright of New York, who was then in Washington, as running mate to James K. Polk, but they must know first whether Wright would consent to run as Vice-President. So they posted a messenger off to Washington but were persuaded at the same time to allow the new telegraph to try what it could do. The telegraph carried the offer to Wright and carried back to the Convention Wright's refusal of the honor. The delegates, however, would not believe the telegraph, until their own messenger, returning the next day, confirmed its message.

For a time the telegraph attracted little attention. But Cornell stretched the lines across the country, connecting city with city, and Morse and Vail improved the details of the mechanism and perfected the code. Others came after them and added further improvements. And it is gratifying to know that both Morse and Vail, as well as Cornell, lived to reap some return for their labor. Morse lived to see his telegraph span the continent, and link the New World with the Old, and died in 1872 full of honors.

Prompt communication of the written or spoken message is a demand even more insistent than prompt transportation of men and goods. By 1859 both the railroad and the telegraph had reached the old town of St. Joseph on the Missouri. Two thousand miles beyond, on the other side of plains and mountains and great rivers, lay prosperous California. The only transportation to California was by stage-coach, a sixty days' journey, or else across Panama, or else round the Horn, a choice of three evils. But to establish quicker communication, even though transportation might lag, the men of St. Joseph organized the Pony Express, to cover the great wild distance by riders on horseback, in ten or twelve days. Relay stations for the horses and men were set up at appropriate points all along the way, and a postboy dashed off from St. Joseph every twenty-four hours, on arrival of the train from the East. And for a time the Pony Express did its work and did it well. President Lincoln's First Inaugural was carried to California by the Pony Express; so was the news of the firing on Fort Sumter. But by 1869. the Pony Express was quietly superseded by the telegraph, which in that year had completed its circuits all the way to San Francisco, seven years ahead of the first transcontinental railroad. And in four more years Cyrus W. Field and Peter Cooper had carried to complete success the Atlantic Cable; and the Morse telegraph was sending intelligence across the sea, as well as from New York to the Golden Gate.

And today ships at sea and stations on land, separated by the sea, speak to one another in the language of the Morse Code, without the use of wires. Wireless, or radio, telegraphy was the invention of a nineteen-year-old boy, Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian; but it has been greatly extended and developed at the hands of four Americans: Fessenden, Alexanderson, Langmuir, and Lee De Forest. It was De Forest's invention that made possible transcontinental and transatlantic telephone service, both with and without wires.

The story of the telegraph's younger brother, and great ally in communication, the telephone of Alexander Graham Bell, is another pregnant romance of American invention. But that is a story by itself, and it begins in a later period and so falls within the scope of another volume of these Chronicles.6

Wise newspapermen stiffened to attention when the telegraph began ticking. The New York Herald, the Sun, and the Tribune had been founded only recently and they represented a new type of journalism, swift, fearless, and energetic. The proprietors of these newspapers saw that this new instrument was bound to affect all newspaperdom profoundly. How was the newspaper to cope with the situation and make use of the news that was coming in and would be coming in more and more over the wires?

For one thing, the newspapers needed better printing machinery. The application of steam, or any mechanical power, to printing in America was only begun. It had been introduced by Robert Hoe in the very years when Morse was struggling to perfect the telegraph. Before that time newspapers were printed in the United States, on presses operated as Franklin's press had been operated, by hand. The New York Sun, the pioneer of cheap modern newspapers, was printed by hand in 1833, and four hundred impressions an hour was the highest speed of one press. There had been, it is true, some improvements over Franklin's printing press. The Columbian press of George Clymer of Philadelphia, invented in 1816, was a step forward. The Washington press, patented in 1829 by Samuel Rust of New York, was another step forward. Then had come Robert Hoe's double-cylinder, steamdriven printing press. But a swifter machine was wanted. And so in 1845 Richard March Hoe, a son of Robert Hoe, invented the revolving or rotary press, on the principle of which larger and larger machines have been built--machines so complex and wonderful that they baffle description; which take in reels of white paper and turn out great newspapers complete, folded and counted, at the rate of a hundred thousand copies an hour. American printing machines are in use today the world over. The London Times is printed on American machines.

Hundreds of new inventions and improvements on old inventions followed hard on the growth of the newspaper, until it seemed that the last word had been spoken. The newspapers had the wonderful Hoe presses; they had cheap paper; they had excellent type, cast by machinery; they had a satisfactory process of multiplying forms of type by stereotyping; and at length came a new process of making pictures by photo-engraving, supplanting the old-fashioned process of engraving on wood. Meanwhile, however, in one important department of the work, the newspapers had made no advance whatever. The newspapers of New York in the year 1885, and later, set up their type by the same method that Benjamin Franklin used to set up the type for The Pennsylvania Gazette. The compositor stood or sat at his "case," with his "copy" before him, and picked the type up letter by letter until he had filled and correctly spaced a line. Then he would set another line, and so on, all with his hands. After the job was completed, the type had to be distributed again, letter by letter. Typesetting was slow and expensive.

This labor of typesetting was at last generally done away with by the invention of two intricate and ingenious machines. The linotype, the invention of Ottmar Mergenthaler of Baltimore, came first; then the monotype of Tolbert Lanston, a native of Ohio. The linotype is the favorite composing machine for newspapers and is also widely used in typesetting for books, though the monotype is preferred by book printers. One or other of these machines has today replaced, for the most part, the old hand compositors in every large printing establishment in the United States.

While the machinery of the great newspapers was being developed, another instrument of communication, more humble but hardly less important in modern life, was coming into existence. The typewriter is today in every business office and is another of America's gifts to the commercial world. One might attempt to trace the typewriter back to the early seals, or to the name plates of the Middle Ages, or to the records of the British Patent Office, for 1714, which mention a machine for embossing. But it would be difficult to establish the identity of these contrivances with the modern typewriter.

Two American devices, one of William Burt in 1829, for a "typographer," and another of Charles Thurber, of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1843, may also be passed over. Alfred Ely Beach made a model for a typewriter as early as 1847, but neglected it for other things, and his next effort in printing machines was a device for embossing letters for the blind. His typewriter had many of the features of the modern typewriter, but lacked a satisfactory method of inking the types. This was furnished by S. W. Francis of New York, whose machine, in 1857, bore a ribbon saturated with ink. None of these machines, however, was a commercial success. They were regarded merely as the toys of ingenious men.

The accredited father of the typewriter was a Wisconsin newspaperman, Christopher Latham Sholes, editor, politician, and anti-slavery agitator. A strike of his printers led him to unsuccessful attempts to invent a typesetting machine. He did succeed, however, in making, in collaboration with another printer, Samuel W. Soule, a numbering machine, and a friend, Carlos Glidden, to whom this ingenious contrivance was shown, suggested a machine to print letters.

The three friends decided to try. None had studied the efforts of previous experimenters, and they made many errors which might have been avoided. Gradually, however, the invention took form. Patents were obtained in June, 1868, and again in July of the same year, but the machine was neither strong nor trustworthy. Now appeared James Densmore and bought a share in the machine, while Soule and Glidden retired. Densmore furnished the funds to build about thirty models in succession, each a little better than the preceding. The improved machine was patented in 1871, and the partners felt that they were ready to begin manufacturing.

Wisely they determined, in 1873, to offer their machine to Eliphalet Remington and Sons, then manufacturing firearms, sewing machines, and the like, at Ilion, New York. Here, in well-equipped machine shops it was tested, strengthened, and improved. The Remingtons believed they saw a demand for the machine and offered to buy the patents, paying either a lump sum, or a royalty. It is said that Sholes preferred the ready cash and received twelve thousand dollars, while Densmore chose the royalty and received a million and a half.

The telegraph, the press, and the typewriter are agents of communication for the written word. The telephone is an agent for the spoken word. And there is another instrument for recording sound and reproducing it, which should not be forgotten. It was in 1877 that Thomas Alva Edison completed the first phonograph. The air vibrations set up by the human voice were utilized to make minute indentations on a sheet of tinfoil placed over a metallic cylinder, and the machine would then reproduce the sounds which had caused the indentations. The record wore out after a few reproductions, however, and Edison was too busy to develop his idea further for a time, though later he returned to it.

The phonograph today appears under various names, but by whatever name they are called, the best machines reproduce with wonderful fidelity the human voice, in speech or song, and the tones of either a single instrument or a whole orchestra. The most distinguished musicians are glad to do their best for the preservation and reproduction of their art, and through these machines, good music is brought to thousands to whom it could come in no other way.

The camera bears a large part in the diffusion of intelligence, and the last half century in the United States has seen a great development in photography and photoengraving. The earliest experiments in photography belong almost exclusively to Europe. Morse, as we have seen, introduced the secret to America and interested his friend John W. Draper, who had a part in the perfection of the dry plate and who was one of the first, if not the first, to take a portrait by photography.

The world's greatest inventor in photography is, however, George Eastman, of Rochester. It was in 1888 that Eastman introduced a new camera, which he called by the distinctive name Kodak, and with it the slogan: "You press the button, we do the rest." This first kodak was loaded with a roll of sensitized paper long enough for a hundred exposures. Sent to the makers, the roll could itself be developed and pictures could be printed from it. Eastman had been an amateur photographer when the fancy was both expensive and tedious. Inventing a method of making dry plates, he began to manufacture them in a small way as early as 1880. After the first kodak, there came others filled with rolls of sensitized nitro-cellulose film. Priority in the invention of the cellulose film, instead of glass, which has revolutionized photography, has been decided by the courts to belong to the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin, but the honor none the less belongs to Eastman, who independently worked out his process and gave photography to the millions. The introduction by the Eastman Kodak Company of a film cartridge which could be inserted or removed without retiring to a dark room removed the chief difficulty in the way of amateurs, and a camera of some sort, varying in price from a dollar or two to as many hundreds, is today an indispensable part of a vacation equipment.

In the development of the animated pictures Thomas Alva Edison has played a large part. Many were the efforts to give the appearance of movement to pictures before the first real entertainment was staged by Henry Heyl of Philadelphia. Heyl's pictures were on glass plates fixed in the circumference of a wheel, and each was brought and held for a part of a second before the lens. This method was obviously too slow and too expensive. Edison with his keen mind approached the difficulty and after a prolonged series of experiments arrived at the decision that a continuous tape-like film would be necessary. He invented the first practical "taking" camera and evoked the enthusiastic cooperation of George Eastman in the production of this tape-like film, and the modern motion picture was born. The projecting machine was substantially like the "taking" camera and was so used. Other inventors, such as Paul in England and Lumiere in France, produced other types of projecting machines, which differed only in mechanical details.

When the motion picture was taken up in earnest in the United States, the world stared in astonishment at the apparent recklessness of the early managers. The public responded, however, and there is hardly a hamlet in the nation where there is not at least one moving-picture house. The most popular actors have been drawn from the speaking stage into the "movies," and many new actors have been developed. In the small town, the picture theater is often a converted storeroom, but in the cities, some of the largest and most attractive theaters have been given over to the pictures, and others even more luxurious have been specially built. The Eastman Company alone manufactures about ten thousand miles of film every month.

Besides affording amusement to millions, the moving picture has been turned to instruction. Important news events are shown on the screen, and historical events are preserved for posterity by depositing the films in a vault. What would the historical student not give for a film faithfully portraying the inauguration of George Washington! The motion picture has become an important factor in instruction in history and science in the schools and this development is still in its infancy.


  1. Prime, "The Life of Samuel F. B. Morse, LL.D.", p. 26.
  2. Prime, p. 424.
  3. Prime, p. 311.
  4. Prime, p. 465.
  5. The property in the invention was divided into sixteen shares (the partnership having been formed in 1838) of which Morse held 9, Francis O. J. Smith 4, Alfred Vail 2, Leonard D. Gale 2. In patents to be obtained in foreign countries, Morse was to hold 8 shares, Smith 5, Vail 2, Gale 1. Smith had been a member of Congress and Chairman of the Committee on Commerce. He was admitted to the partnership in consideration of his assisting Morse to arouse the interest of European Governments.
  6. "The Age of Big Business", by Burton J. Hendrick, "The Chronicle of America", vol. XXXIX.