In The Telegraph in America, 1832-1920 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), David Hochfelder provides a taut and consistently intelligent history of the telegraph in...

In The Telegraph in America, 1832-1920 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), David Hochfelder provides a taut and consistently intelligent history of the telegraph in American life. The book is notable for both its topical breadth—encompassing war, politics, business, journalism, and everyday life—as well as its focused, argument-driven chapters. Hochfelder describes how the telegraph’s important role in the Civil War set the stage for Western Union’s postwar dominance, which in turn provoked persistent efforts to nationalize and regulate telegraphy up through World War I. Hochfelder lingers on two of the telegraph’s principal clients, newspapers and businessmen, focusing in the latter case on the crucial importance of the telegraph-enabled stock “ticker” for modern financial capitalism. The book traces the telegraph’s effect not just on institutions but also the lived experience of ordinary people, who came to hunger for breaking news and real-time stock updates. The patterns of communication established by the telegraph live on, Hochfelder concludes, in the billions of texts and emails sent along fiber-optic cables—our own wire.

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