"Makers of the Telegraph

Samuel Morse, Ezra Cornell and Joseph Henry"

Samuel Morse
Ezra Cornell
Joseph Henry

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The single-wire telegraph revolutionized long distance communications and the economic landscape of America. To people of the era it represented nothing less than a virtual annihilation of time and space! However, it was not, as commonly conceived, the brainchild of a single individual. Samuel Morse's colleagues and employees —Joseph Henry and Ezra Cornell and others— all made significant contributions to its final form. Utilizing his family and Yale connections, Morse managed to fold these (and other innovations) under his own patents.

Examining the careers of these three men and the key events related to the development of the test telegraph, the book presents Morse as primarily a businessman and consolidator of other peoples' ideas who, oftentimes in bitter conflict not just with his competitors but also with his associates, colleagues and subordinates, sought to introduce the (still evolving) telegraph into the marketplace as a uniform and fully finished system under his sole imprimatur. The battle between Morse and Cornell over the invention of the magnetic relay forms the central drama amidst these conflicts. Since Cornell required Morse's support for the bill awarding Western Union the contract for the Western U.S. telegraph route, the dispute over the relay was discreetly swept under the rug by both parties.

What emerges is a complex portrait of three ambitious and brilliant innovators (of diametric temperaments) and the age in which they lived. Told here in full for the first time, the conflict and drama emerges in stark and vivid terms.


"The sections on Cornell were fascinating!"--Carleton Mabee, Pullitizer Prize winning author of "American Leonardo."



Joseph Figliomeni, (friend of the author), at Locust Grove (circa 2009)

Patent Office

Patent Office Circa 1855

Cornell Relay

Cornell Magnetic Relay (diagram)

Cable Layer

Cornell Cable Layer