Economic Sectors: Communications

Figure 1.--Here we eee a crowd at a Western Union office in a mall town somewhere in the United States. Western Unionoffices were often located at or near railroad stations. Telegraphs were the primary way to deliver important messages quickly until after World War II. We are not sure why this group has assembled here. estern Union operators were nostly men. We do not see any nessenger boys.

Communications is not specific to human, but sending sophiticated messages is. Animals communicate with sound, sight, and chemical signals. Humans do the same, but sound is by far the most important. Sight can convey messages verry rapidly. It was how sighting of the Spanish Armada was conveyed to the English fleet and Queen Elizabeth by lighting pyres along the coast. And sending visual signls is how naval ships communicated into the 20th century along with early wireless. There are, however, limits to what can be conveyed by sight both the sophisticated of the message and the distance. Sophisticated messages required language. And wih the development of language even the most sophisticated thoughts could be commuicated over distance. The limiting factor became speed. At first this meant the speed man could travel. And with the domestication of horses, the upper limit was the speed of horses. Great empires like Persia and Rome built extensive road networls to speed delivery of messages and commerce. Empires without horses, like the Inca, were limited to human runners. Messages were also delivered by sea which were limyed by sail and oar power. These were the upper limits on the speed of communications. This was the case for millenia. And there were no notable exceptions until science and the Insustrial Revolution began to transform Europe and North America (late). The advances began to transform communications (early-19th century). The first advance was steam power which began to increase ship sea speeds and then land speeds with the railroads (1830s). And at the same time electronic systems were invented and soone commercial telegram systens wre developed (1837). Virtually at the same time, countries in Europe and North America instituted sophisticated postal systems which relably and inexpensively delivered letters. A turing point here was the British Penny Black, the first adhesive postage stamp (1840). Very quickly electronic technologies imoroved, although they were expensive. The first sucessful oceanic cables connected America with Europe (1851). The Rockies proved a bigger challenge. The first transcontinebtal telgraph system concted the East with California (1861). Cables soon spanned the globe. The next step was the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell and others (1876). Like the telegraph the telephone required a land wire connection. The next step was wireless communication. This began soon after with what became known as wirless (1888). Guglielmo Marconi began developing a wireless telegraph system using radio waves (1894). This at first required a large transmitter and were limited to sending cryptic telegraph-like coded messages. Huge advances were made during World War I which by the end of the War allowed spoken messages and music leading to the radio industry (1920s). Radio replaced wireless in popular terminology, aerm based on how electronic messages radiated. Tehnology improved, but no major advnces were made until after World War II, artifacts of the Cold War Spave Race. The first major innovation was the personal computer and email (1980s). These at first depended on land lines. Modern wirless commuications and the cellphone was the next step (1973) although it was not for several years until it became a common consumer item (2000s).


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Created: 8:08 PM 9/28/2017
Last updated: 8:08 PM 9/28/2017