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9781421429748
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9781421429748
English
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85604
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$54.95 USD, £40.50 GBP
v2.1 Reference

The Train and the Telegraph

A Revisionist History

To many people in the nineteenth century, the railroad and the telegraph were powerful, transformative forces, ones that seemed to work closely together to shape the economy, society, and politics of the United States. However, the perception—both popular and scholarly—of the intrinsic connections between these two institutions has largely obscured a far more complex and contested relationship, one that created profound divisions between entrepreneurial telegraph promoters and warier railroad managers.

In The Train and the Telegraph, Benjamin Sidney Michael Schwantes argues that uncertainty, mutual suspicion, and cautious experimentation more aptly describe how railroad officials and telegraph entrepreneurs hesitantly established a business and technical relationship. The two industries, Schwantes reveals, were drawn together gradually through external factors such as war, state and federal safety regulations, and financial necessity, rather than because of any perception that the two industries were naturally related or beneficial to each other.

Complicating the existing scholarship by demonstrating that the railroad and telegraph in the United States were uneasy partners at best—and more often outright antagonists—throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, The Train and the Telegraph will appeal to scholars of communication, transportation, and American business history and political economy, as well as to enthusiasts of the nineteenth-century American railroad industry.

About the Author

Benjamin Sidney Michael Schwantes is the managing editor of the JANNAF Journal of Propulsion and Energetics and a lecturer at Widener University's Center for Extended Learning.

Endorsements

"The Train and the Telegraph blows up the assumption of many historians—myself included—that railroad and telegraph development unfolded in a kind of mutually beneficial way. It is rare to see a complete inversion of a well-established historical assumption; Schwantes should be congratulated on making his case so forcefully and effectively. This is a great book: clean, concise, effective, and tightly organized."

- Sean Patrick Adams, University of Florida, author of Home Fires: How Americans Kept Warm in the Nineteenth Century

"Schwantes effectively weaves together the technologies of transportation and communication during the nineteenth century, debunking many of the myths that have appeared in earlier, and on occasion quite scholarly, works. Expanding our understanding of the symbiotic relationship between business history and the history of technology, this lucid book is well researched and well written; it should be of interest to a diverse readership."

- Albert J. Churella, Kennesaw State University, author of The Pennsylvania Railroad, volume 1: Building an Empire, 1846–1917

"Schwantes's history of the relationship between the American telegraph and railroad industries shows us that the processes of technological diffusion and adoption are highly complex and contingent. Historians of technology and of capitalism will profit from this engagingly written and thoroughly researched book."

- David Hochfelder, University at Albany, SUNY, author of The Telegraph in America, 1832–1920

"In The Train and the Telegraph, Benjamin Schwantes offers the kind of complex and eye-opening contribution to an established literature that can only be achieved by digging for details in the archives. Schwantes refutes the received wisdom that the telegraph and railroad industries developed in tandem, with a synergy created by cooperating executives. Instead, he shows that they evolved in a multifaceted technological and business environment and that their innovators often based decisions on expediency. This is indeed revisionist history, in the best sense."

- Susan Strasser, Professor Emerita, University of Delaware, author of Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market

"The Train and the Telegraph breaks new ground in describing how two parallel systems—railroads and telegraphs—became intermingled. Schwantes deftly shows how officials navigated countless obstacles, including fickle regulators, the volatile economy, and the American Civil War, in their quest to control and profit from these iconic technological systems."

- Andrew L. Russell, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, coauthor of Ada's Legacy: Cultures of Computing from the Victorian to the Digital Age

"Schwantes explores the surprisingly fraught relationships between telegraph companies and railroads. Telegraphic train management was met with resistance by all but a handful of progressive managers. Exogenous factors such as war, federal legislation, and finally the telephone played an enormous role in the process of adoption, or lack thereof. The story told is compelling."

- William J. Hausman, College of William & Mary, coauthor of Global Electrification: Multinational Enterprise and International Finance in the History of Light and Power, 1878–2007
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hagley Library Studies in Business, Technology, and Politics
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