MP-1983.15.2 | Interior of telegraph office control board, Winnipeg (?), MB, about 1920

Interior of telegraph office control board, Winnipeg (?), MB, about 1920
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1920, 20th century
Silver salts on paper - Gelatin silver process
20 x 25 cm
Gift of Dr. John Crawford
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Communication (8) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

The telegraph was the information highway of the nineteenth century. Invented by American Samuel Morse in the 1830s, the telegraph spread across North America alongside the railway. The railway carried freight and passengers and the telegraph conveyed information. The telegraph contributed to what American business historian Alfred Chandler has called "system building." It not only allowed information to move almost instantaneously over distance, but it also provoked a revolution in business organization. Telegraph companies relied on trained employees, standardized procedures and highly decentralized operations. They also promoted corporate bigness - "union" telegraph companies that reached across the continent.

Canada's first telegraph company appeared in 1846, but the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1885 pushed the lines coast to coast. The landing of submarine oceanic cables on each coast, first at Heart's Content, Newfoundland in 1866, gave Canada a global reach in communications. In 1886 a message was sent from Westminster, BC, to Canso, NS, and on to England in the space of minutes. By 1919 Canadians had sent and received 15.1 million cables and telegrams. The emergence of large companies like the Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraph Company impelled the federal government to regulate the industry. In 1912 the Board of Railway Commissioners stipulated that the transmission and content of telegrams be handled by separate companies.

  • What

    The social and economic expansion of Canada in these years depended upon the fast and dependable transmission of information. News of everything from wheat prices to war casualties was delivered by telegram.

  • Where

    Telegraph offices, usually close to the railway station, dotted the Canadian landscape. Their presence gave Canadians a sense of connection to the rest of the country. The telephone - 779,000 of them by 1919 - would enhance this national intimacy.

  • When

    A telegraph office was the technological marvel of the time. Skilled operators sent and received messages and runners then delivered telegrams on foot or bicycle. An automated "ticker" was developed to telegraph financial information on a paper ribbon. Wire services carried the news.

  • Who

    Telegraphers acquired an enticing vision of Canada's business possibilities from their work. Many graduated to other forms of national entrepreneurship. Charles R. Hosmer (1851-1927) of Montreal graduated from the presidency of CPR Telegraphs to become a millionaire promoter of flour mills, mines, textiles, papermaking and banking.