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Sun Oct 24, 2021, 12:37 PM

On this day, October 24, 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph was completed.

Two days later, the Pony Express called it quits.

First transcontinental telegraph


Monument in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, marking the approximate location where the first transcontinental telegraph line was completed.

The first transcontinental telegraph (completed October 24, 1861) was a line that connected the existing telegraph network in the eastern United States to a small network in California, by means of a link between Omaha, Nebraska and Carson City, Nevada, via Salt Lake City. It was a milestone in electrical engineering and in the formation of the United States of America. It served as the only method of near-instantaneous communication between the east and west coasts during the 1860s. For comparison, in 1841, it had taken 110 days for the news of the death of President William Henry Harrison to reach Los Angeles.

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Construction

Construction of the first transcontinental telegraph was the work of Western Union, which Hiram Sibley and Ezra Cornell had established in 1856 by merging companies operating east of the Mississippi River. A second significant step was the passing of the Telegraph Act by the Congress in 1860, which authorized the government to open bids for the construction of a telegraph line between Missouri and California and regulated the service to be provided. Eventually, the only bidder would be Sibley, because all competitors—Theodore Adams, Benjamin Ficklin and John Harmon—withdrew at the last minute. Later they joined Sibley in his effort.

Similar to the First Transcontinental Railroad, elimination of the gap in the telegraph service between Fort Kearny in Nebraska and Fort Churchill in Nevada was planned to be divided between teams that would be advancing the construction in opposite directions. The Pacific Telegraph Company would build west from Nebraska and the Overland Telegraph Company would build east from Nevada's connection to the California system. James Gamble, an experienced telegraph builder in California, was put in charge of the western crew, and Edward Creighton was responsible for the eastern crew. From Salt Lake City, a crew in charge of James Street advanced westward, and W.H. Stebbins's grew eastward toward Fort Kearny. Creighton's crew erected its first pole on 4 July 1861. When the project was completed in October 1861, they had planted 27,500 poles holding 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of single-strand iron wire over a terrain that was not always inviting. California Chief Justice Stephen Field sent one of the first messages from San Francisco to Abraham Lincoln, using the occasion to assure the president of California's allegiance to the Union. Note that the construction took place while Civil War fighting was taking place to the southeast. The entire cost of the system was half a million dollars.


Route of the first transcontinental telegraph

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Pony Express


Pony Every postmark, 1860, westbound

The Pony Express was a mail service delivering messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders that operated from April 3, 1860, to October 26, 1861, between Missouri and California in the United States of America.

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