"the devil in the wires,"

1901 Sears catalog - electric belts.

display purposes.


Next challenge - good electric motor.

Frank Sprague, 1888, Richmond VA;

Electric streetcars twice as fast as horse-drawn cars, cleaner, easily lighted & heated in winter, more powerful.

Within 15 years, all but 1% of Richmond streetcars converted.

Davenport, Iowa tripled profits after converting;


stratification by class. 

1850 Boston 3 mile radius; 1900 ten-mile radius.

Atlantic City,

1917, electric streetcars carrying over 11 billion passengers per year along almost 45,000 miles of track.

small town lines;

"interurban" lines (Ames to DM)


alternating current system, 1882, France;

George Westinghouse, 1886,

"battle of the currents." 

DC advantage in urban area; had good motor.

AC good in rural areas.

Public relations – Edison demonstrations of AC’s high-voltage;

"Westinghousing, the electrocutioner's current." 


Nikola Tesla, born 1856 in Croatia;

studied electrical engineering,

employed in telegraph office,

polyphase AC motor,

1882 Paris Continental Edison Company. 

1888 demonstrated new AC motor;


1893 Westinghouse Chicago's Columbian Exposition - "White city"; electric railway, electric elevators, & electric-powered boats, & electric moving sidewalk. 

General Electric's Tower of Light.

Westinghouse system  Niagara Falls, 1895,


1880s state universities start teaching electric engineering;

new generation of systems-builders, managers & entrepreneurs;

Samuel Insull, head of Chicago Edison (Commonwealth Edison);

innovations - ultramodern central power station, first large-scale steam turbine generator.

dealing with demand, load factors;

promotes use of electricity: "A home without electric light is like a coat without a lining - unfinished, incomplete."

1917, one-third of Chicago households had electric power.

Midwest network of power - 1920s 8% of America's total electric power.


Edison - phonograph, grooved cylinder with tinfoil to catch vibrations engraved by needle.

"I was never so taken aback in my life - I was always afraid of things that worked first time."

1877 public demonstrations;

intended use – office & education;

1900, recordings by Caruso, etc.

1889, "kinetoscope" ("moving view") 



telephone – Bell’s patent 1876.

Western Union, Edison


1876 Centennial Exhibition – “My God, it talks!”

public exhibition – ads: “Every man, woman and child should carefully examine the workings of Prof. Bell’s speaking and singing Telephone, in its practical work of conveying instantaneous communication by direct sound, giving the tones of the voice so that the person speaking can be recognized by the sound at the other end of the line.  All visitors desiring can make for themselves a practical investigation of the Telephone, by asking questions, hearing the answers to their questions, and listening to the singing conveyed through the Telephones from the other end of the lien.  Admission 15 cents.  Come and See the Telephone.”


Instructions: “Speak directly into the mouthpiece, keeping mustache out of the opening.”

party line – 2 to 12 households, – “listening in”.

White House 1878

Mark Twain, “here we have been  hollering ‘Shut up!’ to our neighbors for centuries, and now you come along to complicate matters.”

leasing fee $150/year in NY, $100 Chicago;

ad: “telephones are rented only to persons of good breeding and refinement.”

Ads 1910 – “Don’t write – personal conversation is more powerful.  Call ahead for business – save time by making appointments.  Save time by telephone.  At a psychological moment, a telephone can deliver a business message quickly.  The voice of success.”


central exchanges.

young, single, American-born women –”telephone girl.”

“Voice with a Smile”

Standardized training to become part of system

Ultimately conversion to dial system, automatic.

1930s fear of technological unemployment.