CHAPTER VI.-NOTABLE USERS OF THE TELEPHONE
What we might call the telephonization of city life, for lack of a simpler word, has remarkably altered our manner of living from what it was in the days of Abraham Lincoln. It has enabled us to be more social and cooperative. It has literally abolished the isolation of separate families, and has made us members of one great family. It has become so truly an organ of the social body that by telephone we now enter into contracts, give evidence, try lawsuits, make speeches, propose marriage, confer degrees, appeal to voters, and do almost everything else that is a matter of speech.
In stores and hotels this wire traffic has grown to an almost bewildering extent, as these are the places where many interests meet. The hundred largest hotels in New York City have twenty-one thousand telephones--nearly as many as the continent of Africa and more than the kingdom of Spain. In an average year they send six million messages. The Waldorf-Astoria alone tops all residential buildings with eleven hundred and twenty telephones and five hundred thousand calls a year; while merely the Christmas Eve orders that flash into Marshall Field's store, or John Wanamaker's, have risen as high as the three thousand mark.
Whether the telephone does most to concentrate population, or to scatter it, is a question that has not yet been examined. It is certainly true that it has made the skyscraper possible, and thus helped to create an absolutely new type of city, such as was never imagined even in the fairy tales of ancient nations. The skyscraper is ten years younger than the telephone. It is now generally seen to be the ideal building for business offices. It is one of the few types of architecture that may fairly be called American. And its efficiency is largely, if not mainly, due to the fact that its inhabitants may run errands by telephone as well as by elevator.
There seems to be no sort of activity which is not being made more convenient by the telephone. It is used to call the duck-shooters in Western Canada when a flock of birds has arrived; and to direct the movements of the Dragon in Wagner's grand opera "Siegfried." At the last Yale-Harvard football game, it conveyed almost instantaneous news to fifty thousand people in various parts of New England. At the Vanderbilt Cup Race its wires girdled the track and reported every gain or mishap of the racing autos. And at such expensive pageants as that of the Quebec Tercentenary in 1908, where four thousand actors came and went upon a ten-acre stage, every order was given by telephone.
Public officials, even in the United States, have been slow to change from the old-fashioned and more dignified use of written documents and uniformed messengers; but in the last ten years there has been a sweeping revolution in this respect. Government by telephone! This is a new idea that has already arrived in the more efficient departments of the Federal service. And as for the present Congress, that body has gone so far as to plan for a special system of its own, in both Houses, so that all official announcements may be heard by wire.
Garfield was the first among American Presidents to possess a telephone. An exhibition instrument was placed in his house, without cost, in 1878, while he was still a member of Congress. Neither Cleveland nor Harrison, for temperamental reasons, used the magic wire very often. Under their regime, there was one lonely idle telephone in the White House, used by the servants several times a week. But with McKinley came a new order of things. To him a telephone was more than a necessity. It was a pastime, an exhilarating sport. He was the one President who really revelled in the comforts of telephony. In 1895 he sat in his Canton home and heard the cheers of the Chicago Convention. Later he sat there and ran the first presidential telephone campaign; talked to his managers in thirty-eight States. Thus he came to regard the telephone with a higher degree of appreciation than any of his predecessors had done, and eulogized it on many public occasions. "It is bringing us all closer together," was his favorite phrase.
To Roosevelt the telephone was mainly for emergencies. He used it to the full during the Chicago Convention of 1907 and the Peace Conference at Portsmouth. But with Taft the telephone became again the common avenue of conversation. He has introduced at least one new telephonic custom a long-distance talk with his family every evening, when he is away from home. Instead of the solitary telephone of Cleveland-Harrison days, the White House has now a branch exchange of its own--Main 6-- with a sheaf of wires that branch out into every room as well as to the nearest central.
Next to public officials, bankers were perhaps the last to accept the facilities of the telephone. They were slow to abandon the fallacy that no business can be done without a written record. James Stillman, of New York, was first among bankers to foresee the telephone era. As early as 1875, while Bell was teaching his infant telephone to talk, Stillman risked two thousand dollars in a scheme to establish a crude dial system of wire communication, which later grew into New York's first telephone exchange. At the present time, the banker who works closest to his telephone is probably George W. Perkins, of the J. P. Morgan group of bankers. "He is the only man," says Morgan, "who can raise twenty millions in twenty minutes." The Perkins plan of rapid transit telephony is to prepare a list of names, from ten to thirty, and to flash from one to another as fast as the operator can ring them up. Recently one of the other members of the Morgan bank proposed to enlarge its telephone equipment. "What will we gain by more wires?" asked the operator. "If we were to put in a six- hundred pair cable, Mr. Perkins would keep it busy."
The most brilliant feat of the telephone in the financial world was done during the panic of 1907. At the height of the storm, on a Saturday evening, the New York bankers met in an almost desperate conference. They decided, as an emergency measure of self-protection, not to ship cash to Western banks. At midnight they telephoned this decision to the bankers of Chicago and St. Louis. These men, in turn, conferred by telephone, and on Sunday afternoon called up the bankers of neighboring States. And so the news went from 'phone to 'phone, until by Monday morning all bankers and chief depositors were aware of the situation, and prepared for the team-play that prevented any general disaster.
As for stockbrokers of the Wall Street species, they transact practically all their business by telephone. In their stock exchange stand six hundred and forty one booths, each one the terminus of a private wire. A firm of brokers will count it an ordinary year's talking to send fifty thousand messages; and there is one firm which last year sent twice as many. Of all brokers, the one who finally accomplished most by telephony was unquestionably E. H. Harriman. In the mansion that he built at Arden, there were a hundred telephones, sixty of them linked to the long-distance lines. What the brush is to the artist, what the chisel is to the sculptor, the telephone was to Harriman. He built his fortune with it. It was in his library, his bathroom, his private car, his camp in the Oregon wilder- ness. No transaction was too large or too involved to be settled over its wires. He saved the credit of the Erie by telephone--lent it five million dollars as he lay at home on a sickbed. "He is a slave to the telephone," wrote a magazine writer. "Nonsense," replied Harriman, "it is a slave to me."
The telephone arrived in time to prevent big corporations from being unwieldy and aristocratic. The foreman of a Pittsburg coal company may now stand in his subterranean office and talk to the president of the Steel Trust, who sits on the twenty-first floor of a New York skyscraper. The long-distance talks, especially, have grown to be indispensable to the corporations whose plants are scattered and geographically misplaced--to the mills of New England, for instance, that use the cotton of the South and sell so much of their product to the Middle West. To the companies that sell perishable commodities, an instantaneous conversation with a buyer in a distant city has often saved a carload or a cargo. Such caterers as the meat-packers, who were among the first to realize what Bell had made possible, have greatly accelerated the wheels of their business by inter-city conversations. For ten years or longer the Cudahys have talked every business morning between Omaha and Boston, via fifteen hundred and seventy miles of wire.
In the refining of oil, the Standard Oil Company alone, at its New York office, sends two hundred and thirty thousand messages a year. In the making of steel, a chemical analysis is made of each caldron of molten pig-iron, when it starts on its way to be refined, and this analysis is sent by telephone to the steelmaker, so that he will know exactly how each potful is to be handled. In the floating of logs down rivers, instead of having relays of shouters to prevent the logs from jamming, there is now a wire along the bank, with a telephone linked on at every point of danger. In the rearing of skyscrapers, it is now usual to have a temporary wire strung vertically, so that the architect may stand on the ground and confer with a foreman who sits astride of a naked girder three hundred feet up in the air. And in the electric light business, the current is distributed wholly by telephoned orders. To give New York the seven million electric lights that have abolished night in that city requires twelve private exchanges and five hundred and twelve telephones. All the power that creates this artificial daylight is generated at a single station, and let flow to twenty-five storage centres. Minute by minute, its flow is guided by an expert, who sits at a telephone exchange as though he were a pilot at the wheel of an ocean liner.
The first steamship line to take notice of the telephone was the Clyde, which had a wire from dock to office in 1877; and the first railway was the Pennsylvania, which two years later was persuaded by Professor Bell himself to give it a trial in Altoona. Since then, this railroad has become the chief beneficiary of the art of telephony. It has one hundred and seventy-five exchanges, four hundred operators, thirteen thousand telephones, and twenty thousand miles of wire--a more ample system than the city of New York had in 1896.
To-day the telephone goes to sea in the pas- senger steamer and the warship. Its wires are waiting at the dock and the depot, so that a tourist may sit in his stateroom and talk with a friend in some distant office. It is one of the most incredible miracles of telephony that a passenger at New York, who is about to start for Chicago on a fast express, may telephone to Chicago from the drawing-room of a Pullman. He himself, on the swiftest of all trains, will not arrive in Chicago for eighteen hours; but the flying words can make the journey, and RETURN, while his train is waiting for the signal to start.
In the operation of trains, the railroads have waited thirty years before they dared to trust the telephone, just as they waited fifteen years before they dared to trust the telegraph. In 1883 a few railways used the telephone in a small way, but in 1907, when a law was passed that made telegraphers highly expensive, there was a general swing to the telephone. Several dozen roads have now put it in use, some employing it as an associate of the Morse method and others as a complete substitute. It has already been found to be the quickest way of despatching trains. It will do in five minutes what the telegraph did in ten. And it has enabled railroads to hire more suitable men for the smaller offices.
In news-gathering, too, much more than in railroading, the day of the telephone has arrived. The Boston Globe was the first paper to receive news by telephone. Later came The Washington Star, which had a wire strung to the Capitol, and thereby gained an hour over its competitors. To-day the evening papers receive most of their news over the wire a la Bell instead of a la Morse. This has resulted in a specialization of reporters --one man runs for the news and another man writes it. Some of the runners never come to the office. They receive their assignments by telephone, and their salaries by mail. There are even a few who are allowed to telephone their news directly to a swift linotype operator, who clicks it into type on his machine, without the scratch of a pencil. This, of course, is the ideal method of news-gathering, which is rarely possible.
A paper of the first class, such as The New York World, has now an outfit of twenty trunk lines and eighty telephones. Its outgoing calls are two hundred thousand a year and its incoming calls three hundred thousand, which means that for every morning, evening, or Sunday edition, there has been an average of seven hundred and fifty messages. The ordinary newspaper in a small town cannot afford such a service, but recently the United Press has originated a cooperative method. It telephones the news over one wire to ten or twelve newspapers at one time. In ten minutes a thousand words can in this way be flung out to a dozen towns, as quickly as by telegraph and much cheaper.
But it is in a dangerous crisis, when safety seems to hang upon a second, that the telephone is at its best. It is the instrument of emergencies, a sort of ubiquitous watchman. When the girl operator in the exchange hears a cry for help--"Quick! The hospital!" "The fire department!" "The police!" she seldom waits to hear the number. She knows it. She is trained to save half-seconds. And it is at such moments, if ever, that the users of a telephone can appreciate its insurance value. No doubt, if a King Richard III were worsted on a modern battlefield, his instinctive cry would be, "My Kingdom for a telephone!"
When instant action is needed in the city of New York, a General Alarm can in five minutes be sent by the police wires over its whole vast area of three hundred square miles. When, recently, a gas main broke in Brooklyn, sixty girls were at once called to the centrals in that part of the city to warn the ten thousand families who had been placed in danger. When the ill-fated General Slocum caught fire, a mechanic in a factory on the water-front saw the blaze, and had the presence of mind to telephone the newspapers, the hospitals, and the police. When a small child is lost, or a convict has escaped from prison, or the forest is on fire, or some menace from the weather is at hand, the telephone bells clang out the news, just as the nerves jangle the bells of pain when the body is in danger. In one tragic case, the operator in Folsom, New Mexico, refused to quit her post until she had warned her people of a flood that had broken loose in the hills above the village. Because of her courage, nearly all were saved, though she herself was drowned at the switchboard. Her name--Mrs. S. J. Rooke--deserves to be remembered.
If a disaster cannot be prevented, it is the telephone, usually, that brings first aid to the injured. After the destruction of San Francisco, Governor Guild, of Massachusetts, sent an appeal for the stricken city to the three hundred and fifty-four mayors of his State; and by the courtesy of the Bell Company, which carried the messages free, they were delivered to the last and furthermost mayors in less than five hours. After the destruction of Messina, an order for enough lumber to build ten thousand new houses was cabled to New York and telephoned to Western lumbermen. So quickly was this order filled that on the twelfth day after the arrival of the cablegram, the ships were on their way to Messina with the lumber. After the Kansas City flood of 1903, when the drenched city was without railways or street-cars or electric lights, it was the telephone that held the city together and brought help to the danger-spots. And after the Baltimore fire, the telephone exchange was the last force to quit and the first to recover. Its girls sat on their stools at the switchboard until the window-panes were broken by the heat. Then they pulled the covers over the board and walked out. Two hours later the building was in ashes. Three hours later another building was rented on the unburned rim of the city, and the wire chiefs were at work. In one day there was a system of wires for the use of the city officials. In two days these were linked to long- distance wires; and in eleven days a two-thousand- line switchboard was in full working trim. This feat still stands as the record in rebuilding.
In the supreme emergency of war, the telephone is as indispensable, very nearly, as the cannon. This, at least, is the belief of the Japanese, who handled their armies by telephone when they drove back the Russians. Each body of Japanese troops moved forward like a silkworm, leaving behind it a glistening strand of red copper wire. At the decisive battle of Mukden, the silk-worm army, with a million legs, crept against the Russian hosts in a vast crescent, a hundred miles from end to end. By means of this glistening red wire, the various batteries and regiments were organized into fifteen divisions. Each group of three divisions was wired to a general, and the five generals were wired to the great Oyama himself, who sat ten miles back of the firing-line and sent his orders. Whenever a regiment lunged forward, one of the soldiers carried a telephone set. If they held their position, two other soldiers ran forward with a spool of wire. In this way and under fire of the Russian cannon, one hundred and fifty miles of wire were strung across the battlefield. As the Japanese said, it was this "flying telephone" that enabled Oyama to manipulate his forces as handily as though he were playing a game of chess. It was in this war, too, that the Mikado's soldiers strung the costliest of all telephone lines, at 203 Metre Hill. When the wire had been basted up this hill to the summit, the fortress of Port Arthur lay at their mercy. But the climb had cost them twenty- four thousand lives.
Of the seven million telephones in the United States, about two million are now in farmhouses. Every fourth American farmer is in telephone touch with his neighbors and the market. Iowa leads, among the farming States. In Iowa, not to have a telephone is to belong to what a Londoner would call the "submerged tenth" of the population. Second in line comes Illinois, with Kansas, Nebraska, and Indiana following closely behind; and at the foot of the list, in the matter of farm telephones, are Connecticut and Louisiana.
The first farmer who discovered the value of the telephone was the market gardener. Next came the bonanza farmer of the Red River Valley--such a man, for instance, as Oliver Dalrymple, of North Dakota, who found that by the aid of the telephone he could plant and harvest thirty thousand acres of wheat in a single season. Then, not more than half a dozen years ago, there arose a veritable Telephone Crusade among the farmers of the Middle West. Cheap telephones, yet fairly good, had by this time been made possible by the improvements of the Bell engineers; and stories of what could be done by telephone became the favorite gossip of the day. One farmer had kept his barn from being burned down by telephoning for his neighbors; another had cleared five hundred dollars extra profit on the sale of his cattle, by telephoning to the best market; a third had rescued a flock of sheep by sending quick news of an approaching blizzard; a fourth had saved his son's life by getting an instantaneous message to the doctor; and so on.
How the telephone saved a three million dollar fruit crop in Colorado, in 1909, is the story that is oftenest told in the West. Until that year, the frosts in the Spring nipped the buds. No farmer could be sure of his harvest. But in 1909, the fruit-growers bought smudge-pots--three hundred thousand or more. These were placed in the orchards, ready to be lit at a moment's notice. Next, an alliance was made with the United States Weather Bureau so that whenever the Frost King came down from the north, a warning could be telephoned to the farmers. Just when Colorado was pink with apple blossoms, the first warning came. "Get ready to light up your smudge-pots in half an hour." Then the farmers telephoned to the nearest towns: "Frost is coming; come and help us in the orchards." Hundreds of men rushed out into the country on horseback and in wagons. In half an hour the last warning came: "Light up; the thermometer registers twenty-nine." The smudge-pot artillery was set ablaze, and kept blazing until the news came that the icy forces had retreated. And in this way every Colorado farmer who had a telephone saved his fruit.
In some farming States, the enthusiasm for the telephone is running so high that mass meetings are held, with lavish oratory on the general theme of "Good Roads and Telephones." And as a result of this Telephone Crusade, there are now nearly twenty thousand groups of farmers, each one with a mutual telephone system, and one-half of them with sufficient enterprise to link their little webs of wires to the vast Bell system, so that at least a million farmers have been brought as close to the great cities as they are to their own barns.
What telephones have done to bring in the present era of big crops, is an interesting story in itself. To compress it into a sentence, we might say that the telephone has completed the labor-saving movement which started with the McCormick reaper in 1831. It has lifted the farmer above the wastefulness of being his own errand-boy. The average length of haul from barn to market in the United States is nine and a half miles, so that every trip saved means an extra day's work for a man and team. Instead of travelling back and forth, often to no purpose, the farmer may now stay at home and attend to his stock and his crops.
As yet, few farmers have learned to appreciate the value of quality in telephone service, as they have in other lines. The same man who will pay six prices for the best seed-corn, and who will allow nothing but high-grade cattle in his barn, will at the same time be content with the shabbiest and flimsiest telephone service, without offering any other excuse than that it is cheap. But this is a transient phase of farm telephony. The cost of an efficient farm system is now so little-- not more than two dollars a month, that the present trashy lines are certain sooner or later to go to the junk-heap with the sickle and the flail and all the other cheap and unprofitable things.Next