CHAPTER VII.-THE TELEPHONE AND NATIONAL EFFICIENCY
The larger significance of the telephone is that it completes the work of eliminating the hermit and gypsy elements of civilization. In an almost ideal way, it has made intercommunication possible without travel. It has enabled a man to settle permanently in one place, and yet keep in personal touch with his fellows.
Until the last few centuries, much of the world was probably what Morocco is to-day--a region without wheeled vehicles or even roads of any sort. There is a mythical story of a wonderful speaking-trumpet possessed by Alexander the Great, by which he could call a soldier who was ten miles distant; but there was probably no substitute for the human voice except flags and beacon-fires, or any faster method of travel than the gait of a horse or a camel across ungraded plains. The first sensation of rapid transit doubtless came with the sailing vessel; but it was the play-toy of the winds, and unreliable. When Columbus dared to set out on his famous voyage, he was five weeks in crossing from Spain to the West Indies, his best day's record two hundred miles. The swift steamship travel of to-day did not begin until 1838, when the Great Western raced over the Atlantic in fifteen days.
As for organized systems of intercommunication, they were unknown even under the rule of a Pericles or a Caesar. There was no post office in Great Britain until 1656--a generation after America had begun to be colonized. There was no English mail-coach until 1784; and when Benjamin Franklin was Postmaster General at Philadelphia, an answer by mail from Boston, when all went well, required not less than three weeks. There was not even a hard-surface road in the thirteen United States until 1794; nor even a postage stamp until 1847, the year in which Alexander Graham Bell was born. In this same year Henry Clay delivered his memorable speech on the Mexican War, at Lexington, Kentucky, and it was telegraphed to The New York Herald at a cost of five hundred dollars, thus breaking all previous records for news-gathering enterprise. Eleven years later the first cable established an instantaneous sign-language between Americans and Europeans; and in 1876 there came the perfect distance-talking of the telephone.
No invention has been more timely than the telephone. It arrived at the exact period when it was needed for the organization of great cities and the unification of nations. The new ideas and energies of science, commerce, and cooperation were beginning to win victories in all parts of the earth. The first railroad had just arrived in China; the first parliament in Japan; the first constitution in Spain. Stanley was moving like a tiny point of light through the heart of the Dark Continent. The Universal Postal Union had been organized in a little hall in Berne. The Red Cross movement was twelve years old. An International Congress of Hygiene was being held at Brussells, and an International Congress of Medicine at Philadelphia. De Lesseps had finished the Suez Canal and was examining Panama. Italy and Germany had recently been built into nations; France had finally swept aside the Empire and the Commune and established the Republic. And what with the new agencies of railroads, steamships, cheap newspapers, cables, and telegraphs, the civilized races of mankind had begun to be knit together into a practical consolidation.
To the United States, especially, the telephone came as a friend in need. After a hundred years of growth, the Republic was still a loose confederation of separate States, rather than one great united nation. It had recently fallen apart for four years, with a wide gulf of blood between; and with two flags, two Presidents, and two armies. In 1876 it was hesitating halfway between doubt and confidence, between the old political issues of North and South, and the new industrial issues of foreign trade and the development of material resources. The West was being thrown open. The Indians and buffaloes were being driven back. There was a line of railway from ocean to ocean. The population was gaining at the rate of a million a year. Col- orado had just been baptized as a new State. And it was still an unsolved problem whether or not the United States could be kept united, whether or not it could be built into an organic nation without losing the spirit of self-help and democracy.
It is not easy for us to realize to-day how young and primitive was the United States of 1876. Yet the fact is that we have twice the population that we had when the telephone was invented. We have twice the wheat crop and twice as much money in circulation. We have three times the railways, banks, libraries, newspapers, exports, farm values, and national wealth. We have ten million farmers who make four times as much money as seven million farmers made in 1876. We spend four times as much on our public schools, and we put four times as much in the savings bank. We have five times as many students in the colleges. And we have so revolutionized our methods of production that we now produce seven times as much coal, fourteen times as much oil and pig- iron, twenty-two times as much copper, and forty-three times as much steel.
There were no skyscrapers in 1876, no trolleys, no electric lights, no gasoline engines, no self-binders, no bicycles, no automobiles. There was no Oklahoma, and the combined population of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Arizona was about equal to that of Des Moines. It was in this year that General Custer was killed by the Sioux; that the flimsy iron railway bridge fell at Ashtabula; that the "Molly Maguires" terrorized Pennsylvania; that the first wire of the Brooklyn Bridge was strung; and that Boss Tweed and Hell Gate were both put out of the way in New York.
The Great Elm, under which the Revolutionary patriots had met, was still standing on Boston Common. Daniel Drew, the New York financier, who was born before the American Constitution was adopted, was still alive; so were Commodore Vanderbilt, Joseph Henry, A. T. Stewart, Thurlow Weed, Peter Cooper, Cyrus McCormick, Lucretia Mott, Bryant, Longfellow, and Emerson. Most old people could remember the running of the first railway train; people of middle age could remember the sending of the first telegraph message; and the children in the high schools remembered the laying of the first Atlantic Cable.
The grandfathers of 1876 were fond of telling how Webster opposed taking Texas and Oregon into the Union; how George Washington advised against including the Mississippi River; and how Monroe warned Congress that a country that reached from the Atlantic to the Middle West was "too extensive to be governed but by a despotic monarchy." They told how Abraham Lincoln, when he was postmaster of New Salem, used to carry the letters in his coon- skin cap and deliver them at sight; how in 1822 the mails were carried on horseback and not in stages, so as to have the quickest possible service; and how the news of Madison's election was three weeks in reaching the people of Kentucky. When the telegraph was mentioned, they told how in Revolutionary days the patriots used a system of signalling called "Washington's Tele- graph," consisting of a pole, a flag, a basket, and a barrel.
So, the young Republic was still within hearing distance of its childhood, in 1876. Both in sentiment and in methods of work it was living close to the log-cabin period. Many of the old slow ways survived, the ways that were fast enough in the days of the stage-coach and the tinder-box. There were seventy-seven thousand miles of railway, but poorly built and in short lengths. There were manufacturing industries that employed two million, four hundred thousand people, but every trade was broken up into a chaos of small competitive units, each at war with all the others. There were energy and enterprise in the highest degree, but not efficiency or organization. Little as we knew it, in 1876 we were mainly gathering together the plans and the raw materials for the building up of the modern business world, with its quick, tense life and its national structure of immense coordinated industries.
In 1876 the age of specialization and community of interest was in its dawn. The cobbler had given place to the elaborate factory, in which seventy men cooperated to make one shoe. The merchant who had hitherto lived over his store now ventured to have a home in the suburbs. No man was any longer a self-sufficient Robinson Crusoe. He was a fraction, a single part of a social mechanism, who must necessarily keep in the closest touch with many others.
A new interdependent form of civilization was about to be developed, and the telephone arrived in the nick of time to make this new civilization workable and convenient. It was the unfolding of a new organ. Just as the eye had become the telescope, and the hand had become machinery, and the feet had become railways, so the voice became the telephone. It was a new ideal method of communication that had been made indispensable by new conditions. The prophecy of Carlyle had come true, when he said that "men cannot now be bound to men by brass collars; you will have to bind them by other far nobler and cunninger methods."
Railways and steamships had begun this work of binding man to man by "nobler and cunninger methods." The telegraph and cable had gone still farther and put all civilized people within sight of each other, so that they could communicate by a sort of deaf and dumb alphabet. And then came the telephone, giving direct instantaneous communication and putting the people of each nation within hearing distance of each other. It was the completion of a long series of inventions. It was the keystone of the arch. It was the one last improvement that enabled interdependent nations to handle themselves and to hold together.
To make railways and steamboats carry letters was much, in the evolution of the means of communication. To make the electric wire carry signals was more, because of the instantaneous transmission of important news. But to make the electric wire carry speech was MOST, because it put all fellow-citizens face to face, and made both message and answer instantaneous. The invention of the telephone taught the Genie of Electricity to do better than to carry mes- sages in the sign language of the dumb. It taught him to speak. As Emerson has finely said:
"We had letters to send. Couriers could not go fast enough, nor far enough; broke their wagons, foundered their horses; bad roads in Spring, snowdrifts in Winter, heat in Summer--could not get their horses out of a walk. But we found that the air and the earth were full of electricity, and always going our way, just the way we wanted to send. WOULD HE TAKE A MESSAGE, Just as lief as not; had nothing else to do; would carry it in no time."
As to the exact value of the telephone to the United States in dollars and cents, no one can tell. One statistician has given us a total of three million dollars a day as the amount saved by using telephones. This sum may be far too high, or too low. It can be no more than a guess. The only adequate way to arrive at the value of the telephone is to consider the nation as a whole, to take it all in all as a going concern, and to note that such a nation would be absolutely impossible without its telephone service. Some sort of a slower and lower grade republic we might have, with small industrial units, long hours of labor, lower wages, and clumsier ways. The money loss would be enormous, but more serious still would be the loss in the QUALITY OF THE NATIONAL LIFE. Inevitably, an untelephoned nation is less social, less unified, less progressive, and less efficient. It belongs to an inferior species.
How to make a civilization that is organized and quick, instead of a barbarism that was chaotic and slow--that is the universal human problem, not wholly solved to-day. And how to develop a science of intercommunication, which commenced when the wild animals began to travel in herds and to protect themselves from their enemies by a language of danger-signals, and to democratize this science until the entire nation becomes self-conscious and able to act as one living being--that is the part of this universal problem which finally necessitated the invention of the telephone.
With the use of the telephone has come a new habit of mind. The slow and sluggish mood has been sloughed off. The old to-morrow habit has been superseded by "Do It To-day"; and life has become more tense, alert, vivid. The brain has been relieved of the suspense of waiting for an answer, which is a psychological gain of great importance. It receives its reply at once and is set free to consider other matters. There is less burden upon the memory and the WHOLE MIND can be given to each new proposition.
A new instinct of speed has been developed, much more fully in the United States than elsewhere. "No American goes slow," said Ian Maclaren, "if he has the chance of going fast; he does not stop to talk if he can talk walking; and he does not walk if he can ride." He is as pleased as a child with a new toy when some speed record is broken, when a pair of shoes is made in eleven minutes, when a man lays twelve hundred bricks in an hour, or when a ship crosses the Atlantic in four and a half days. Even seconds are now counted and split up into fractions. The average time, for instance, taken to reply to a telephone call by a New York operator, is now three and two-fifth seconds; and even this tiny atom of time is being strenuously worn down.
As a witty Frenchman has said, one of our most lively regrets is that while we are at the telephone we cannot do business with our feet. We regard it as a victory over the hostility of nature when we do an hour's work in a minute or a minute's work in a second. Instead of saying, as the Spanish do, "Life is too short; what can one person do?" an American is more apt to say, "Life is too short; therefore I must do to- day's work to-day." To pack a lifetime with energy--that is the American plan, and so to economize that energy as to get the largest results. To get a question asked and answered in five minutes by means of an electric wire, instead of in two hours by the slow trudging of a messenger boy--that is the method that best suits our passion for instantaneous service.
It is one of the few social laws of which we are fairly sure, that a nation organizes in proportion to its velocity. We know that a four-mile-an- hour nation must remain a huge inert mass of peasants and villagers; or if, after centuries of slow toil, it should pile up a great city, the city will sooner or later fall to pieces of its own weight. In such a way Babylon rose and fell, and Nineveh, and Thebes, and Carthage, and Rome. Mere bulk, unorganized, becomes its own destroyer. It dies of clogging and congestion. But when Stephenson's Rocket ran twenty-nine miles an hour, and Morse's telegraph clicked its signals from Washington to Baltimore, and Bell's telephone flashed the vibrations of speech between Boston and Salem, a new era began. In came the era of speed and the finely organized nations. In came cities of unprecedented bulk, but held together so closely by a web-work of steel rails and copper wires that they have become more alert and cooperative than any tiny hamlet of mud huts on the banks of the Congo.
That the telephone is now doing most of all, in this binding together of all manner of men, is perhaps not too much to claim, when we remember that there are now in the United States seventy thousand holders of Bell telephone stock and ten million users of telephone service. There are two hundred and sixty-four wires crossing the Mississippi, in the Bell system; and five hundred and forty-four crossing Mason and Dixon's Line. It is the telephone which does most to link together cottage and skyscraper and mansion and factory and farm. It is not limited to experts or college graduates. It reaches the man with a nickel as well as the man with a million. It speaks all languages and serves all trades. It helps to prevent sectionalism and race feuds. It gives a common meeting place to capitalists and wage-workers. It is so essentially the instrument of all the people, in fact, that we might almost point to it as a national emblem, as the trade-mark of democracy and the American spirit.
In a country like ours, where there are eighty nationalities in the public schools, the telephone has a peculiar value as a part of the national digestive apparatus. It prevents the growth of dialects and helps on the process of assimilation. Such is the push of American life, that the humble immigrants from Southern Europe, before they have been here half a dozen years, have acquired the telephone habit and have linked on their small shops to the great wire network of intercommunication. In the one community of Brownsville, for example, settled several years ago by an overflow of Russian Jews from the East Side of New York, there are now as many telephones as in the kingdom of Greece. And in the swarming East Side itself, there is a single exchange in Orchard Street which has more wires than there are in all the exchanges of Egypt.
There can be few higher ideals of practical democracy than that which comes to us from the telephone engineer. His purpose is much more comprehensive than the supplying of telephones to those who want them. It is rather to make the telephone as universal as the water faucet, to bring within speaking distance every economic unit, to connect to the social organism every person who may at any time be needed. Just as the click of the reaper means bread, and the purr of the sewing-machine means clothes, and the roar of the Bessemer converter means steel, and the rattle of the press means education, so the ring of the telephone bell has come to mean unity and organization.
Already, by cable, telegraph, and telephone, no two towns in the civilized world are more than one hour apart. We have even girdled the earth with a cablegram in twelve minutes. We have made it possible for any man in New York City to enter into conversation with any other New Yorker in twenty-one seconds. We have not been satisfied with establishing such a system of transportation that we can start any day for anywhere from anywhere else; neither have we been satisfied with establishing such a system of communication that news and gossip are the common property of all nations. We have gone farther. We have established in every large region of population a system of voice-nerves that puts every man at every other man's ear, and which so magically eliminates the factor of distance that the United States becomes three thousand miles of neighbors, side by side.
This effort to conquer Time and Space is above all else the instinct of material progress. To shrivel up the miles and to stretch out the minutes--this has been one of the master passions of the human race. And thus the larger truth about the telephone is that it is vastly more than a mere convenience. It is not to be classed with safety razors and piano players and fountain pens. It is nothing less than the high-speed tool of civilization, gearing up the whole mechanism to more effective social service. It is the symbol of national efficiency and coperation.
All this the telephone is doing, at a total cost to the nation of probably $200,000,000 a year-- no more than American farmers earn in ten days. We pay the same price for it as we do for the potatoes, or for one-third of the hay crop, or for one-eighth of the corn. Out of every nickel spent for electrical service, one cent goes to the telephone. We could settle our telephone bill, and have several millions left over, if we cut off every fourth glass of liquor and smoke of tobacco. Whoever rents a typewriting machine, or uses a street car twice a day, or has his shoes polished once a day, may for the same expense have a very good telephone service. Merely to shovel away the snow of a single storm in 1910 cost the city government of New York as much as it will pay for five or six years of telephoning.
This almost incredible cheapness of telephony is still far from being generally perceived, mainly for psychological reasons. A telephone is not impressive. It has no bulk. It is not like the Singer Building or the Lusitania. Its wires and switchboards and batteries are scattered and hidden, and few have sufficient imagination to picture them in all their complexity. If only it were possible to assemble the hundred or more telephone buildings of New York in one vast plaza, and if the two thousand clerks and three thousand maintenance men and six thousand girl operators were to march to work each morning with bands and banners, then, perhaps, there might be the necessary quality of impressiveness by which any large idea must always be imparted to the public mind.
For lack of a seven and one-half cent coin, there is now five-cent telephony even in the largest American cities. For five cents whoever wishes has an entire wire-system at his service, a system that is kept waiting by day and night, so that it will be ready the instant he needs it. This system may have cost from twenty to fifty millions, yet it may be hired for one-eighth the cost of renting an automobile. Even in long- distance telephony, the expense of a message dwindles when it is compared with the price of a return railway ticket. A talk from New York to Philadelphia, for instance, costs seventy-five cents, while the railway fare would be four dollars. From New York to Chicago a talk costs five dollars as against seventy dollars by rail. As Harriman once said, "I can't get from my home to the depot for the price of a talk to Omaha."
To say what the net profits have been, to the entire body of people who have invested money in the telephone, will always be more or less of a guess. The general belief that immense fortunes were made by the lucky holders of Bell stock, is an exaggeration that has been kept alive by the promoters of wildcat companies. No such fortunes were made. "I do not believe," says Theodore Vail, "that any one man ever made a clear million out of the telephone." There are not apt to be any get-rich-quick for- tunes made in corporations that issue no watered stock and do not capitalize their franchises. On the contrary, up to 1897, the holders of stock in the Bell Companies had paid in four million, seven hundred thousand dollars more than the par value; and in the recent consolidation of Eastern companies, under the presidency of Union N. Bethell, the new stock was actually eight millions less than the stock that was retired.
Few telephone companies paid any profits at first. They had undervalued the cost of building and maintenance. Denver expected the cost to be two thousand, five hundred dollars and spent sixty thousand dollars. Buffalo expected to pay three thousand dollars and had to pay one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Also, they made the unwelcome discovery that an exchange of two hundred costs more than twice as much as an exchange of one hundred, because of the greater amount of traffic. Usually a dollar that is paid to a telephone company is divided as follows:
Rent ............ 4c Taxes ........... 4c Interest ........ 6c Surplus ......... 8c Maintenance .... 16c Dividends ...... 18c Labor .......... 44c
Most of the rate troubles (and their name has been legion) have arisen because the telephone business was not understood. In fact, until recently, it did not understand itself. It persisted in holding to a local and individualistic view of its business. It was slow to put telephones in unprofitable places. It expected every instrument to pay its way. In many States, both the telephone men and the public overlooked the most vital fact in the case, which is that the members of a telephone system are above all else INTERDEPENDENT.
One telephone by itself has no value. It is as useless as a reed cut out of an organ or a finger that is severed from a hand. It is not even ornamental or adaptable to any other pur- pose. It is not at all like a piano or a talking- machine, which has a separate existence. It is useful only in proportion to the number of other telephones it reaches. AND EVERY TELEPHONE ANYWHERE ADDS VALUE TO EVERY OTHER TELEPHONE ON THE SAME SYSTEM OF WIRES. That, in a sentence, is the keynote of equitable rates.
Many a telephone, for the general good, must be put where it does not earn its own living. At any time some sudden emergency may arise that will make it for the moment priceless. Especially since the advent of the automobile, there is no nook or corner from which it may not be supremely necessary, now and then, to send a message. This principle was acted upon recently in a most practical way by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which at its own expense installed five hundred and twenty-five telephones in the homes of its workmen in Altoona. In the same way, it is clearly the social duty of the telephone company to widen out its system until every point is covered, and then to distribute its gross charges as fairly as it can. The whole must carry the whole--that is the philosophy of rates which must finally be recognized by legislatures and telephone companies alike. It can never, of course, be reduced to a system or formula. It will always be a matter of opinion and compromise, requiring much skill and much patience. But there will seldom be any serious trouble when once its basic principles are understood.
Like all time-saving inventions, like the railroad, the reaper, and the Bessemer converter, the telephone, in the last analysis, COSTS NOTHING; IT IS THE LACK OF IT THAT COSTS. THE NATION THAT MOST IS THE NATION WITHOUT IT.Next