Hiram Sibley obituary

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Electrical Engineer

New York, NY, United States
vol. 7, no. 80, p. 274-275, col. 2,1


Hiram Sibley.


Hiram Sibley, whose name will be ever memorable in the annals of American telegraphy, died at his home in Rochester. N. Y., July 12, at the age of 81 years.

Mr. Sibley became interested in the introduction of the House printing telegraph about 1850, and soon became a leader in the commercial development of the telegraphic art generally. His faith and foresight, his courage and persistency, his forecast of the methods requisite to place the business of telegraphy upon a broad and comprehensive basis, suited to the needs of the country at large, led to the initiation of the series of consolidations of competing interests that culminated in the organization of the present Western Union Telegraph Co, in 1866, by the absorption of the American and United States companies, the only considerable rivals of the old Western Union.

Mr. Sibley was born at North Adams, Mass., in 1807. His early education was only such as the country schools of the period could supply, and his first employment was at shoemaking. He afterwards opened a machine shop, in which he was successful enough to accumulate a small capital during 10 years work, at the end of which he removed to Rochester, where he entered into business as a banker. The new art of telegraphy attracted his attention from its earliest days, and he was one of the supporters of Professor Morse in his application to Congress for the appropriation to build the experimental line from Washington to Baltimore. Having acquired an interest in the House patents, and taken a leading part in the organization of the New York and Mississippi Telegraph Co. in 1851, which formed but one of a considerable number of connecting or competing lines he soon perceived the inherent defects, the results of which manifested themselves in the balance sheets, of such a conglomerate system or no system, of telegraphic service and set on foot measures for consolidations of interests and more comprehensive organization and management. His broad and far-reaching views met with discouragement or ridicule at the hands of many of his associates, but they ultimately prevailed: with what results, both of fortune to those who joined the movement in time, and of public benefit to the country in unifying and systematizing the general telegraph service, is well known to all observers. It is unnecessary here to recite the various steps through which one and another small or large company was brought into line. The prominent part taken by Mr. Sibley in the complicated and delicate negotiations is sufficiently attested by the fact, that upon the consummation of the great consolidations of 1866, the old Rochester party of directors came out at the head of the combined companies, and that Mr. Sibley's associate and coadjutor, Mr. J. H. Wade, became the first president of the gigantic corporation thus created.

Perhaps the most characteristic piece of work achieved by Mr. Sibley, was the construction of the line to the Pacific, which he undertook in 1861. Surprising as it may now seem, the project was derided by his associates, whose want of faith compelled him to apply to the government for assistance. Objections and difficulties were met on every hand, but he succeeded in getting a subsidy for 10 years, of $40,000 annually, and began the work of construction July 4, 1861, completing the line on the 15th of November following. Mr. Sibley may be said to have carried this work out single handed, and in no part of his career did he exhibit more of his peculiar boldness and energy. He well merited the public applause which greeted his success. In Reid's "The Telegraph in America," Mr. Sibley's characteristic business qualities are felicitously described as follows: "Mr. Sibley had large, quick broad ideas, was a splendid pioneer, had a sublime contempt for obstacles. * * * When he started on a crusade, like the Israelites of old, he blew his horn lustily until the walls fell; and took a complacent toot after they were down."

Mr. Sibley was generous in gifts to Cornell and Rochester universities. He provided for the erection of Sibley College of Mechanic Arts at the former, and for the library building of the latter. By will he left an endownent fund for an additional professorship at Cornell. His successful business life yielded him a large fortune and made him a power in the world; but he never lost sight of the true value of knowledge and of manual skill, regarding them to use his own words (quoted in an obituary by the Western Electrician) as "two most valuable possessions, which no search warrant can get at, which no execution can take away, and which no reverse of fortune can destroy."


Keywords:Hiram Sibley
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:January 24, 2011 by: Elton Gish;