Scientific Quackery, insulation of telegraph lines

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Telegrapher

New York, NY, United States
vol. 7, no. 14, p. 108, col. 1-2

Scientific Quackery.


IN a recent number of THE TELEGRAPHER, when referring to the appointment of Mr. GEORGE B. PRESCOTT as electrician of the Western Union Telegraph Company, we expressed a hope that it might put an end to the disgraceful management - in a scientific point of view - which has of late years served to make the electrical department of the company a laughing stock for all intelligent telegraphers, not only outside of but within the service. Those who have been in the employment of the company, however, have in most cases had the discretion to keep their opinions to themselves, as an incautious expression of any ideas on electrical subjects, not duly put up in packages and labeled at headquarters, has in many cases subjected the offender to the loss of his official head - a warning that has not been without due effect on those whose positions still remained secure.

When the electrical department of a great telegraph company is left under the arbitrary control of men whose ignorance is only equaled by their effrontery, it is but natural that they should endeavor to get rid of every person under their control who is suspected of knowing more than themselves, and that they should strive, by every means in their power, to conceal from their superiors the result of their ignorance and incompetency. We can speak from actual knowledge and observation only as far as the lines formerly owned by the American Company north of Washington are concerned. We have been acquainted with the condition of these lines for years, and without intending to be too severe, we may state what is well known to be the fact, that, notwithstanding the vast amount of money that has been spent on them, the actual working capacity, in proportion to the number of wires, is much less than it was six years ago; yet there appears to be studied and systematic efforts to conceal these facts from the Executive Committee. Reports have been cooked up, which in their deductions were essentially false. Complaints of delays and stoppages have been explained away, or the blame thrown on connecting lines, where it did not belong. In order to carry out this system, operators and managers who have been suspected of knowing too much have been removed, or transferred to some distant point. We trust that the establishment of the new bureau will put an end to these and all other similar abuses in this department.

The visit of Mr. VARLEY to this country two or three years since, and the recommendations made by him in his celebrated Report on the Western Union lines, have given rise to some theories which have been carried out to a height of absurdity which was, we venture to say, never dreamed of by their originator. He remarked that to "keep down the resistance in everything is the golden rule of telegraphy." Taken in a rational sense this is true. It is not to be supposed, however, that Mr. VARLEY meant to include insulators under his comprehensive phrase of "everything," yet the Western Union electricians have apparently so understood it. Then they took hold of the relay magnets, and reduced their resistance to a point which rendered it almost impossible to work them. Next, the main batteries were arranged in double series, to reduce their resistance, which, if possible, was a greater absurdity than the previous operations - and so on to the end of the chapter. It never seems to have occurred to these people that they were merely doctoring the symptoms, and leaving the disease untouched. Bad insulation is at the root of all the ills that afflict telegraphy. To use an expressive cant phrase, "that's what's the matter." With good insulation lines will work through almost every kind of obstruction, and work well. With bad insulation the best operators, the best instruments, batteries and conductors fail to give results which are at all satisfactory. In no department of the telegraph will a given amount of money accomplish so much good as when expended in improving insulation, and in the very point lies the fatal defect of the Western Union lines; yet it is well known that the insulation of these wires is not as good to-day as it was years ago. Lines that could formerly be worked through at a fair rate of speed in rainy weather now require repeaters to be able to work at all, and the unscientific arrangement of the relays and batteries only aggravates the evil. We think the public and the profession may congratulate themselves upon the prospect of an improvement in these things, and trust they may not be disappointed. They may feel reasonably certain, at least, that they are not likely to be much worse.


Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:September 9, 2005 by: Elton Gish;