Publication: The Telegrapher
New York, NY, United States
THE PACIFIC TELEGRAPH.
The first inception of this great enterprise dates from the year 1859, when the measure was first brought to the attention of Congress. A bill in aid of the project was passed after some opposition, and proposals for the construction of the line were advertised for by Secretary Cobb. Mr. Hiram Sibley, President of the Western Union Telegraph Company, who was really the originator of the whole enterprise, put the question to the Directors of the Company, whether they would authorize proposals to be sent in; and so formidable did the undertaking appear, that it was favorably carried only by a single vote.
After long and tedious delays on the part of Secretary Cobb, the contract for building the line was awarded on the 20th September, 1860, to Mr. Sibley, President and representative of the Western Union Telegraph Company. This Company at once assumed the contract and furnished all the money expended on the line east of Salt Lake.
They at once dispatched Mr. J. H. Wade, of Cleveland, one of the Officers of the Company, to California, to confer with the parties on that side, and persons who had traversed the various routes, and determine where and how to build the line, and also to make arrangements with the Telegraph Companies in the Pacific States, or such of them as might agree, either for a business connection at the point where their lines then terminated, or to induce them to extend their wires eastward.
After various discussions the route was at last settled upon. The California Company agreed to assume the construction of the line to Salt Lake city immediately, and, if possible, to have it completed to that point as soon as the line from the eastward reached there.
It was not an easy matter to determine the best route, but it was finally determined to run via Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, and Fort Bridger; crossing the Rocky Mountains at the South Pass, and thence to Salt Lake City, and from this point via Fort Crittenden to Fort Churchill, thence crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains to Placerville and San Francisco.
Mr. Edward Creighton was appointed Superintendent of construction on the eastern part of the line. Mr. Creighton had already surveyed the proposed route and convinced himself that a line could be maintained over it.
The Directors met at Rochester, and organized the Company April 17th, 1862, by electing J. H. Wade, President, Hiram Sibley, Vice President, and E. Creighton, Superintendent; after which nearly all the wire, insulators, and other material had to be made before the construction of the line could be proceeded with.
The wire used on the line is No. 9, iron wire, galvanized, and the insulators are of glass, protected with a wooden shield, of the pattern known as the "Wade" insulator. The materials and tools were taken to Omaha, Kansas, at which point everything necessary for the expedition was gathered in readiness to start westward.
Having in mind the usual manner of construction telegraph lines, the reader will be able to judge of the labor required to set up two thousand miles of telegraph through a wilderness inhabited only by Indians and wild beasts, and a part of which was a desert plain.
Of the force employed on the Pacific side we have no knowledge - but, for the line from Omaha to Salt Lake city, Mr. Creighton had four hundred men, fitted out for a hard season's campaign, including rifles and navy revolvers for each man, with the necessary provisions, including one hundred head of cattle for beef. These were driven with the train, and killed as needed.
For the transportation of the material and provisions for this army of workmen, five hundred head of oxen and mules, and over one hundred wagons were purchased by the Company, and these not proving sufficient, other transportation was hired, making the total number of beasts of burden seven hundred oxen and one hundred pair of mules. When all was ready, the party started from Omaha, and set their first pole on the fourth of July, 1862. The line was completed to Salt Lake on the 18th of October, 1862; and the California party reached the same point six days later, on the 24th. They advanced at the rate of about ten miles per day. The whole line is upon poles, it being thought best to cross the rivers in this manner rather than by means of submarine cables. The wire weighs three hundred and fifty pounds to the mile, and the total weight of wire used between Omaha and San Francisco amounts to seven hundred thousand pounds. The posts are of good size, eighty to the mile, more than half red cedar, the balance being mostly pine.
The country is desolate of timber most of the way. The longest distance poles were hauled in one stretch was two hundred and forty miles. On the high mountains where the snow accumulates to a great depth during the winter, the posts are extra large, and sufficiently high to keep the wires above the deepest snow. They are also placed close enough together to prevent the wire being broken by an accumulation of snow and sleet.
The line is worked by Morse's instruments, usually direct from Chicago to Salt Lake, by means of intermediate "repeaters" at Omaha and Fort Laramie. At Salt Lake the messages are re-written and sent direct to San Francisco. The Stations on the line average about fifty miles apart, and the whole length of the line is inspected twice a week by persons employed for the purpose.
The cost of the line averaged about $250 per mile.
The section on the California side was built by Mr. Street, of California, at about the same rate of progress, ten miles per day.
No difficulty has been experienced from Indian depredations since the construction on the line, and it has continued to work almost uninterruptedly since its completion. Even during the late Indian difficulties, which compelled the suspension of the overland mail route, the telegraph line was not in any manner molested by the savages. This is supposed to be owing, in a great measure, to the influence of superstitious fear among them in regard to the wire, leading them to regard it as something of a supernatural character.
The total amount of business done by this line is immense, and has more than fulfilled the most sanguine expectations of its projectors.