The Americans, again, adopt electrical contrivances for all sorts of domestic purposes. There is not a single house in New York, Chicago, or anywhere else that I went into, that has not in the hall a little instrument [producing one] which, by the turn of a pointer and the pressing of a handle, calls for a messenger, a carriage, a cab, express wagon (that is, the fellow who looks after your luggage), a doctor, policeman, fire-alarm, or anything else as may be arranged for. The little instrument communicates to a central office not far off, and in two minutes the doctor, or messenger, or whatever it may be, presents himself.
For fire-alarms and for all sorts of purposes, domestic telegraphy is part and parcel of the nature of an American, and the result was that when the telephone was brought to him, he adopted it with avidity. On this side of the Atlantic domestic telegraphy is at a minimum, and I do not think any one would have a telephone in his house if he could help it.
When you want a thing, you must pay for it. The Americans want the telephone, and they pay for it. In London people grumble very much at having to pay £20 to the Telephone Company for the use of a telephone. I question very much whether £20 a year is quite enough; at any rate, it is not enough if the American charge is taken as a standard. The charge in New York is of two classes - one for a system called the law system, which is applied almost exclusively for the use of lawyers, which is £44 a year; the other being the charge made to the ordinary public, and which will compare with the service rendered in London, which is charged for at £35 a year, against £20 a year in London. The charge in Chicago is £26 a year; in Boston, Philadelphia, and a great many other places it is £25 a year. At Buffalo a mode of charging by results is adopted; everybody pays for each oral message he sends - every time he uses the telephone he pays either four, five, or six cents, according to the number for which he guarantees. Supposing any one of us wanted a telephone at Buffalo, the company will supply it under a guarantee to pay for a minimum of 500 messages per annum.
If 1,000 messages are sent, the charge is less pro rata, being six cents, if I remember rightly, for each message under 500, and five cents up to 1,000 messages, four cents per message over 1,000 messages; and so everybody pays for what work he does. It is payment by results. The people like the arrangement, the company like it because they make it pay, and the system works well. But I am bound to say that, up to the present moment, Buffalo is the only city in the United States where that method has been adopted.
The instruments used in the States are no better - in fact, in many cases they are worse - than the instruments we use on this side of the Atlantic. I have heard telephones in this country speak infinitely better than anything that I have heard on the other side of the Atlantic. But they transact their business in America infinitely better than we do; and there is one great reason for this, which is, that in America the public itself falls into the mode of telephone working with the energy of the telegraph operator. They assist the telephone people in every way they can; they take disturbances with a humility that would be simply startling to English subscribers; and they help the workers of the system in every way they can. The result is, that all goes off with great smoothness and comfort. But the switch apparatus used in the American central offices is infinitely superior to anything that I have ever seen over here, excepting at Liverpool.
A new system has just been brought out, called the "multiple" system, which has been very lately introduced. I saw it at many places, especially at Indianapolis, at Boston, and at New York, where three exchanges were worked by it with a rapidity that perfectly startled me. I took the times of a great many transactions, and found that, from the moment a subscriber called to the moment he was put through, only five seconds elapsed; and I am told at Milwaukee, where unfortunately I could not go, but where there is a friend of ours in charge, Mr. Charles Haskins, who is one of our members, and he says he has brought down the rate of working to such a pitch that they are able to arrange that subscribers shall be put through in four seconds.
You will be surprised to learn that there are 986 exchanges at work in the United States. There are 97,423 circuits; there are nearly 90,000 miles of wire used for telephonic purposes; and the number of instruments that have been manufactured amounts to 517,749. Just compare those figures with our little experience on this side of the Atlantic. I have a return showing the number of subscribers in and about New York, comprising the New Jersey division, the Long Island division, Staten Island, Westchester, and New York City, and the total amounts to 10,600 subscribers who are put into communication with each other in the neighborhood of New York alone; and here in England we can only muster 11,000. There are just as many subscribers probably at this moment in New York and its neighborhood as we have in the whole of the United Kingdom.
I am sorry to delay you so long. I have very few more points to bring before you. I spoke only last week so much about the electric light that I have very little to say on that point. High-tension currents are used for electric lighting in America, and all wires are carried overhead along the streets. A more hideous contrivance was probably never invented since the world was created than the system of carrying wires overhead through the magnificent streets and cities in America. They spend thousands upon thousands of pounds in beautifying their cities with very fine buildings, and then they disfigure them all by carrying down the pavements the most villainous-looking telegraph posts that ever were constructed. The practice is carried to such an extent, that down Broadway in New York there are no less than six distinct lines of poles; and through the city of New York there are no less than thirty-two separate and distinct companies carrying all their wires through the streets of the city. How the authorities have stood it so long I cannot make out. They object to underground wires - why, one cannot tell. It is something like taking a horse to the pond - you cannot make him drink.
So it is with these telephone companies: the public of America and the Town Councils have been trying to force the telephone and telegraph companies to put their wires underground, but they are the horses that are led to the pool, and they will not drink. It is said that the Town Council of Philadelphia have issued most stringent orders that on the first of January next, men with axes and tools are to start out and cut down every pole in the city. It is all very well to threaten; but my impression is that any member of Town Council or any individual of Philadelphia who attempts to do such a thing will be lynched by the first telephone subscriber he meets.