This practice of running overhead wires has great disadvantages when the wires are used for electric-lighting purposes as well as for ordinary telephone or telegraph purposes. No doubt the high-tension system can be carried out overhead with economy; but where overhead wires carrying these heavy currents exist in the neighborhood of telephone circuits, there is every possible liability to accident; and in my short trip I came across seven distinct cases of offices being destroyed by fire, of test boxes being utterly ruined, of a whole house being gutted, and of various accidents, all clearly traceable to contacts arising from the falling of overhead wires, charged with high-tension current, upon telegraph and telephone wires below. The danger is so great and damage so serious that, at Philadelphia, Mr. Plush, the electrician to the Telephone Company, has devised this exceedingly pretty cut-out. It is a little electro-magnetic cut-out that breaks the telephone circuit whenever a current passes into the circuit equal to or more than an ampere. The arrangement works with great ease.
It is applied to every telephone circuit simply, to protect the telephone system from electric light wires, that ought never to be allowed anywhere near a telephone circuit.
Fire-alarms are used in America; but in England, also, the fire systems of Edward Bright, Spagnoletti, and Higgins have been introduced, and in that respect we are in very near the same position as our friends on the other side of the Atlantic. Some members present may remember that, when I described my last visit to America, I mentioned how in Chicago the fire-alarm was worked by an electric method, and I told you a story then that you did not believe, and which I have told over and over again, but nobody has yet believed me, and I began to think that I must have made a mistake somewhere or other. So I meant, when at Chicago this time, to see whether I had been deceived myself. There was very little room for improvement, because, as I told you before, they had very near reached perfection. This is what they did: At the corner of the street where a fire-alarm box is fixed, a handle is pulled down, and the moment that handle is released a current goes to the fire-station; it sounds a gong to call the attention of the men, it unhitches the harness of the horses, the horses run to their allotted positions at the engine, it whips the clothes off every man who is in bed, it opens a trap at the bottom of the bed and the men slide down into their positions on the engine.
The whole of that operation takes only six seconds. The perfection to which fire-alarm business has been brought in the States is one of the most interesting applications of electricity there.
Of course during this visit I waited on Mr. Edison. Many of you know that a difference took place between Mr. Edison and myself, and I must confess that I felt a little anxiety as to how I should be received on the other side. It is impossible for any man to receive another with greater kindness and attention than Mr. Edison received me. He took me all over his place and showed me everything, and past differences were not referred to. Mr. Edison is doing an enormous amount of work in steadily plodding away at the electric light business. He has solved the question as far as New York is concerned and as far as central station lighting is concerned; and all we want on this side is to instill more confidence into our capitalists, to try and induce them to unbutton their pockets and give us money to carry out central lighting here.
I met another very distinguished electrician - a man who has hid his light under a bushel - a man whose quiet modesty has kept him very much in the background, but who really has done as much work as any body on that side of the Atlantic, and few have done more on this - and that is Mr. Edward Weston. He is an Englishman who has established himself in New York. He has been working steadily for years at his laboratory, and works and produces plant with all the skill and exactitude that the electrician or mechanic could desire.
Another large factory I went over was that of the Western Electric Company of Chicago, which is the largest manufactory in the States. That company has three large factories. While I was there, the manager, just as a matter of course, handed me over a message which contained an order for 330 arc lamps and for twenty-four dynamo machines. He was very proud of such an order, but he tried to make me believe that it was an every-day occurrence.
There are no less than 90,000 arc lamps burning in the States every day.
The time has passed very rapidly. I have only just one or two more points to allude to. I think I ought not to conclude without referring to the more immediate things affecting travelers generally and electricians in particular. It is astounding to come across the different experiences narrated by different men who have been on the other side of the Atlantic. One charming companion that we had on board the Parisian has been interviewed, and his remarks appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette of Tuesday last, December 9th. There he gave the most pessimist view of life in the United States. He said they were a miserable race - thin, pale faced and haggard, and rushed about as though they were utterly unhappy; and the account our friend gave of what he saw in the United States evidently shows that the heat that did not affect some of us so very much must have produced upon Mr. Capper a most severe bilious attack. Well, his experiences are not mine. Throughout the whole States I received kindnesses and attentions that I can never forget. I had the pleasure of staying in the houses of most charming people. I found that whenever you met an educated American gentleman there was no distinction to be drawn between him and an English gentleman.
His ways of living, his modes of thought, his amusements, his entertainments, are the same as ours; there is no difference whatever to be found. In Mr. Capper's case I can readily imagine that he spent most of his time in the halls of hotels, and there you do see those wild fellows rushing about; they convert the hall of the hotel into a mere stock exchange, and look just as uncomfortable as our "stags" who run about Capel Court. You may just as well enter a betting-ring and come away with the impression that the members represent English society, or that that is the most refined manner in which English gentlemen enjoy themselves.
Well, gentlemen, there are just as exceptional peculiarities here as on the other side of the water. The Americans are the most charming people on this earth. When we enter their houses and come to know them, they treat us in a way that cannot be forgotten. I noticed a very great change since I was in America before. Whether it is a greater acquaintance with them or not I cannot say, but there is an absence of that which we can only express by a certain word called "cockiness." It struck me at one time that there was a good deal of cockiness on that side of the Atlantic, that has entirely disappeared. Constant intercourse between the two countries is gradually bringing out a regular unanimity of feeling and the same mode of thought.
But there are some things in which the Americans are a little lax, especially in their history. At one of their exhibitions that I visited, for instance, there was a placard put up -
"The steed called Lightning, say the Fates, Was tamed in the United States. 'Twas Franklin's hand that caught the horse; 'Twas harnessed by Professor Morse."
Now, considering that Franklin made his discovery in 1752, and the United States were not formed till about thirty years afterward, it is rather "transmogrifying" history to say the lightning was tamed in the United States.
Again, where the notice about Professor Morse was put, they say that the instrument was invented by Morse in 1846, while alongside it is shown the very slip which sent the message, dated 1844; so that the slip of the original message sent by Morse was sent by his instrument two years before it was invented.
Again, that favorite old instrument of ours which we are so proud of, the hatchment telegraph of Cooke and Wheatstone, invented in 1837, was labeled "Whetstone and Cook, 1840," so while I am sorry to say they are loose in their history, they are tight in their friendships, and all the visitors receive the warmest possible welcome from them generally, and especially so from every member of our Society belonging to the States.A lecture delivered before the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians, London, Dec. 11, 1884.