When I spoke to you in 1878, my remarks were almost entirely confined to telegraphs, for at that day the telephone was not, as a practical instrument, in existence. I brought from America on that occasion the first telephones that were brought to this country. Then the practical application of electricity was applied to telegraphs, and so telegraphs formed the subject of my theme. But while in 1877 I saw a great deal to learn, and picked up a great many wrinkles, and brought back from America a good many processes, I go back there now in 1884, seven years afterward, and I do not find one single advance made - I comeback with scarcely one single wrinkle; and, in fact, while we in England during those seven years have progressed with giant strides, in America, in telegraph matters, they have stood still. But their material progress has been marvelous. In 1877, the mileage of wire belonging to the Western Union Telegraph Company was 200,000 miles; in 1884, they have 433,726 miles of wire; so that during the seven years their mileage of wire has more than doubled.
During the same period their number of messages has increased from 28,000,000 to over 40,000,000; their offices from 11,660 to 13,600; and the capital invested in their concern has increased from $40,000,000 to $80,000,000 - in fact, there is no more gigantic telegraph organization in this world that this Western Union Telegraph Company. It is a remarkable undertaking, and I do not suppose there is an administration better managed. But for some reason or other that I cannot account for, their scientific progress has not marched with their material progress, and invention has to a certain extent there ceased. There really was only one telegraphic novelty to be found in the States, and that was an instrument by Delany - a multiplex instrument by which six messages could be sent in one or other direction at the same time. It is an instrument that is dependent upon the principle introduced by Meyer, where time is divided into a certain number of sections, and where synchronous action is maintained between two instruments. This system has been worked out with great perfection in France by Baudot. We had a paper by Colonel Webber on the subject, before the Society, in which the process was fully described.
Delany, in the States, has carried the process a little further, by making it applicable to the ordinary Morse sending. On the Meyer and Baudot principle, the ordinary Morse sender has to wait for certain clicks, which indicate at which moment a letter may be sent; but on the Delany plan each of the six clerks can peg away as he chooses - he can send at any rate he likes, and he is not disturbed in any way by having any sound to guide or control his ear. The Delany is a very promising system. It may not work to long distances; but the apparatus is promised to be brought over to this country, to be exhibited at the Inventors' Exhibition next year, and I can safely say that the Post Office will give every possible facility to try the new invention upon its wires.
One gratifying effect of my visit to the telegraph establishments in America was that, while hitherto we have never hesitated in England to adopt any process or invention that was a distinct advance, whether it came from America or anywhere else, they on the other hand have shown a disinclination to adopt anything British; but they have now adopted our Wheatstone automatic system. That system is at work between New Orleans and Chicago, and New York and New Orleans - 1,600 miles. It has given them so much satisfaction that they are going to increase it very largely; so that we really have the proud satisfaction of finding a real, true British invention well established on the other side of the Atlantic.
The next branch that I propose to bring to your notice is the question of the telephone.
The telephone has passed through rather an awkward phase in the States. A very determined attempt has been made to upset the Bell patents in that country; and those who visited the Philadelphia Exhibition saw the instruments there exhibited upon which the advocates of the plaintiff relied. It is said that a very ingenious American, named Drawbaugh, had anticipated all the inventors of every part of the telephone system; that he had invented a receiver before Bell; that he had invented the compressed carbon arrangement before Edison; that he had invented the microphone before our friend Professor Hughes; and that, in fact, he had done everything on the face of the earth to establish the claims set forth. Some of his patents were shown, and I not only had to examine his patents, but I had to go through a great many depositions of the evidence given, and I am bound to confess that a more flimsy case I never saw brought before a court of law. I do not know whether I shall be libelous in expressing my opinion (I will refer to our solicitor before the notes are printed), but I should not hesitate to say that I never saw a more evident conspiracy concocted to try and disturb the position of a well-established patent.
However, I have heard that the judgment has been given as the public generally supposed it would be given; because as soon as the case was over the shares of the Bell company, which were at 150, jumped up to 190, and now the decision is given I am told that they will probably reach 290.
We cannot form a conception on this side of the Atlantic of the extent to which telephones are used on the other side of the Atlantic. It is said sometimes that the progress of the telephone on this side of the water has been checked very much by the restrictions brought to bear upon the telephone by the Government of this country. But whatever restrictions have been instituted by our Government upon the adoption of the telephone, they are not to be compared with the restrictions that the poor unfortunate telephone companies have to struggle against on the other side of the Atlantic. There is not a town that does not mulct them in taxes for every pole they erect, and for every wire they extend through the streets. There is not a State that does not exact from them a tax; and I was assured, and I know as a fact, that in one particular case there was one company - a flourishing company - that was mulcted is 75 per cent. of its receipts before it could possibly pay a dividend. Here we only ask the telephone companies to pay to the poor, impoverished British Government 10 per cent.; and 10 per cent. by the side of 75 per cent. certainly cuts but a very sorry figure.
But the truth is, the reason why the telephone is flourishing in America is that it is an absolute necessity there for the proper transaction of business. Where you exist in a sort of Turkish bath at from 90° to 100°, you want to be saved every possible reason for leaving your office to conduct your business; and the telephone comes in as a means whereby you can do so, and can loll back in your arm chair, with your legs up in the air, with a cigar in your mouth, with a punkah waving over your head, and a bottle of iced water by your side. By the telephone, under such circumstances, business transactions can be carried on with comfort to yourself and to him with whom your business is transacted. We have not similar conditions here. We are always glad of an excuse to get out of our offices. In America, too, servants and messengers are the exception, a boy is not to be had, whereas in England we get an errand boy at half a crown a week. That which costs half a crown here costs 12s. to 15s. in America; and, that being so, it is much better to pay the telephone company a sum that will, at less cost, enable your business to be transacted without the engagement of such a boy.