Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Too Fast for the Truth

Augusta, Maine

When the first transatlantic telegraph cable was pulled ashore in 1858, celebrations erupted across the United States. The technology that allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances began to transform society fourteen years earlier when Samuel Morse demonstrated that signals could be transmitted by wire. With regard to this latest development, the New York Times editorialized that the transatlantic telegraph was “superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth…Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes?” Nevertheless, the new cable was greeted with great excitement, marked by the ringing of church bells, torch-light parades, and a hundred-gun salute in New York City. In Augusta, Maine, a small hotel reprinted the initial telegrams on its menu the next day, reporting news of the historic event in real time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

On the Road


The gentleman on this advertising card declares, “Yes Miss, when traveling, I always drink Van Houten’s Cocoa. It is so sustaining.” This comic scene took place in the mid-1880s when the fast-growing railroads were changing the social landscape in the United States, bringing strangers together in social settings far from home.1 Rapid industrial growth also brought about the rise of a new breed of traveling salesmen called “drummers.” Distinctly different from hawkers and peddlers, the drummers were a new cultural phenomenon, the enterprising foot soldiers of capitalism, bringing its bounty to the hinterlands.2 They first appeared in the 1840s. Their numbers declined during the Civil War, but then skyrocketed in the post-war boom. By the late 1880s, there was somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 drummers in the country. They soon became part of the national lore. Five menus from their heyday provide a rare glimpse into their world of fraternal relationships and professional associations.