In the fall of 1850, Mr. Alfred Vail, of Morristown, N. J., gave the writer an account oi the receipts of the telegraph at the Washington oflace during the first four days of its operation, after it had been taken under the patronage of the Government, and,at his request, Mr .Vail afterward wrote it down. That record is now before him, and from it the present statement is made, mostly in the words of the manuscript. The telegraph was first put in operation, between Washington and Baltimore, in the spring of 1844, and was shown without charge until April 1,1845. Congress, during the session of 1844-'45,made an appropriation of $8,000 to keep it in operation during the year, placing it, at the same time, under the supervision of the Postmaster General. He, at the close of the session, ordered a tariff of charges of one cent for every four characters made by or through the telegraph, appointing also the operators of the line ; Mr. Vail, for tho Washington station, and Mr. H. J. Rogers, for Baltimore. This new order of things commenced on April 1, 1845, and the object was to test the profitableness of the enterprise. The receipts for April 1-4, inclusive, were as follows : It should be borne in mind that Mr. Polk had just been inaugurated, and, as is always the case on the advent of a new Administration, the city was filled with persons seeking for office. A gentleman of Virginia, who stated that to be his errand to the city, came to the ofiice of the telegraph, on the 1st day of April, and desired to see its operation. The oath of office being fresh in the mind of the operator, and he being determined to fulfill it to the letter,the gentleman was told of the rates of charges, and that he could see its operation by sending his name to Baltimore, and having it sent back, at the rate of four letters or figures for a cent; or he might ask Baltimore regarding the weather, etc. This he refused to do, and coaxed, argued, and threatened. He said there could be no harm in showing him its operation, as that was all he wanted. He was told of the oath just taken by the incumbent, and of his intention to serve it faithfully ; and that if it was shown to him by the passage of a communication gratuitously, it would be in violation of his oath of office. He stated he had no change. In reply, he was told that if he would call upon the Postmaster General and obtain his consent that the operation should be shown him gratis, the operator would cheerfully comply to almost any extent. He stated in reply that he knew the Postmaster General, and had considerable influence with some of the officers of the Government, and that he (the operator) had better show it to him at once, intimating that he might be subjected to some peril by refusing. He was told that no regard would be paid to the extent of his influence, etc., be it great or little ; that he did Qot think he was at liberty to use the property of the Government for individual benefit when under oath to exact pay; and cited the rules of the Postoffice in relation to the carriage of letters ; but that he was willing to do as directed by the Postmaster General (Hon. Cave Johnson). The discussion lasted almost an hour, when the gentleman left the office in no pleasant mood. This was the patronage received by the Washington office on the 1st, 2d, and 3d of April. On the 4th, the same gentleman turned up " again, and repeated some of his former arguments. He was asked if he had seen the Postmaster General, and obtained his consent to his request; to which he replied he had not. After considerable discussion, which was rather amusing than vexations, he said that he had nothing less than a twenty-dollar bill and one cent, all of which he pulled out of his breeches pocket. He was told that he could have a cent's worth of telegraphing, if .that would answer, to y/hich he agreed. After his many maneuvers, and his long agony, the gentleman was finally gratified in the following manner: Washington asked Baltimore, 4, which means, in the list of signals, " What time is it ?" Baltimore replied, 1, which meant " 1 o'clock." The amount of the operation was one character each way, making two in all, which, at the rate of four for a cent, would amount to half a cent exactly. He laid down his cent, but he was told that half a cent would suffice, if he could produce the change. This he declined to do, and gave the whole cent, after which, being satisfied, he left the (Office. Such was the income of the Washington office for the first four days of April, 1845. On the 5th, twelve and a half cents were received. The 6th was the Sabbath. On the 7th, the receipts ran up to sixty cents ; on the 8th, to $1-32 ; on the 9th to $1-04. It is worthy of remark, concludes Mr. Vail, that more business was done by the merchants after the tariff was laid than when the service was gratuitous. The above details may strike many as very trifling and Undignified. So they are in themselves ; but therein consists their charm and their, relevancy to the subject in band. Deep in our nature there is a principle that loves to contrast small beginnings with grand results. History is full of this. Development is characteristic of the works of God, and of the works of man as well. Nothing great ever comes all of a sudden. To the ignorant and unobservant it may seem so, but it only seems, for it is not so. It was not thus with the commonest implement of the peasant—the plow, for instance. Only of late has this—the pioneer and the honored symbol of civilization—risen to its present advanced degree of improvement, for doubtless it has not yet reached perfection. So ol every other in the service of man. The telegraph is but a particular instance of a general law—development. To note a single point in its germ-period was all that the writer proposed to do. As a finMe to this humble scrap of history, it would seem to be eminently fit to reproduce a relation made by Professor Morse, which will explain itself. It may be proper to add, however, that the date of the midnight passage of the Telegraph bill must have been in May, 1843, as the passage of the dispatch suggested by the lady friend of Mr. Morse was on Monday, May 27,1844, which, he says, was about a year after the law was passed. Says Professor Morse: " My bill had indeed passed the House of Representatives, and it was on the calendar of the Senate ; but the evening of the last day had commenced,with more than one hundred bills to be considered and passed upon before mine could be reached. " Wearied out with the anxiety of suspense, I consulted one of my senatorial friends. He thought the chance of reaching it to be so small that he advised me to consider it as lost. In a state of mind, gentlemen, which I must leave you to imagine, I returned to my lodgings to make preparations for returning home the next day. My funds were reduced to a fraction of a dollar. In the morning, as I was about to sit down to breakfast, the servant announced that a young lady desired to see me in the parlor. It was the daughter of my excellent friend and college cliss-mate, the Commissioner of Patents (Henry L. Ellsworth) She had called, she said, by her father's permission, and ii the exuberance of her own joy, to announce to me the passage of my Telegraph bill, at midnight, but a moment before tie Senate's adjournment! " This was the turning point cf the telegraph invention in America. As an appropriate acknowledgment for the young lady'g sympathy and kindness—a sympathy which only a woman can feel and express—I promised that the first dispatch, by the first line of telegraph from Washington to Baltimore should be indited by her. To which she replied: ' Remember, now, I shall hold you to your word.' " In about a year from that tme, the line was completed and everything being prepared I apprised my young friend of the fact. A note from her inilosed this dispatch : ' WHAT HATH GCD WROUGHT ! ' " These were the first words that passed on the first completed line of electric wires ii America. None could have been chosen more in accordaice with my own feelings. It baptized the American Telegraph with the name of its author." NiTRO-GLYCEBlK.—Sometine since, in alluding to this destructive agent, we urged tha its use should be prohibited by law. This subject is now beug discussed in Europe; and in Sweden, where the article firit made its appearance for blasting purposes, its use has beei prohibited, and also in Belgium. The Scientific Bemew calls ipon the British Government to follow the same example as a truly humane and praiseworthy act.
This article was originally published with the title "First Week of the Telegraph" in Scientific American 21, 10, 146 (September 1869)