Since the assurance was first fully felt that the electric telegraph was, in fact, a means whereby messages could be cheaply, safely, and regularly transmitted with the speed of lightning itself to all parts of the civilized world, its ultimate use as an adjunct to the postal departments of this and other countries has been confidently predicted by far-sighted men. The carrying of mails, as well as the coining of money, is a matter which all modern governments have kept under their own control. They are exceptions to the general order of business, wherein individual enterprise is allowed full scope. There are various and valid reasons why any commonwealth should retain the monopoly of these affairs, which we need not here discuss. The wisdom of such a policy has long been acknowledged by statesmen and political economists. The analogies existing between the method of transmitting matter by the mail service, and the telegraphic system, are also obvious, and the influence is almost unavoidable, that if it be a wise policy for the governments to monopolize the one it would be wise for them to monopolize the other. A bill for the establishment of a postal telegraph was introduced in the last Congress, and another is now under consideration, having been read twice and referred to the proper committee. While we are strongly in favor of the establish ment of postal telegraphs connecting the principal cities in the United States, we are not altogether pleased with the bill under consideration. This bill provides for the incorporation of a company to be called the " United States Postal Telegraph Company," with a capital of $400,000. This company is to build lines to connect within six months the cities of Washington and New York, Boston and Chicago, and within two years to connect St. Louis with New Orleans. It is further proposed to establish telegraphic communication with every city of five thousand inhabitants and upwards within three years from the comple* tion of the contract. The offices are to be located in every city at the postoffice, and also at the railroad stations. Messages are to be received at all the general and sub-offices and street letter-boxes. These messages are to be prepaid by stamps. Messages are to be delivered free, as letters are now delivered, within certain limits, and to be transmitted by mail from telegraph stations to towns too small to have a station of their own. The bill also provides for the sending of postal money orders by telegraph. The tariff is to be one cent per word for distances not exceeding five hundred miles, the smallest message tobe twenty words, or if less than that number, to be paid for as twenty words. While the increased facilities offered by this plan are very great, we are not disposed to view with favor the organization of a company to carry it out. The plan, if worthy of adoption at all, is worthy of being put in operation by the Government itself. Such a scheme might be initiated per* haps with the capital named ($400,000) but it could never be carried out without additional capital. If Congress should see fit to sanction this scheme, it should not be done without the strongest guarantees that the spirit of the contract will be carried out, and should look to it, that, in granting such a franchise, it does not impose upon the country at large a system that places the public at the mercy of scheming capitalists.
This article was originally published with the title "The Postal Telegraph Bill" in Scientific American 20, 18, 281 (May 1869)