The 19th century developments of firstly the telegraph, and later the telephone, opened a gateway to a new, closer, more interdependent world. For a country as large as the United States, with a population now scattered from east to west, the implications were tremendous. The infamous tyranny of time and distance had been conquered.
Widespread acceptance and appreciation, however, were not immediate. Both inventions met with initial scepticism, ridicule, and even elements of fear. The wisdom of twenty-first century hindsight makes such reticence seem incredible and somewhat amusing, but the very magnitude of instantaneous communication was the source of anxiety in the first recipients as much as of excitement. In an era when any form of distance communication necessarily involved travel, the advent of the US telegraph in the 1844 represented a huge shift in reality. It is hardly surprising that it took a significant period of time before initial misgivings were surmounted.
Over thirty years later the appearance of the telephone was met with similar uncertainty, although for somewhat different reasons. The acceptance of the telegraph had accustomed people to the rapidity of electric communication, but it was by then so well established that the potential benefits of the telephone were not overwhelmingly obvious. Although evoking some of the fears and superstitions associated with the early telegraph, many early views of the telephone saw it largely as an expensive toy, or an "improved speaking tube, through which orders could be sent" , usually to servants. It was to take time to cultivate appreciation for the revolutionary ability to converse with another human voice over distance.
The psychological hurdles of these two inventions affected the way in which they were established. Government hesitation reflected that of the public, and financial support was minimal - neither the telegraph nor the...