Telegraphers and Robber Barons

It’s very interesting how control of information and exploitation of both the government and workers by robber barons (speculators) has a direct parallel in the mid to late 1800’s to now.

Western Union was born out of a regional telegraph line, and at first was headquartered in Rochester, NY. Morse’s patent ended in 1861 and telegraphy really took off during the Civil War. The private telegraph companies were able to buy government lines on the cheap. There was government and private traffic being handled and telegraphers were in short demand. There was unchecked conflict of interest, but this was the brave New information world, and life during wartime.

Telegraphers started trade unions to improve their working conditions, but pretty much lost every fight. They were the conduit for information that made many men rich due to having first knowledge of happenings in mines especially. Copper, Gold and other lucrative ores would send news via telegraph, and this made those in the know rich. 

The robber barons were very similar to what you see in today’s stock market. People speculate and gamble based on information. Some get filthy rich. Some lose it all. It’s hard to draw the line between risk, opportunity and luck I guess.

The workers who kept the network open are paid a straight wage, far below the spoils of the speculators. But like software engineers, they had a pretty decent life. There were many others not nearly as well off.

I guess taking risk and playing paper games has been what has benefitted the few in the US. Lots of shenanigans.

I think in those times people at least weren’t as cavalier as our current ruling regime is. Robber barons in the late 1800’s were much better liars and cheaters than our current administration. Talk of “transparency” has always been nothing more than polite lying.

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