American business and finance have always depended on rapid and reliable communication. Telecommunications began with the telegraph, expanded with the telephone, and has become a major factor in globalization as the result of the combination of fiber-optic cable, computers, and the Internet. By the twenty-first century, revenues of telecommunications industries were estimated at $1.2 trillion, and the impact of telecommunications on other industries in the global economy was many times higher than that.
Native American communication consisted of face-to-face contact, signal fires, smoke signals, and occasionally drums. Because early European colonists in North America could read and write, they could transmit written messages by foot, horse, carriage, and ship. Such methods of communication were so slow that letters and messages took weeks to get from one place to another in North America and often months to connect North Americans with their European correspondents. The only exception to these slow forms of communications were homing pigeons, which carried written messages tied to their legs. Pigeons were faster than other forms of communications but could carry only lightweight messages for short distances. Nevertheless, American armed forces continued to use pigeons as late as World War I to transmit messages when other means were not available. Meanwhile, the first telecommunication systems were being developed.
The first true telecommunications device was the
The need for rapid communications during the American
Both Alexander Graham
A telegraph operator prints a telegram in the early 1900’s.
By the end of World War II, telephones reached almost every home in the United States. In fact, because telephones were becoming an integral part of American life, they were regarded as a utility and regulated as a natural monopoly through
Small-scale wireless radio communication was first demonstrated to the National Electric Light Association by Nicolas Tesla in 1893. However, the first significant wireless radio communication was achieved in 1901, when Guglielmo
Mobile telephones–also known as
The most primitive computers were invented during the 1930’s, and large mainframe computers were used in cracking secret codes in World War II. In the fall of 1940, George Stibitz used a teletype to transmit and receive data each way between New York and Dartmouth, New Hampshire. This system used a mainframe or centralized computer and remote dumb terminals. This was the best that could be done during the 1950’s, because it was only during the 1960’s that researchers began to develop a technology that would allow packets of data to be sent to different computers without first traveling through a centralized mainframe. By the end of 1969,
Data transmission over copper lines continued to be the norm until
Although the early investors in fiber optics lost money, others bought up the fiber-optic infrastructure for pennies on the dollar and were able to offer fiber-optic services at competitive rates in underdeveloped countries. The simultaneous development of new computer software to connect computers and appropriate training linked a large number of underdeveloped countries to the developed world and had a significant impact on the globalization of technically trained people.
By 2008, almost 22 percent of the world’s people were believed to have access to the Internet. This percentage climbed to more than 75 percent in North America, 60 percent in Australia and the South Pacific, and almost 50 percent in Europe. Iceland, South Korea, and the Netherlands led the world in broadband access, with about one-quarter of the population in each country being so equipped. Fiber-optic cable, computers, and the Internet provide such powerful tools for the transmission of data that usage is likely to increase in the future. Progress in this area should involve not only trillions of dollars of profit to the telecommunications industry, but also even more trillions of dollars in a wide variety of business applications.
Agrawal, Govind P. Fiber Optic Communication Systems. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Comprehensive description of the fiber-optic communications industry. Burns, R. W. Communications: An International History of the Formative Years. Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England: Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2004. Broad study of all forms of communications, from prehistoric times to the eve of World War II. Devotes a great deal of space to the development of telegraphy and telephones. Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. National best-selling book setting forth Friedman’s view that communications interconnections in the twenty-first century are making the world “flat” in terms of the new opportunities that have opened up around the world. Gray, Charlotte. Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention. New York: Arcade, 2006. Lively biography of the primary inventor of the telephone. Smith, George David. The Anatomy of a Business Strategy: Bell, Western Electric, and the Origins of the American Telephone Industry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985. The well-known economic historian contributed this important volume to the AT&T history of the telephone series published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Temin, Peter, with Louis Galambo. The Fall of the Bell System: A Study of Prices and Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Definitive historical study of the deregulation of the telephone system that uses original documentary materials and interviews from Bell executives. Thompson, R. L. Wiring a Continent: The History of the Telegraph Industry in the United States, 1832-1866. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1972. Detailed history of the early development of telegraphy and its impact on the United States during the nineteenth century.
Alexander Graham Bell
Federal Communications Commission
Radio broadcasting industry
Television broadcasting industry