Friday, October 27, 2006

High tech communications

I meant to blog about this yesterday, but alas, I got too busy.

Anyway, here’s a history lesson: Oct. 26 was the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal. It was on that date in 1825 that New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton traveled on the first vessel to make the journey on the canal from Lake Erie to New York City.

Here’s the cool part that I learned yesterday…soon after Clinton departed, people in Manhattan knew he was on the way. The route was lined with cannons, spaced just within earshot of each other. They were fired, one after another, to spread the word. It took just 80 minutes for the signal to reach its destination.

Here’s how George Condon described the cannon telegraph in his book Stars in the Water, the Story of the Erie Canal
“[The] first gunner lighted the fuse … fearsome enough to be heard by the next, unseen, gunner down the line because it seemed as if the echoing boom from the northeast came so quickly as to step on the lingering reverberations of the first roar … it rolled through the country of the Mohawks, the Senecas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, and the Tuscaroras … moved east, through the Niagara Country, the Genesee Country, the Montezuma swampland, through the Mohawk Valley, past the Catskills, and down the Hudson… It took the cannon telegraph relay only one hour and twenty minutes to reach the island of Manhattan and deposit its historic word before turning about for the return relay to Buffalo.”
Telecommunications sure have come a long way.

Some other facts about the canal that was known as Clinton’s Ditch: it was 360 miles long, 40 feet wide, and 4 feet deep—just deep enough to float barges carrying 30 tons of freight. It was built by European immigrants—mostly Irish—who were paid $10 a month. They were also given whiskey, which was stored in barrels along the construction site. No mention of any mules named Sal.


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