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Financing telegraph infrastructures (1850-1900)


  • Simone FARI



In the late 1830s the first electric telegraph models were patented both in Europe and the United States, but it was only in the following decade that the first distance telegraph transmissions were started up, mainly with the aim of supporting the railway lines. In fact, existed two kind of telegraphy: 1) land telegraphy, 2) submarine telegraphy. In the first case, the telegraph infrastructures were easy to built and cheap. For this reason, land telegraphy was managed by the state in all European countries (except United Kingdom, until 1869, when the telegraph companies were nationalized). On the other hand, submarine cables were difficult to built and very expensive. Besides, in order to work, submarine telegraphy had to solve some important issues: 1) building a well insulated cable; 2) transporting the cable with a ship; 3) laying the cable on the bottom of the sea; 4) communicating at great distance. Only Great Britain had the technology to build and lay a submarine cable but this was a very expensive enterprise. In other words, in the second half of XIX century two kinds of telegraph financing existed: 1) the state directly financed the development of land telegraph; 2) the business-men, as a stock-holder, invested in the submarine telegraph companies, which represented a high market risk but it also represented a big return. In the paper one will concentrate on the Great Britain case where many connections existed among these two kinds of telegraph financing. For example, the most influencing business lobbies invested directly in the most important submarine telegraph companies while, the same lobbies tried to influence on the government decisions about the national telegraph network development (which was public).Starting from the British case of study (Great Britain was the only country where telegraph service was managed either by private companies or by public administration) one will describe who, why and how invested in telegraph infrastructures in the second half of XIX century.

Suggested Citation

  • Simone FARI, 2012. "Financing telegraph infrastructures (1850-1900)," Departmental Working Papers 2012-21, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Universit√† degli Studi di Milano.
  • Handle: RePEc:mil:wpdepa:2012-21

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    Telegraphy; Infrastructure; Telecommunications;

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N70 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913


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