The First Electric Talking Boxes - Used in 1851.
by William Hubbard

[From a typescript contempory with the ms.]

     Dr. S. D. Cushman was inventor of several electric devices, the fire alarm system, etc.  He was a telegraph operator for the government in the Civil War.  He had a factory in Racine, Wis. for the manufacture of cable lightning rods.
     While constructing a telegraph line from Racine, they were troubled a great deal with lightning, as a good deal of the route was through a low, swampy district and the dampness made the poles a partial escape for the lightning and consequently caused the shattering of the poles - lightning arresters were not as well known in those days as now - consequently a device was made which was practically a trap to catch lightning which was constructed as follows;

     Two copper discs were placed in close proximity to each other so that lightning could jump across and escape to the ground.  A is an electric magnet, B a permanent magnet a trifle longer than the electric magnet; C is a wood block insulating permanent magnet from the electro magnet.
     If the lightning did jump across the space on its way to the ground, it would momentarily charge the electro magnet and attract the metal disc down - and in contact with the permanent magnet  - and the permanent magnet would hold it down, they would know then that the lightning had passed over the grounded line and had been arrested as designed.

     There were several of these boxes connected on the line at different points preferably low, swampy places having the most dampness.
     While adjusting one of these boxes a sound was heard as coming from the box.  The sound resembled the croaking of a frog and on going over to another distant box, they discovered that there were frogs, all about that box.  In experimenting and hallowing on the box disc they discovered that they would be heard at the other box or boxes on the line, and from that, the boxes were used as "talking boxes", not only on that telegraph line, but between the shops and other places.  In trying to have them adopted in connection with fire alarm boxes, the voice was not loud enough and were not adopted.  Cushman did not apply for a patent on them.
     All evidence and testimonials of the above are on record in the United States District Court in Chicago.
William Hubbard

[Typist unknown]

Return to 5-18-01

Return to main page