Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Did you know about the Information Revolution in the first half of the 19th century?

Relating to the second half of the talk, on industrialization -- the sewing machine

There is an interesting video of a talk by Merritt Row Smith on the Industrial Revolution in America. I want to focus on only the first part in which he spoke of the Information Revolution that took place here between the mid 1820s and the 1840s. He identified three major innovations that took place in that time frame:
  • First was a reorganization of the postal service'
  • Second was the introduction of rotary presses powered by steam engines that could print up to 500 pages a minute on both sides, at a much lower cost than the earlier hand operated printers; and
  • Third there was the telegraph.
I recall that the United States at the time was a protestant country, and assume that many people who had learned to read to be able to read the bible, were also ready to read other things. I also assume that one of the key results was that newspapers were more widely available and affordable. I recall reading that newspapers were exchanged by post, and the news from a paper in one town might be soon printed by a paper in another town that had received the first town's paper.

Smith points out that this was a period in which large numbers of pamphlets were published and distributed, Thus the abolitionist groups published pamphlets and distributed them not only in the north, but also into the south. The success of those efforts led to other groups to print temperance and women's suffrage pamphlets. Thus ideas for reform circulated more widely than they might have earlier in our history.

The first telegraphy line in the USA was financed by the U.S. government, and ran from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. (I wonder if the purpose was to speed news between the Congress and the port of Baltimore, which was a major port in the USA at the time, with trade with the north and south as well as with Europe. A race was run when the line was completed, with a horse and rider and a train competing with the telegraph to get a message (on the nomination of Polk for President) from Baltimore to Washington. Of course, the telegraphy won handily, and there was little more difficulty in finding private finance to string telegraph lines across the country.

The first half of the 19th century also saw the development of water transportation in the United States, including the Erie Canal and other canals. The road system was extended and improved, And, of course, with the introduction of the railroads, the improved transportation system would have greatly facilitated the functions of the postal service, and presumably the shipment of paper stock and published materials.

The world changed. More information moved across the land, and moved faster and more efficiently than ever before.

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