GREAT MEN OF THE KEY
Prominent Canadians Who Started as Telegraph Operators
FLOYD S. CHALMERS
FEW years ago a passenger train running from Toronto to the Muskoka Lakes district arrived at a small junction point after the station master had gone home for the night. The “Stop” signal was up and the train could not pass by the station until the semaphore was lowered or until a message was -eceived from the chief despatcher to “Go Ahead.” But the station master was also the local telegraph operator and unless he could be found it seemed that the train crew would have to bank the fires in the engine and wait on the siding until he arrived the next morning to give them the “All Clear” signal.
It was a ridiculous predicament. The train crew were annoyed but not nearly as much as the passengers, most of whom were Toronto business men on their way to their summer cottages for the week-end. All were annoyed except one sharp gentleman, who prowled around the station platform until he found a window that could be forced open. Then he crawled in and hunted for the code book. Finding this, he sat down at the telegraph key and “cut in” on the private conversation the chief despatcher was carrying on with a friend at the other end of the line.
“We’re tied up here about twenty miles from civilization. Give us orders to go ahead and do it quick,” was what he wired.
The order was sent by the bewildered despatcher and, while the conductor and engineer of the passenger train were still trying to figure out how to get under way without violating railway discipline, the resourceful passenger crawled out of the station window and handed them the despatched orders.
This was E. R. Wood, president of the Central Canada Loan Company and the Dominion Securities Corporation, and one of Canada’s big men of finance. And it was the first time he had touched a telegraph instrument in twentyfive years. Mr. Wood had not lost his “touch.”
Operators Who Have “Come Up”
' I 'HERE are dozens of Canada’s most prominent business men who were telegraph operators in their early days. More will be told about some of them later, but let it be recorded here that it would be hard to find one of these old-time telegraph operators who has lost his touch. Probably every one of the big Canadian business men who started out in life as operators could send a message in an emergency to-day.
And just as the telegraph operator never loses his touch, so he retains for life his enthusiasm for his first profession, his love of the old associations and his pride in all that is connected with the telegraph. There is a certain sense of the miraculous and the mysterious about the telegraph that permeates the character of anyone who has ever tapped a key; or listened to a message being ticked off the wire. Possibly it is because of this that a man who becomes an adept at the key never forgets how to operate it.
A prominent Toronto business man who was a telegraph operator over twenty years ago states that he has many interesting experiences because of his knowledge of the Morse Code. At one time he had an appointment with a buyer from a distant city, to whom he was endeavoring to sell goods amounting to a considerable total. He was anxious to get the order and talked for over an hour with the buyer, who seemed undetermined. He promised immediate delivery of the goods, and cut his price very low but could not get the order; nor would the buyer definitely refuse to give him the order.
After a lengthy discussion the Toronto man invited the buyer to lunch at a nearby hotel. In the lobby, the buyer stopped at the telegraph booth and gave a message to the clerk and then both started for the dining-room. But on the way they met a third friend, who stopped to talk to
While they were talking the old-time operator heard the operator in the adjoining booth sending the message that had just been handed in by the buyer.
Translating the dots and dashes he heard:
“A’s price is a little higher than the other party’s, but he can promise delivery immediately. What shall I do? Wire immediately Standard Hotel.” The buyer was wiring his home office to solve his problem.
The Toronto business man had information that was invaluable to him. He knew that he would only have to shave his price a little bit more to take the order away with him. He was just about to figure out how much less profit he was willing to take and to quote a new figure for his goods, when the unwritten law of the telegraph flashed into his mind. He had no right to take advantage of the information that had come to him. Moreover he did not take advantage of it; he put his price book back in his pocket, and determined to take his chance against his competitor.
It was a sacrifice, for he could have “clinched” the order then and there
by cutting another little three or four per cent, off his price. But the code of honor of the telegraph would not allow him to do it.
The result was that he did not get all of the order. The firm instructed the buyer to purchase enough goods from him for immediate delivery to keep their plant running until the competitor was in a position to make delivery at the lower price.
It is this strictness of the operator’s code of morals, combined with the wide opportunities of the profession, that is the reason so many boys who start out in life as knights of the key become successful business men.
Two Boys Who Played at Operating
^0 more interesting business romance has had its plot f * laid in Canada than the story of Thomas Ahearn and Warren Y. Soper of Ottawa. For forty years the firm of Ahearn and Soper has operated in Canada, solving prob-
lems of electrical transmission, building the largest electric works in the country and helping to provide light and heat to thousands of Canadian people and power to hundreds of Canadian industries.
To Thomas Ahearn and Warren Y. Soper belongs the credit for bringing electric cars to Canada. When in the late eighties they founded the Ottawa Electric Railway Company and proceeded to astound the citize s of the Capital by operating street cars with power drawn through overhead wires, they were the pioneers in their field. But Ahearn and Soper believe in being pioneers; they were also first in operating street cars in winter.
Canada is a country where the streets are cove ed with snow and overhead wires are coated with ice and sleet for almost half the year, and the early street car operators in the country soon learned that operating their lines in winter was a far different proposition from operating them in the summer. It just couldn’t be done; at least, that was the conclusion that a great many people reached.
But Thomas Ahearn and Warren Y. Soper refused to take that view of things and they soon installed new systems of operation to make it possible to run their cars in the winter as well, and Canada has had street car service 365 days in the year ever since.
It was a telegraph wire that brought these two men of vision together. When they were boys playing in the streets of Ottawa, their natural mechanical inclinations led them to construct a crude telegraph system for their own personal use. Their homes were only a few doors apart and they strung a bolt of copper wire across the neighbors’ housetops and connected their two attic windows. And with a more or less efficient pair of telegraph instruments they were able to send mes-
sages back and forth at will.
The fascination of the boyhood plaything grew upon them and both became telegraph operators in Ottawa. Soper progressed remarkably. From operating a branch line wire he gradually worked up to heavier circuits and in time was on the fastest and most important wire in the main office in Ottawa of the Dominion Telegraph Company. In his early twenties he was manager of the office and later became superintendent of the system.
Thomas Ahearn jumped from amateur to professional telegraphing when he was fifteen years of age. One morning he walked into the branch office of the Montreal Telegraph Company in Ottawa and told the manager that he was willing to deliver their messages “gratis” if they would let him try his hand at telegraphing. He was taken on and in six months was an operator. He was a fine operator too, and within a year and a half went to New York with the Western Union. When he went he left behind him the repu ation of being the jolliest operator on the line.
One night the girl operator at a small rural station in Quebec wired to him:
“What do you call that little green instrument where the wire goes in?"
And a few minutes later the trouble department at the central station was receiving a pathetic complaint from, the girl operator:
“The aurora borealis is out of order. What shall I do?”
When Ahearn arrived in New York he heard that a subscription was being taken up to erect a monument in Central Park to Professor Samuel Morse. Five dollars of his first week’s pay went towards that monument.
Ahearn only put in a few years at the telegraph key. He went into the telephone business in Ottawa and attwenty-five was manager of the Ottawa office of the Bell Telephone Company.
It was in 1882 that the partnership of the two young men was consummated under the firm name of Aheam and Soper. Mr. Soper is still, as then, the president and. Mr. Ahearn the vice-president. In addition Mr. Soper is president of the Dunlop Tire Company, and a director of many other large concerns. Mr. Aheam is president. of the Ottawa Gas Company, the Ottawa Light, Heat and Power Company, the Ottawa Electric Railway and half a dozen other large corporations.
But, while busy with the affairs of these big institutions, the two men still retain their interest in the work they started out with in life. They have a private telegraph; wire connecting their homes and offices, and they transacta great deal of personal and private business by means of the Morse Code every day.
The Psychic Powers of Soper
'TPHEIR knowledge of the Morse Code enabled them to -I mystify a group of their friends not long ago. Thetwo men were with a company of friends and Mr. Soper was conducting a few experiments in so-called mind reading. He so convinced one of the company of his strange powers that this gentleman volunteered the guess that Mr. Soper was a psychic.
To convince them of this Mr. Soper said he would try another experiment. He would leave the room; someone would suggest a word and on his, Soper’s, return he would be able to tell what word had been thought of.
Mr. Soper and Mr. Ahearn did not exchange a single word, but they glanced at each other as the former went out and both understood.
A few minutes later he returned.
“We have decided upon a very difficult word and if you can guess it you are undoubtedly a mind reader,” stated the firm believer in Mr. Soper’s psychic powers.
The whole company placed their hands upon their amateur “medium’s” head, and thought intently of the selected word. Mr. Aheam’s index finger gently and silently telegraphed a message to his partner.
“The word you have chosen is ‘Pi’,” said Mr. Soper and the supernatural manifestation was complete.
Why Operators Succeed Later
HAVING made such a wonderful success out of a business career begun as telegraph operator it is not surprising that Mr. Soper should consider the profession one that provides the utmost in business training for a young man. Telling me about what he learned at the telegraph key, he said :
“A telegraph operator unconsciously absorbs a knowledge of business and world affairs. Telegrams having to do with large matters are constantly passing through his hands and, while he may not and as a matter of fact usually does not remember their details, he cannot avoid being educated by them. If he leaves his occupation to enter other pursuits in life he finds that his experience as a telegraph operator has been of great practical value to him.
“He learns lesson that he
never forgets ; that a mistake made by an operator in the transmission or receipt of a telegram is a reflection upon his ability, and that his reputation among his fellow operators goes down or up in proportion to his errors or the absence of them. Surely a life lesson, is it not?”
The Relenting of Sir William
THE late Sir William Van Horne was a telegraph operator on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad before he came to Canada to build the C.P.R. Van Horne was a stern disciplinarian as many men who worked under him can tell, but he never forgot his own early exper-
iences on the wire. Every telegraph operator on the Canadian Pacific Railway was his brother. And his genuine love of all telegraph operators once led him to relent when he should have dismissed one erring telegrapher.
The incident happened in the year 1885, the year of the Northwest Rebellion. The operator who figures in the story is living to-day; he is still fingering the Morse Code in a Toronto brokerage office, and for that reason we will not call him by his real name.
Let him be Bill Stump.
Bill Stump was the operator at a little construction
station on the north shore of Lake Superior when the Canadian Pacific Railway was linking up its Western and its Eastern lines.
The line was not finished and there were no trains running past the station. It was a mighty lonely existence for Bill but he did not object, until his supply of “grub” began to run low. He sent a message down the line to “send up a supply of food,” but the construction gangs were all working at another part of the line and no supply train came. Evidently the superintendent could not see the economic advantage of sending a special train ninety miles to feed one lone operator.
At the end of about six weeks,
he ate rice three times a day until he felt like a Chinaman. One day he got down to his last cup of rice. He couldn't leave his post and he was getting ready to carve up his boots to eat, when word came that a train would pass through that night, carrying a regiment of soldiers, returning from the Northwest rebellion. Stump was elated; he brought out his red lantern, polished it up, and when he received word that the train was nearing his station he lit the lantern and put it on the track.
The troop train came whizzing along the lines, and stopped against the red lantern. The conductor, the engineer and the colonel in charge of the troops rushed down to Bill’s platform and asked what he meant by stopping their train. They demanded that he take the lantern off the track and give them the signal to go ahead.
“Not until I get a supply of grub,” said Bill.
But the colonel’s pride had been touched by what he termed “this rank outrage” and he refused to give Bill any “grub.” He ordered the conductor to go ahead.
‘Tm sorry. We cannot go ahead until that lantern is taken off the track," said the conductor. “Moreover there is not a man within ninety miles who has authority to take that lantern off the track except this operator.” Fuming and swearing, the colonel ordered Bill to get what he wanted out of the commissary. Bill loaded up his stationhouse with three months’ provisions and gave the signal for the train to move ahead.
Of course the matter was reported to Montreal. Bill
knew he would be reported and expected to be dismissed as soon as he could be relieved. Two months later he got word that Mr. Van Horne would be coming down on an inspection trip. He prepared for the worst.
Van Horne’s train came along and the great railroad builder jumped out and stalked up to the station window.
“Are you the operator who stopped Col. Blank's train?” he demanded. Bill admitted the allegation.
“There was a racket about it in Montreal,” said Van Horne. Then he leaned over and whispered in Stump’s ear. “Shake,” he said, “that colonel’s an old enemy of
How John J. Seitz Started
IT seems a long way from the telegraph to the typewriter, but it was the telegraph that led John J. Seitz to his present position as head of the United Typewriter Company of Canada. Back in the eighties, when Jack Seitz was a sixteen-year-old, raw-boned, awkward school-boy, he learned to manipulate a telegraph key and became an operator, in Bruce county.
Then he decided to come to the city.
Toronto was a big city even in those days, and especially for this “green” country boy—the expression is his own —who had never been outside of a small village in his life. He soon discovered that the city was much different from the honest country hamlet.
“That was when I first discovered that there were dishonest people in the
fVhy Operators Succeed
IF and a boy asked of sixteen me what or line seventeen of work came I would to me to-day advise him to take up I would tell him to be a telegraph operator. In the first place, the constant sending of important messages gives him a wonderful opportunity to study the currents of business, and the underlying motives that mould men’s characters. The information that comes to him makes his brain a storeroom of knowledge. The good telegraph operator keeps his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. He has to do this, for his position makes it necessary for him to learn to keep secrets.
There is an iron discipline in every organization too that moulds the operator’s character. The hours are long, the duties require eternal vigilance but the reward is great for the man who is more than a machine at his work.
JOHN J. SEITZ.
Photographs by International Press, Toronto.
world,” Mr. Seitz told me the other day.
“I was on the train from Durham to Toronto when a book agent came through selling his books, the lurid ‘Diamond Dick’ type of novels. The books were fifty cents apiece, and as I only had fifty cents in my pocket I did not feel inclined to purchase. But the agent was persistent and he held his books close to my face so that I could see them.
“There was the comer of a dollar bill projecting from one of the books, and it seemed that my first chance at high finance had arrived. For my fifty cents I could buy that book and the dollar bill.
“But cautiousness overcame avidity and sensing something wrong I refused to buy even the book with the dollar bill in it.
“The book agent looked atme, laughed and said: ‘You’re not as green as you look, lad,’ and he opened the book to show me how he clipped the end off a dollar bill, pasted it on the end of a page to make it look like an entire note and tried to fool the rustics.”
Seitz entered the service of the Great Northwestern in Toronto and after three months of it he was sent to Hamilton, where he was eventually put on the Associated Press wire, handling despatches from the Washington and Quebec circuits.
In those days typewriters were a novelty and the long press despatches had to be written out by hand as they came over the wire, a tedious and tiring task when one had to sit on the wire for eight or ten hours without a break. After a few years of it, Seitz got hold of a typewriter, one of the few then in existence and taught himself to write the messages as they came over the wire. Nowadays all press matter is written direct on a typewriter at the receiving end, but when Seitz tried it only one other man in Canada had taught himself the trick—Barney Mason, who later became a famous character in the Montreal newspaper world.
With no service shops for typewriter repairs Seitz had to do all his own work at tinkering with the machine, and soon knew every part and set of parts by heart. He became
interested in the development of typewriters, and when he heard of the “Jewett” machine which was then being put on the market he wrote to the inventor and asked for the Hamilton and Toronto agency. Jewett gave it to him and Seitz began to sell typewriters as a side line.
A few months of this and Seitz heard of a still more nearly perfect typewriter that was about to be marketed by a man named Underwood. He went to the United States in an endeavor to locate Mr. Underwood and found him tinkering with his machine in New York.
Seitz immediately asked for the privilege of selling the machines in Toronto as soon as they were put on the market, and, when John T. Underwood assented, there was formed a close connection that has existed ever since. John T. Underwood has no more loyal business associate than John J. Seitz, who controls the Canadian market for the Underwood machine, and who is himself head of a big business that grew from his small side-line agency.
Mr. Seitz ascribes his success in life to his early experience as a telegraph operator.
“If a boy sixteen or seventeen came to me to-day and asked me what line of work I would advise him to take up I would tell him to be a telegraph operator. In the first place, the constant sending of important messages gives him a wonderful opportunity to study the currents of business, and the underlying motives that mould men’s characters. The information that comes to him, makes his brain a store-room of knowledge. The good telegraph operator keeps his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. He has to do this, for his position makes it necessary for him to
necessary for him to
learn to keep secrets.
“There is an iron discipline in every organization too that moulds the operator’s character. The hours are long, the duties require eternal vigilance but the reward is great for the man who is more than a machine at his work.”
Telegraphing in the Old Days
DROFESSOR SAMUEL MORSE invented the 1 telegraph instrument in 1835. It was a few years before its commercial value began to be really recognized and it was twelve years before Canada began to
use the telegraph instrument in an extensive way commercially. There is no one living to-day who operated a telegraph instrument in Canada when it was first introduced into this country. But R. F. Easson, the retired press superintendent of the Great Northwestern Telegraph Company, entered the business two years afterwards and has seen more telegraph history made than any other man in Canada.
Let us hear his story in his own words as he told it to me:
“I am 82 years of age and the oldest living Canadian telegrapher. I engaged with the Montreal Telegraph Company as office boy in 1849, over seventy years ago.
The Montreal Telegraph Com-
pany opened up in Toronto in 1847, so that the ‘Electric Telegraph,’ as it was then called, had been in operation in that city only two years when I made my debut.
“In those days all the officers of Canadian telegraph companies were Americans. John Parsons was in charge of the Toronto office when I started, but in 1850 he resigned and was succeeded by H. P. Dwight. He also was an American. The first general superintendent of Canadian telegraphs, Mr. O. S. Wood, a pupil of Professor Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, was also an American.
“By 1851 I was considered a pretty fair operator and when the manager at Oshawa was granted two weeks’ holiday I was sent down to take charge of the office during his absence. There were no railroads in those days and I had to make the journey by the stage coach that left Toronto at 12 o’clock every day for Montreal. That was my first important job but it only lasted two weeks.
“In those primitive days the newspapers sent representatives to the telegraph office to copy such meagre news as was received over the wires. On these occasions Hon. George Brown, or his brother Gordon, frequently represented the Globe, which was only published three times a week. Hugh Scobie or Thomas Holmes copied the news for the Colonist and William McDougall for the North American.
“Reading by sound was not then thought possible and. the press reports were recorded on a tape that ran through the receiving instrument. These reports were read to the newspapermen as they sat, pencil in hand, around a table in the middle of the operating room. It was part of Mr. Dwight’s duty to read these reports to the press men. "This system was continued until about 1854, when the telegraph company undertook to copy the reports on manifold paper, which had just been discovered, and furnish a copy-to each paper entitled to the service.
"But even such an arrangement was incomplete for only American and foreign news was reported. Specials were unknown in those days and if anything unusual occurred at some outlying point the telegraph company was approached and pleaded with, to obtain particulars.
Sometimes the manager acquiesced and sometimes not, but eventually all operators were instructed to report events of general interest in their respective towns, being careful not to send anything calculated to promote private interests or having a disturbing political tendency..
The reports were to bestrictly impartial and news concerning the demise of prominent men, disastrous fires, fatal accidents, etc., were particularly requested.
“To the Toronto Globe belongs the distinction of being the first newspaper in Canada to receive special despatches. These were sent from Montreal by Thomas Sellers, editor of a paper called the Echo. By and by other papers followed the example of the Globe and had correspondents in all the larger cities. . . . C .. _
“In 1853, my family, decided to move to Chicago and armed with an excellent recommendation from Mr. Dwight I went with them. In order to reach Chicago we embarked on the steamer ‘Chief Justice Robinson’ at Gome’s wharf at the foot of Yonge Street, crossed to Lewiston, thence by stage to Buffalo, from Buffalo to Detroit by boat, to Chicago by Michigan Central railway, which was then being built but was not quite finished. We were dumped on the prairie some miles out and taken into the city by wagon.
“At that time Chicago was very little larger than Toronto and each city had about 20,000 people. There were but six telegraph operators in the city, which is now one of the world’s greatest telegraph centres.
“I presented my credentials to Ezra Cornell, the man who was the most prominent promoter of the telegraph in the West. He employed me at once. Mr. Cornell later went East and founded Cornell University.
“I worked in several different offices in the West at the time. While in the Chicago office I took the first Presidential message ever sent to the West by wire. The Chicago Tribune arranged for the report. The wire worked badly but we got a pretty fair summary of the report.
I remember what a relief it was for me to get the signature ‘Franklin Pierce’ and ‘30’ on the report.
“After a few years in the West I returned to Toronto.
I remember that in those days there was only one postman in the whole city, and it was my province to deliver all messages received. When I was belated on a long trip to the Fort or Garrison Common, Mr. Dwight delivered the messages. The officers at the fort were generous and usually gave a York shilling, 12J-4 cents, to the bearer of a message they received.
“In 1850, the first Atlantic cable having failed, the Montreal Telegraph Company, at the earnest solicitation of the New York Associated Press, extended their wires to Father Point on the Lower St. Lawrence, there to intercept the incoming ocean steamships and obtain the latest European news and forward it to New York in advance of the arrival of the steamers at Quebec. pfc“I was appointed to the management of the Father Point office and in addition to my duties in that connection I also acted as lighthouse-keeper and agent for the Allan Steamships Company. When a vessel was due at Father Point our boatmen were constantly on the lookout day and night and long before she arrived opposite the Point, no matter how boisterous the weather, our hardy and intrepid boatmen were out in the stream ready to board her and secure the news. The news despatches were enclosed in a tin box shaped like a roll of music, so that the messages would float if it should be necessary to th row the box into the sea.
“For eight years Father Point was the most important marine station for the handling of European news and it was only shorn of itá importance in 1866 when the Atlantic cable was finally laid. Then I returned to Toronto. In 1881 I was appointed superintendent of the press service of the company and remained in charge of that work until 1910, when I retired after having been engaged 61 years in the telegraph business.’’
Some Veterans of the Key
MR. H. P. DWIGHT, who is mentioned by Mr.
Easson, died only a few years ago and up to that time he was head of the Great Northwestern Telegraph Company. He was born in the game and grew up with it. He used to recall the time when he and perhaps one or two others comprised the entire staff of the Montreal Telegraph Company and when the wire was interrupted he had to go out and repair it. Dwight was a pupil of the late O. S. Wood, also mentioned by Mr. Easson as the founder of.the company. Wood also lived to be very old, dying but .a few years ago. He had been a pupil of Professor Morse and studied with Ezra Cornell.
The late Hon. George Cox was a telegrapher at Peterborough, Ontario, and it was in his little store that E. R. Wood learned what he knew of the business. When George Cox came to Toronto to found the Canada Life Assurance Company and the many other big financial institutions with which he was connected, Mr. Wood came with him, and later became one of the greatest men in Canadian finance. He is still recognized as such, and one can judge the extent of the respect and regard felt for his knowledge of financial affairs when it is recalled that he was chosen chairman of the Dominion Executive Committee in Canada’s Victory Loans.
Undoubtedly the oldest telegraph operator still in the profession anywhere in ^Canada is Edwin Pope, who has been the head of the Government telegraph service on the. St. Lawrence for the past 35 years. Mr. Pope started in as a messenger boy in 1854—sixty-six years ago—and he becahie ah operator shortly after. He worked with the Montreal Telegraph Company, founded by O. S. Wood, at Quebec, from 1854 to 1862; spent a year in the Toronto office and then went to Watertown, New York, as superintendent of the Northern New York district. While there he had supervision of a small section of the Western Union lines, and it is his proudest boast to this day that he was connected with that great organization in its early
The year before Confederation, Edwin Pope returned to Canada a& superintendent of the Eastern district, and for many years he was responsible for the entire development of the telegraph systems of Eastern Canada. The first telegraphs constructed by the Dominion Government to serve the shipping in the St. Lawrence were built and operated by the old Montreal Company, and when they were taken over by the Government in 1885, Mr. Pope took up the dual task of superintending the big network of lines that he built up for the Montreal Telegraph Company and the Government service as well.
For twenty-five years he carried on the work and in 1910, when the double duties became too heavy, he gave himself up solely to the Government work.
Telling me of his experiences, Mr. Pope said:
“When I entered the service in 1854 there was only one line operated from Quebec office to Montreal. The single instrument was a paper register. The office staff was made up of the manager, two operators, one clerk, a battery man and five messengers—ten in all. The monthly salaries ran from fourteen pounds, eleven shillings and eightpence for the manager to one pound, fifteen shillings and one penny for the messenger and totalled forty-two pounds, eighteen shillings and fourpence, or in present currency $208.60, which would not equal one operator’s earnings at the present time.
“To-day there are oyer sixty wires entering that same
Only one person associated with Mr. Pope in his early days as an operator is alive to-day. Mr. Matthew Hodge entered the Quebec office as an operator the year after Edwin Pope went there as a messenger. Mr. Hodge is still in the service, and operates a telegraph instrument in Montreal. He gave up the profession long ago, but the call of the key brought him back. Could any further proof be needed of the lure of the telegraph instrument to the man who has learned its touch?
The Start of Charles Hosmer
THE reader may have noticed that the brotherhood of the telegraph operators has been exemplified in such lifelong friendships as that of Ahearn and Soper and of Pope and Hodge. The close friendship of two of Canada’s most noted financiers has its beginnings in the game of telegraphing. Charles Hosmer, head of the Ogilvie Flour Milling Company and a dozen other big corporations, and Edson L. Pease, vice-president and general manager of the Royal Bank of Canada, were both telegraph operators many years ago and their early careers were linked together by a telegraph wire. Both were born at Coteau Landing, Quebec, Mr. Hosmer in 1851 and Mr. Pease five years later. Charles Hosmer started out in
life as clerk in the general store of Orton Pease and Son at Coteau Landing, and after learning the telegraph business was an operator in the same store.
Mr. Hosmer, before becoming interested in financial affairs, was one of the leading telegraph men, not only of Canada but of the Empire. He rose through the ranks until he was general manager of the C.P.R. Telegraph; of the Pacific Postal Telegraph Company, which extended from Vancouver along the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles; vice-president of the Commercial Cable Company and a director of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company, Halifax; Bermuda Cable Company, and several others.
Sir William Van Horne picked Hosmer out of a group of telegraph operators to head the whole C.P.R. wire system. Van Horne tried hard to get H. P. Dwight, mentioned before as head of the G.N.W. of Toronto, to switch to ms company, and when Dwight refused he declined to huit around further for a big man. He decided to pick someone within his organization whom he could develop as a big man in the business. He picked Hosmer and he made a good choice, as Van Horne usually did.
Like all good telegraph operators Mr. Hosmer has not lost his “touch.” He told me:
“As years go by I do not seem to have lost my knowledge of the telegraph business and I do not think anyone does. Lack of practice of course results in one not keeping up to the standard.
“I think the telegraph business has a certain fascination and if it has any influence upon one’s character, I think it broadens one’s vision. For instance, a man working at one end of the wire in Canso talking to the man at Vancouver can not help but wonder and think what is going on in that district, and the same thing must occur between Canso and England. In fact life-long friendships are very often made between men who are in daily intercourse of this nature and who probably never meet in actual life.” When Charles Hosmer left Coteau Landing to take up a bigger work in telegraphing, Edson L. Pease succeeded him as the operator in the general store. Old-time telegraphers say that Edson L. Pease was a brilliant operator in his day, and that he made a mistake in leaving the business. Leaving it to the executive head of one of the Empire’s biggest banks to decide that point for himself, it need only be said that he did not stay long at the game, for he entered the Canadian Bank of Commerce as teller, went to Halifax with the Merchants’ bank and after growing up in that institution he brought it West and amalgamated it with the Royal Bank.
The Rise of Thomas Findley
THERE have been few more rapid rises to industrial leadership than that of Thomas Findley, president and general manager of the great Massey-Harris organization, which operates the greatest plant in the British Empire turning out farm implements. Thomas Findley learned telegraphing when he was a youngster clerking in the gen.erai store at Sutton West, north of Toronto. And when Sutton West became too small for him—or he became too big for Sutton West—he packed his belongings in a red handkerchief, and tramped down Yonge street to the big city of Toronto. He went to the Massey-Harris company as a postal clerk. Later he operated a telegraph key for the company. He did not do the Massey-Harris company’s telegraphing for long, however. He went into the factory as a foreman, soon was a superintendent; then a manager; a director, vice-president, general manager and now he is president. And it all happened within twenty years.
Knights of the Key to Meet
MOST of the telegraph operators mentioned in this rather disconnected collection of stories are members of the Old Time Telegraphers and Historical Association, an organization that numbers among its members Thomas A. Edison, who once operated a telegraph key in Canada; Frank A. Munsey, Newcombe Carlton, president of the Western Union, and many others. The late Andrew Carnegie was a member. Each year this association of old time telegraph men holds a convention. In 1920 the convention will be held in Canada, and Toronto has been chosen as the place of meeting. The president of the association is George D. Perry, general manager of the Great Northwestern Telegraph Company. As an oldtime telegrapher, Mr. Perry is uniqué in that he is not, strictly speaking, an old-time telegrapher; Mr. Perry never operated a telegraph key, although his connection with telegraphing is very old.
He started out in life on the old Credit Valley railroad. He was a clerk in one of the offices, and among the young men working with him were H. S. Holt, now Sir Herbert Holt, and H. E. Sucking, now treasurer of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
From clerking on a railroad, Mr. Perry jumped to the Dominion Telegraph Company in Toronto, and became a clerk in the office there. He occupied every post in the establishment from clerk to general manager and is now ensconced in the latter post.
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Great Men of the Key
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I asked Mr. Perry once if he didn’t wLsh that he could operate a key.
After a pause, that seemed to indicate that perchance there was a little longing n his heart that way he said, “No,” and told of one officer of a telegraph system who failed as an executive official because he could not keep away from the operating room. When he should have been dictating letters, attending directors’ meetings, etc., he was spending his time in the telegraph room sending messages that the most inefficient of his operators could ^ave sent. The call of the key was too much for him.
This story of Old-Time Telegraphers has been rather disconnected throughout. It had to be thus, for its only purpose
was to tell something of the early days of a number of men, most of whom have made good in other lines of work, and to explain why their experiences as telegraph operators helped them in later life to become successful business men.
It has been possible to tell something of only a few of the many old-time telegraphers who arc now among Canada’s leading citizens. To make the story complete mention would have to be made of Lewis B. Macfarlane, president of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada; Allan Purvis, superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway; John McMillan, manager of the C.P.R. Telegraphs; Hon. J. D. Reid, Minister of Railways; Hon. Gideon D. Robertson, Minister of Labor; John Paterson, until a few years ago city treasurer of Toronto; the late William Henry Drummond, the “habitant” poet, and many others.
But through all these stories can be read the influence exerted by the telegraph key on all these men. The knowledge of men and affairs they gained from an intelligent understanding of the messages they received and sent; the discipline they submitted to in the telegraph offices; the lessons of secrecy and honesty they learned from the telegrapher’s moral code; all helped them to reach higher pinnacles of success. And those who left the key to render service to the nation in other ways never forgot that they were old-time telegraphers.