The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
In the supplement to the Scientific American we find an address by Mr. Preece to the Society of Electrical Engineers, in London, agreeably and instructively describing a trip to America, last year, for the meeting in Montreal of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mr. Preece's best wrinkles are relative to Electricity, of course. At Chicago, where the burnt child dreads the fire, he finds that there are electric indicators all over the city, connected with the central or local Fire Brigade Station. You pull a handle, and here is the chain of events: The Fire Bell rings, the Fire Engine horses are unhitched by electricity from their stalls, and trot, of their own accord, ready harnessed, to their places in the shafts. Besides all this, the pull of the handle whips the bed-clothes off the ready-dressed firemen who are lying asleep, opens a shoot below the bed, and runs them straight down to their proper places on the Fire Engine! No wonder the Brigade turns out in less than no time.
Mr. Preece reports that there is twice as much telephony in New York alone as there is in the whole of England. Americans will insist on the overhead wires, for telegraphy, telephony, and electric light. The consequence is that the cities are becoming abominably cluttered up with wires. The corporation of Philadelphia has fulminated a threat that on New Year's Day 1886 their officers will go round the city and chop down every one of the forest of poles, with their mazy wilderness of wires. Architecture is spoilt, all over the States, in the main thoroughfares. Then there is the frightful danger in case of fire, as evidenced at the Milwaukee Hotel, where people who flung themselves from upper windows met with a cruel death through being sabred by the wires. The difficulty is that the fire escape cannot be properly used.page 63
Thirty-two companies have the right of laying overhead wires all over New York. There are six independent lines of poles along Broadway. Serious accidents have occurred through electric light wires snapping and dropping upon telephone wires, the wires for lighting being charged with very high currents. In one case a gentleman's residence was utterly wrecked through an accident of this kind. He had the telephone laid on. The electric light current came in, and played up worse than a gas explosion. Mr. Plush, the able Chief Telegraph Electrician in Philadelphia, has devised a new "cut off," by means of which the telephone wires become neutralised on an overcharge.
Mr. Preece says that every house he visited in the great American cities had the telephone laid on, so that the fire brigade, or a doctor, or anything else, could be summoned in a few minutes. He finds amazing smartness at the Telephone Exchanges, and it is a regular thing to join subscribers in five seconds from the first call.
In the city of Buffalo the telephone is paid for on the same principle as the telegraph in Melbourne and elsewhere, that is to say so much per word, above a minimum which is required as a guarantee. This gives local satisfaction, but Mr. Preece did not meet with the system in any other city. Everywhere else the subscriber pays a regular figure, and uses the telephone as much as he likes. We fancy the Buffalo system will spread. It looks unworkable, but the contrary is proved.