Love on the Net

(This is a Photon Courier post from 2004…I was reminded of it by a link from this site and thought it might be of interest to Chicago Boyz readers.)

George McCutcheon was in the business of selling periodicals, and he wanted to be able to take orders on the net. He wasn’t very into technology, so he asked his teenage daughter, Maggie, to handle that part of the business. Maggie soon had the connection working, but also used it to flirt with many men she met on-line. She invited one of them, Frank, to visit her in the real world. Her father found out, and was furious…furious to the point that he threatened to kill her if she saw Frank again. Maggie had her father arrested and charged with threatening behavior.

Yawn, you say…why is this newsworthy? Things like this probably happen all the time.

The above incident, though, happened in the 1880s, and was written up in the 1886 edition of Electrical World. The “net” referred to above was the telegraph network.

The early history of telegraphy shows many parallels to the recent history of the Internet. These parallels are explored in the book The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage, which mentions the above story.

Turns out there were many female telegraph operators, and on-line romances were fairly common. There were also many telegraph-oriented scams (though as far as I know none of them involved Nigerian businessmen)…and there were optimistic views that the telegraph, by bringing nations closer together and preventing misunderstandings, would help make war obsolete.

Additional telegraphy-related posts:
Dots and Dashes…the impact of telecommunications on the perception of space
More about Morse…how Morse’s invention helped to destroy a political cause that he supported
Transmission Ends…the end of Western Union telegram service, and a reflection on casualty notifications during WWII.

4 thoughts on “Love on the Net”

  1. Great story.

    I retired from the AT&T where open wire and telegraph were still in use.

    Early long distance calls were limited in distance by increasing noise. This was a result of using a single wire conductor with earth as groun return.

    This problem was solved when a night chief operator (female) in Providence, RI was talked into using two circuits by her boyfriend in Boston.

    Remember, Love will find a way.


  2. The Victorian Internet is a great and eye opening book. Today, we think of the telegraph as an old fashion device and like steam engines or mechanical looms we forget what a revolutionary impact it had on the world.

    I am struck by the “Le plus ca change le plus ca le meme chose” nature of the story. I think it important to remember that while technology changes. the core attributes and drives of human beings have not. History seems to repeat itself because the key component of all stories. humans. do not change. We repeat the same behaviors using different tools.

  3. David,

    Thanks for the link.

    I’ve been reading ChicagoBoyz for a while, but I only recently stumbled across your Photon Courier site, which I perused pretty thoroughly. I’ve posted more than a few excerpts on my own site.

    Keep up the good work.

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