Dawn of Telecommunications: Discovered by & Acquired at Raab, Now at the Huntington Library

The Raab Collection announced today that it has acquired and sold one of the more important archives in the history of telecommunications and invention to reach the market, an archive of several hundred documents, thousands of pages, containing manuscript, printed, and photographic material. The archive charts the growth of America’s telecommunications network and contains, among other things, perhaps the most important early document of a 27-year-old Thomas Edison. The majority of the archive is unpublished and it has never been offered for sale publicly before.  The archive is now at the Huntington Library, which publicized its acquisition on its site here.

Over the past decades, Raab has discovered and sold some of the most important archives and documents worldwide, and counts among its clients not only the esteemed Huntington Library, but the Library of Congress, Harvard, Yale, & Princeton Universities, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the British Library, and many other collecting institutions, as well as a generation of serious private collectors.  Raab founders have served on the boards of institutions from the Rosenbach Library to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to educational boards.

Perhaps the most important early document of a young Thomas Edison, charting the future of the invention that made him prominent: the Quadruplex Telegraph

“This archive captures an important moment in time and helps us better understand the development of what we think of today as our telecommunications system,” said Nathan Raab, Principal at The Raab Collection and author of the best-selling, newly published book, The Hunt for History (Scribner).

Early photograph of a new stock ticker for Western Union, sent to Eckert by its inventor

Historical background:

The Civil War saw the creation of the first modern military communications network, the Union telegraph lines, which allowed the military to fight what we now consider the first modern war. Lines of communication brought instant news from distant battlefields. After the war, companies like Western Union competed for the rights to emerging technologies to carry these communications and inventors, most prominently a young Thomas Edison, worked to perfect the technology.

A telegraph from the early days of Eckert’s office during the Civil War
Thomas Eckert builds the Union Army’s telegraph infrastructure

This archive captures both periods. It is the archive of Thomas Eckert, the head of the telegraph office and responsible for its national operations, and later executive at Western Union. Eckert would switch sides and serve as tycoon Jay Gould’s man in the competing Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. The two companies fought vigorously for one of the great early inventions of the telegraph period, the Quadruplex, invented by Thomas Edison.

Jay Gould distributes the spoils of his war with Western Union and the Vanderbilts
Eckert uses his experience at Western Union to plot resources needed for Gould and A&P
A photograph, measuring approximately 3 feet by 2 feet, of the original staff of the telegraph office, owned by Eckert

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