Communications and Empire traces the global spread of telegraph technology. International issues arose immediately in the 1830s as Western Europe found a sudden need for international law governing privacy, state secrets, business practice, etc. The US also had the means to develop its own telegraph system and by the 1860s cable, after a few unsuccessful tries, had crossed the Atlantic. With that success and the fortuitous conglomeration of cable manufacturing in England, the British Empire – aided by Europe – expanded telegraph to India and within Egypt. By 1870, the nationalization of the British telegraph system was complete and the major world powers had reached general agreements on international law, permitting a rapid global expansion of the communication network. Despite minor setbacks, China, Japan, Latin and South America, and the Caribbean were fully linked to a global telegraph network by the end of the decade, at which point the European powers divided their influence within Africa and proceeded to expand the network there as well.
Throughout, there is much discussion of how the influx of European and American communications systems affected the rest of the world. European expertise in operating the telegraph and in enforcing social stability meant dominance of Persia and colonization of Egypt. China and the Ottoman Empire made valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful, efforts at reforms to integrate the new technology (and its accompanying ties to European and American economies, politics and power) while maintaining strong national sovereignty. Japan, with a later connection to global communications and a stronger political structure, was more successful. Africa entered the global network with the rise of colonial empires’ national security needs, and Latin and South America and the Caribbean with the rise of European and American economic interest.
With a great many company names evidencing a phenomenal amount of research, Winseck and Pike demonstrate that, wherever the telegraph system emerged, it was immediately brought under oligopoly; then cartel; and, in the end, effective monopoly control with John Pender running the show and state-run systems helping out. This led, by the early 1900s, to reformation proposals that included cheaper rates, more nationalistic control of each state’s lines and more competition for the reigning cartels.