Stock Ticker / Ticker Tape

Both the ticker and ticker tape lowered the cost of transmitting stock prices by eliminating the need for a person to translate them to and from Morse Code.

Subsequently, this innovation served as a bridge from specialists required to send and receive telegraph messages to plain-text transmissions.

Edward Calahan saw people rushing from the floor of a stock exchange to teletypes. He realized a machine could automate the task.

Stock tickers – essentially printing telegraphs – enabled more widespread and faster investing, fueling Wall Street and financing countless innovations.

Edison subsequently created a better ticker. Heis often wrongly credited as the original innovator.

Mechanical stock tickers were manufactured until 1960 when they were overtaken by electronic versions.

Typewriter

Typewriters vastly lower the cost of producing readable text. Before the typewriter people would have to either write carefully (slowly) or hire a calligrapher.

Mill patented the first typewriter in 1714. Nothing more is known about him; he has disappeared into history.

Christopher Sholes invented the QWERTY keyboard and typewriter ー the first commercially successful machine ー in 1873. He worked with printer Samuel Soule, with whom he’d invented and patented the page-numbering machine. Carlos Glidden, a lawyer and amateur innovator, also joined as a third partner, agreeing to fund the project.

James Densmore acquired one-fourth of the patent during development, buying it without seeing the typewriter by reimbursing the expenditures Sholes and his team accrued while creating prototype typewriters. Densmore worked on quality control, declaring the initial design that was essentially worthless except for the patent. In frustration, Soule and Glidden quit and assigned their patent interest to Sholes, leaving him owning 3/4ths of the patent and Densmore owning 1/4th.

Sholes and Densmore realized stenographers would be the key users so sent prototypes to them. James Clephane was one; he destroyed many typewriters. Densmore eventually came up with the idea of the QWERTY keyboard layout, which put commonly used keys on both sides of the keyboard, to coordinate key strikes and avoid jamming.

The company manufactured 50 typewriters, selling them for $250 each before approaching E. Remington and Sons (makers of firearms, sewing machines, and farm equipment) for manufacturing help. Instead, Remington wanted to buy the company.

Sholes sold Remington his 3/4th interest in the typewriter patent, in 1873, for $12,000. Densmore refused to sell and licensed his 1/4th of the patent for royalties, subsequently netting him $1.5 million.

Transatlantic Cables

Transatlantic cables shrunk the world, vastly increasing the speed and lowering the cost of intercontinental communications.

The first cable functioned only a few weeks. Transmissions, in Morse Code, were especially slow.

Field, as a young businessman, joined a paper company that failed six months later. Despite his status as a young employee, with no responsibility for the failure or debt, he negotiated with creditors. Eventually, he took over the company and, despite no obligation, paid off the debts of his prior employer.

Correspondingly, this earned him an enormous amount of respect which led to ever more business until he exited the paper business, a wealthy and well-respected entrepreneur.

Eventually, Field turned his attention to the emerging field of telegraphy, investing and organizing companies laying long-distance cables. Among these, the most aspirational is the first trans-Atlantic cable. He recruited English physician Dr. Widlman Whitehouse to run the English side. Both Whitehouse’s inexperience and arrogance — he insisted on using his own equipment at a high voltage — destroyed the cable.

Today, information equivalent to every printed book in 1858 flies over transatlantic cables in well under a second, every second, of every day.

Rotary Printing Press (Web Offset)

Rotary web printing presses revolutionized newspaper publishing. The technology enabled larger, faster newspaper printing at a far lower cost. However, digital distribution of news via the world wide web has dramatically decreased demand for paper newspapers.

Hoe’s web press printed in a continuous sheet, a roll, then machines cut the paper into sheets. When connected to a steam engine (later electric engines), web presses vastly accelerated print speeds, reigning in the modern news era. Print quality wasn’t as nice as sheet-fed presses but was good enough for newspapers.

Later, Hoe refined his press to print on both sides at once (called “perfecting”), increasing speed further.

By speeding printing times and lowering costs, Hoe’s web press allowed newspapers to continuously print different versions as the news would change throughout the day. Many newspapers had morning and evening editions, while larger papers had editions throughout the day.

Facsimile (FAX) Machine

Alexander Bain created a telegraph that transmitted light and dark dots that were reproduced on the other side, the fax machine, long before the telephone.

Early faxes were popular with newspapers due to their ability to quickly transmit crude images. Countless modifications and improvements followed over the years.

Despite the obvious differences in the innovation, Morse shut Bain down as a patent infringer.

Note that it’s difficult to believe the FAX machine is this old but the historical record is clear. For whatever reason, it took well over 100 years to create FAX machines for use outside newspapers and other specialized uses of photo transmission.

In 1964, Xerox invented and patented the modern FAX machine; after some early adjustments, the standard remained unchanged until today. However, inexpensive scanners, digital file scans (ex: PDF), and internet transmission disrupted the FAX machine.

Braille Writing

1829

Louis Braille
Charles Barbier

Most of the innovations on Innowiki are for-profit inventions. While it could be argued that Braille’s writing technique opened new markets, the size of that market was limited to blind people. However, the impact of the innovation — a process enabling the disabled to regain one of the most important human functions, communication — merits inclusion on this list.

Braille opened the world to blind people and also acknowledged that disabled people could be productive members of society with the right tools. It was both a process innovation and also a new and enlightened way of thinking. Disabled people no longer needed to be wards of the state or a burden on others. With the help of the right technology and tools, they could be productive members of society.

Blinded as a child, Braille attended the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, one of the first schools for blind children. Louis was born with full vision but lost first one eye in an accident then the other due to infection from the first. By the time he was five years old, he was entirely blind.

There, he met French Captain Charles Barbier who showed him a writing method soldiers used called “night writing.” That method utilized a series of 12 dots and dashes to represent letters.

Braille vastly simplified the system to innovate Braille writing. He also extended it to music and mathematics.

Eventually, he was offered a professorship teaching algebra, geometry, and history. Despite that he was teaching, the public did not believe that blind students belonged in school and forced them to learn Braille writing on their own.

By 1854, two years after Braille’s death, the French government finally relented and Braille writing was taught in schools. However, it took another century for his work to be fully appreciated and, in 1954, he was exhumed and buried in the Pantheon, among other French luminaries.

Besides being the inventor of Braille writing and a teacher, Braille also became a musician, playing the cello and organ well enough to perform in church choirs.

Lithography

Lithography allows highly detailed drawings to be inexpensively reproduced at high volumes.

Before lithography, printing remained similar from Gutenberg until Senefelder’s lithographic process.

Senefelder worked as an actor and playwright. Unable to earn a living, he turned to printing as a trade but could not afford the typographic fonts and materials. Frustrated, he started experimenting with cheaper ways to print music.

According to legend, he wrote a shopping list on stone with a crayon then realized he could press the paper to the stone and the crayon would transfer. From there, he experimented with chipping away from the stone all portions except that he wished to retain ink, inventing a crude version of the modern printing plate.

Senefelder patented and expanded the use of his lithographic process. Soon, he realized that highly detailed drawings could be used for printing rather than simply letters. He used multiple stones to print different colors that could be blended together for color printing, chromolithography. Lithography quickly spread throughout Europe.

Postal System

1497

Franz von Taxis
Henry Bishop
Rowland Hill
William Dockwra

Franz von Taxis created the postal system, with regular routes between far-flung cities throughout Europe.

Eventually, von Taxis mail routes included mail delivery between Brussels and:

  • Innsbruck, 5.5 days (6.5 days winter)
  • Paris, 44 hours (54 hours winter)
  • Blois, 2.5 days (3 days winter)
  • Lyon, 4 days (5 days winter)
  • Granada, 15 days (18 days winter)
  • Toledo, 12 days (14 days winter)

Earlier “mail” services were diplomatic couriers, typically used for royalty. In contrast, von Taxis service was the first that regular people could purchase.

In early mail systems, recipients paid to receive the mail. Accordingly, they could and did sometimes refuse delivery. People gamed the system, writing messages on the outside of envelopes so the recipient could see the envelope, read the message, refuse delivery, and neither the sender nor recipient paid.

In 1680, William Dockwra built a better private mail system in the City of London by charging a flat-fee of one cent no matter whether the recipient agreed to accept the mail or not. His system worked so well that it quickly gained popularity not only with ordinary people and businesses — it’s intended recipient — but also royals. However, Dockwra was also the founder of the British Slave Trade and, accordingly, largely written out of history.

In 1788, the United States, as a new country, specifically authorized Congress to establish a national post office to facilitate commerce. Congress shall have the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” they founding fathers of the country wrote into the US Constitution.

A functional post office was so important the new country appointed the first postmaster general, Samuel Osgood, just four days later. Soon, the young country was served by 75 post offices and 2,400 miles of “post roads” — roads specifically built to facilitate the delivery of mail. Some historians believe the early government-owned affordable postal system was key to the eventual commercial success of the new country.

England eventually took the hint about the need for and benefits of a national postal service. In 1837, Sir Rowland Hill may have invented the adhesive postage stamp that eventually evolved into a government-run postal system (James Chambers is also credited, with a stamp dating to 1834). In any event, Hill is the person who modernized the British postal system by charging rates based on weight rather than size. The US adopted adhesive postage stamps in 1847; before then postage was paid at post offices but not stamps were affixed.