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Networks of ModernityGermany in the Age of the Telegraph, 1830-1880$

Jean-Michel Johnston

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780198856887

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198856887.001.0001

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date: 02 December 2021

A Nation Connected

A Nation Connected

(p.199) 6 A Nation Connected
Networks of Modernity

Jean-Michel Johnston

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter opens with an illustration of the Prussian government’s use of telegraph networks to unite the German nation during the war with France in 1870 by ensuring the timely and ubiquitous distribution of news. Otto von Bismarck and Generalpostmeister Heinrich Stephan then sought to build upon this unifying conception of telegraphic communication by improving and homogenizing the new Kaiserreich’s network, but they soon faced obstacles from within and outside the state. On the one hand, the federal structure of the new empire granted Bavaria and Württemberg the right to manage their own networks. On the other hand, the increasingly global network upon which trade and finance depended, and the news cartel established between Havas, Reuters, and Wolffs Telegraphisches Büro limited the imperial administration’s ability to manage the cost and nature of information circulating on its lines. These issues, and particularly the economic crisis of 1873, led to conflicts in the Reichstag, where deputies openly questioned the technology’s capacity to ‘annihilate space’ and formed alliances based upon the sections of society which they believed should or should not possess an advantage in communication. At a local level, meanwhile, government efforts to build new, more imposing, post and telegraph buildings alongside subsidiary offices threatened the business community’s privileged position within the urban landscape. The distance and time involved in the transmission of telegrams came to define one’s local and social status—as shown vividly in the novels of Theodor Fontane in the early 1880s and in the popular press.

Keywords:   German Empire, federalism, networks, news agencies, finance, economic crisis, bourgeoisie, time-space compression

In 1876, Germany’s new Postmaster General, Heinrich Stephan, stood before the Reichstag to defend the recent introduction of a new telegraph tariff. In the past, the cost of a telegram had been directly related to the distance it travelled, but the new ‘Worttarif’ established a flat rate for all telegrams sent within the Kaiserreich, on a pay-per-word basis. The decision met with considerable opposition from many deputies, who called for the former distance-based pricing zones to be reintroduced. Heinrich Stephan stood firm, asserting:

Gentlemen, the issue also has its idealistic side. We have received this wonderful force of nature as a gift from the Creator, which rushes through entire sections of the earth in a second, and is essentially an annihilator of distance, and you now want to constrain this force according to the measure of a clod and hoof [der Scholle und der Hufe]! The development of large-scale international exchange, in which we have had no zones for years, has long moved beyond ‘clod-tariffs’ [Schollentarife]. The power of this development is so irresistible that your attempts to introduce a small zone appear to me as though you are trying to construct a weak barrage on the territory of telegraphy, against the tide of world correspondence.1

To Stephan’s grandiose vision of a shrinking globe, however, the conservative deputy Theodor Günther juxtaposed a different reality:

The Generalpostmeister has reminded us that we mustn’t lose sight of the big questions of international correspondence; that it is no longer time to cling on to the hoof and clod. Gentlemen, by far the greatest part of the German people lives from the hoof and clod, and I would like to express the most vivid wish, that the Generalpostmeister…not withhold his goodwill from the interests of the hoof and clod.2

These were the two opposing poles of the debate on the nature and purpose of modern means of communication during the 1870s. On the one hand, it seemed, the telegraph flattened space; it was the ‘annihilator of distance’ that transgressed (p.200) borders and allowed for instant communication across the globe. On the other hand, it was a technology rooted in the thousands of telegraph offices across the country, a service to which access remained unequal, dependent upon an individual’s geographical location and social status—it served, in other words, to heighten many Germans’ sense of place and the short distances within which they still lived their daily lives. The further the telegraph extended individuals’ potential range of communication, the more it reminded many of their distance from that horizon. Ever more global, or ever more local: these were the two extremes to which German society was pulled by the wires criss-crossing the nation.

With the founding of the Kaiserreich in 1871, the new Generaldirektion der Telegraphen (General Directorate of the Telegraphs) established within the Reichskanzleramt (Imperial Chancellery) inherited a web of state networks which had been expanding inwards and outwards for two decades. Colonel Meydam, the first director of the imperial telegraph administration—and a military man, in keeping with Prussian tradition—lost little time in launching a construction programme intended to harmonize this patchwork of connections and to establish a uniform national network. Upon his death in 1875, post and telegraphy were brought together under the authority of a new, civilian Generalpostmeister (Postmaster General), Heinrich Stephan. In 1876, he too launched a structural overhaul of the Reich network, multiplying the number of offices and strengthening the main arteries of communication.3

A dual process of modernization and nationalization, such as that elegantly described by Eugen Weber in the context of the French Third Republic, appeared to have been set in motion.4 Yet as the responses to Weber’s work have shown, processes of state integration are never smooth, and it faced particular challenges in the context of the Kaiserreich, built as it was upon a strong federal tradition.5 As Siegfried Weichlein has shown, the management of imperial postal and railway systems during Bismarck’s tenure as chancellor actually fuelled the dynamic interaction of ‘unitarist’ and ‘federalist’ forces, which remained unresolved.6 In a (p.201) similar fashion, the imperial telegraph administration was forced to balance its aims with those of the diverse social and institutional actors involved in managing the network.

Moreover, as we have seen, the Kaiserreich’s many networks were locked into an expanding system of international exchanges. During the 1850s and 1860s, the Deutsch-Österreichischer Telegraphen-Verein and the International Telegraph Union had sought to streamline international communication, establishing the rules by which all the states involved had to play. By the 1870s, a further participant had joined the game, and governments now sat across the table from large multinational corporations that managed the new submarine cables connecting the continents—the rising ‘Euro-American’ elite that was to dominate the world’s telecommunications industry.7 Carving out the Kaiserreich’s jurisdiction over a portion of this global network, therefore, necessitated cooperation, sometimes collaboration, with a number of regional and transnational actors. Networks, as Jürgen Osterhammel has observed, stimulated the first ‘surge of globalization’ after 1860, but it also fuelled the process of ‘delimitation and fragmentation’ which was its necessary corollary.8

The technology’s user base, meanwhile, was rapidly expanding and diversifying, as individuals turned to the telegraph to communicate on a local, national, or international scale. Bankers, traders, and news agents remained the service’s most vocal and determined customers, but the network was reconfigured to cater to a growing number of industries and agriculturalists. The telegraph network did not, in theory, discriminate between different economic sectors, serving as a support structure to accommodate the variety of forms in which industrial capitalism developed across Germany.9 The technology came to fulfil a variety of social functions too, as doctors, firefighters, and ordinary individuals increasingly relied upon the telegraph to respond to the vagaries of everyday life. The privileged bourgeoisie’s ‘networks of means’ were thus being stretched to include new sections of society—sometimes beyond capacity.10

Just as the telegraph was being woven into the fabric of society, the pressures exerted upon the network from without and from within were pulling at its seams. Balancing the centrifugal and centripetal forces in the Kaiserreich’s administration, the national and international dimensions of telegraphic news distribution, the diverging interests of global finance and local industries, and the diverse needs (p.202) of urban and rural telegraph users revealed the divisions emerging in modern Germany. Since the 1850s, the telegraph had become an engine of industrialization, market capitalism, and community formation, but its expansion also highlighted the social tensions which these processes were fuelling, as competition for adequate bandwidth emphasized the distinctions between the privileged and the neglected.11 A nation connected, it seemed, meant a society divided.

6.1 A Network for a Nation

In many ways, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 witnessed the culmination of government efforts during the preceding decade to establish homogeneous, ‘national’ spheres of information circulation. During the phase of mobilization, the North German Confederation established a number of new telegraph lines and coastal observation stations intended to plug crucial gaps in the network in preparation for the conflict. The war itself, as Theodor Fontane had observed, then demonstrated the technology’s utility in coordinating the deployment of the allied German forces, which included twelve confederal field telegraph units under the authority of Colonel Meydam, two units from the Bavarian army, and one from Württemberg.12 Beyond the battlefield, the telegraph network became a linchpin in the campaign to shape the public’s perception of events, both across the emerging Kaiserreich and abroad.

Two weeks into the conflict, in late July 1870, the minister of the interior for the North-German Confederation, Friedrich Albrecht zu Eulenburg, sent out a circular to local officials announcing that ‘reliable news arriving from the battlefield will be brought rapidly by telegraph to the attention of the public in North Germany’. The northern confederation’s telegraph offices were instructed to print multiple copies of the telegrams they received, to affix one of these to the office building, and to distribute the rest to all official centres in the locality and its surroundings—if necessary, by post. As the principal aim of this policy was to ‘allow the public to receive, in the face of the large number of erroneous or exaggerated rumours which, as experience has shown, circulate in such times, as rapid and reliable information as possible’; moreover, ‘its diffusion in towns by means of wall postings, [was] advised’.13

(p.203) The policy in fact triggered a wave of requests from local authorities asking that additional towns to those initially enumerated by the government be included in the network of news distribution.14 In Berlin, ‘war dispatches’ were affixed to the public advertisement columns which Ernst Litfaß had set up across the city since the 1850s, fostering the public’s addiction to fast news.15 Much as Karl Knies had hoped over a decade earlier, during the war the telegraph was finally operating like a nervous system, allowing all parts of the country to share in the fate of its armies, almost in real time.

The policy was not without its issues, however. Some of the municipal requests to be directly provided with ‘war dispatches’ were tinged with indignation. Essen, ‘which has sent around 1,000 men into the field’, and some of its smaller neighbours, it was felt, should at the very least be able to keep abreast of their efforts to defeat ‘our hereditary enemy [Erbfeind]!’16 Some newspaper editors complained that some of their competitors had been chosen to reproduce copies of the incoming telegrams and thereby had privileged access to valuable news.17 In Berlin, Ernst Litfaß had begun to sell printed copies of the dispatches affixed to his columns, creating undue competition for local newspapers.18 Indeed, after the war, a number of accusations would emerge against newspapers which had profited from their advance printing of news.19 In war, as in everyday life, speed and time were at a premium.

Meanwhile, the cooperation between Wolffs and the Prussian government and the recent establishment of a global news cartel turned the Franco-Prussian conflict into a campaign for international public opinion. The cartel itself fell apart during the war, as mediatic battle lines were drawn and cooperation between Havas and Wolffs ceased.20 Instead, Bismarck now turned to Reuters, as a ‘neutral’ power, both to receive news from France and to disseminate information from his headquarters to London. In this, the value which Bismarck placed upon a positive media strategy was immediately evident. Whereas Napoleon III initially forbade correspondents from accompanying forces into the field, the Prussian chancellor commented to his minister of war, Albrecht von Roon, that ‘[n]othing will be more favourable for our political standing in England and America than the (p.204) appearance…of very detailed accounts of our army in the field’.21 The informal alliance with the powerful British agency was evidently a smart strategic move, and Reuter assured Bismarck that he was using his widespread network to counter the false news spread by the French as far afield as the USA, India, and Australia.22

In Central Europe itself, relations were more strained. Before the war, Wolffs had agreed with its Austrian counterpart, the K. K. Correspondenz-Bureau, to continue their partnership for the benefit of the finance community in particular, ensuring the continued circulation of news across Central Europe.23 While the North German government’s regulations regarding the dissemination of information to all telegraph offices did not apply to the southern states, Wolffs’ monopoly in those regions influenced the tone of the news circulated there, establishing a separate mediatic sphere that encompassed the future Kaiserreich.

At first sight, the Reich constitution which came into force on 4 May 1871 signalled the establishment of a new, centralized, and thoroughly national communications network. Article 48 stated that ‘postal and telegraph systems will be established and administered across the entire territory of the German Empire as unitary state communications institutes [als einheitliche Staatsverkehrs-Anstalten]’.24 The telegraph administration, headed by Colonel Meydam, was initially subsumed within the Reichskanzleramt, but it was superseded by a more autonomous Reichspost- und Telegraphenverwaltung in 1875. The latter’s director, Heinrich Stephan, was an ally of Bismarck and a rising star in the world of communication, having founded the Universal Postal Union a year earlier. Over the next twenty years, the status of the Generalpostmeister and his department would continue to grow both at home and abroad, as the Kaiserreich’s communications networks were overhauled and Stephan himself became a prominent figure on the international stage. By 1880, his department had been elevated to the status of Reichspostamt and he had been appointed Staatssekretär. ‘Nothing is impossible with the German Postmaster General,’ The Times commented.25

Meydam and Stephan faced a monumental task. Quite apart from the physical damage inflicted upon a number of international telegraph lines during the war of 1870, the new Reich network was a complex beast. The Reichsgründung (founding of the Empire), of course, had famously involved a number of territorial (p.205) acquisitions, and the incorporation of the telegraphs in Alsace-Lorraine (and Baden) threatened the network’s ‘necessary and desirable organic structure’.26 Across Germany, moreover, many of the telegraph lines opened to the general public were in fact managed by private railway companies, in keeping with the agreements which various German states had established during the 1850s and 1860s. Whereas the network in Württemberg was almost entirely state-run by 1870, in Bavaria and the Pfalz the private Ostbahn-Gesellschaft and Pfälzische Eisenbahnen, respectively, managed a number of crucial lines, and in Prussia over half of all telegraph lines were run by private railway companies.27 As a result, Meydam observed, the state telegraph administration often ‘[came] away empty-handed’.28

Creating a unitary and coordinated system out of this patchwork of diverse public and private networks was by no means simple. Not least because, as Thomas Nipperdey emphasized, the new German Reich was a federal state.29 In particular, the constitution defined a number of Reservatrechte which accorded the governments of Bavaria and Württemberg a significant degree of autonomy in the running of postal, telegraphic, and, in the case of Bavaria, railway networks.30 For the first two decades of the Kaiserreich’s existence, the Reservatrechte were to limit the government’s ability to homogenize its communications networks, and they reinforced the tendency towards regional differentiation.31

As for the railways, until the creation of the Reichsbahn in 1920, the myriad public and private administrations involved were constitutionally bound only to collaborate ‘like’ (wie), rather than ‘as’ (als), a unitary network.32 Imperial legislation on telegraphy as a whole, therefore, would have a limited impact upon those lines managed by the various railway administrations—in fact, the first Reich-wide ‘Telegraphengesetz’ was introduced only in 1892.33 Unlike its counterparts in Britain and France, the German imperial telegraph administration was required to (p.206) confer with its counterparts in Bavaria and Württemberg, as well as with private railway companies, in managing the Reich network.34 ‘In the domain of telegraphy,’ Jan-Otmar Hesse has argued, ‘one can barely speak of an economic constitution of the German Kaiserreich.’35

This domestic complexity was compounded by the international dimension of telegraph communication. The treaty establishing the International Telegraph Union of 1865 had already presented a considerable challenge for German telegraph administrations. The ‘extensive reduction’ in tariffs which it had imposed had not resulted in the anticipated increase in the volume of correspondence, dealing a blow to the overall income generated by Germany’s network. New submarine cables between England, Denmark, Norway, and Russia, meanwhile, had deprived the Prussian administration of the ‘not insignificant’ income from communications between those countries, which had previously taken place across German telegraph lines.36 The Reich’s central position in European and global telegraphic space was in jeopardy.

The emotional wounds inflicted by the Franco-Prussian War, meanwhile, were slow to heal. The Munich–Paris connection, for example, had been destroyed during the conflict and was not re-established until 1876. The French administration, Heinrich Stephan later explained to his counterpart in Württemberg, ‘[made] no bones about deliberately avoiding the route through Germany for its correspondence, even taking detours to that end’.37 Spiteful initiatives such as these were facilitated by the growing number of communications lines being established across Europe and the globe, obviating the need to use Central European networks, and they further deprived the imperial administration of the rather substantial income generated by international communication using ‘transit’ lines across a state’s territory. The imperial network now risked being bypassed by intensifying continental exchanges.

In order to remedy these structural and financial deficiencies, both Colonel Meydam and Heinrich Stephan initiated an overhaul of the German telegraph network.38 In 1873, Meydam proposed a 4.1 million thaler (12.3 million marks) injection of funds in order to complete the network. All places of ‘some importance in terms of traffic’ and possessing over 2,000 inhabitants were to be connected to the network. Over one quarter of the projected amount would be dedicated to building or extending internal lines, but Meydam also prioritized international connections because of Germany’s ‘geographic position’ in Europe. (p.207) Another quarter of the total sum was to be dedicated to links with Germany’s immediate neighbours. A net profit, he asserted, could soon be expected from connections between large centres of trade and industry.39

Implementing Meydam’s ‘Organisationsplan’ then set in motion the interlocking cogs of the federal administrative machinery. By this stage, the Bavarian telegraph administration was coming to the end of its own project to complete the state telegraph network, initiated in 1868.40 In fact, a year earlier the Bavarian administration had itself exerted pressure on the governments of both the Kaiserreich and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to review their networks: the poor quality of their lines was causing trouble for users making interstate transmissions, effectively nullifying the positive impact of their improvements.41

Meydam’s project was nonetheless a spur to further development on the Bavarian side. Failure to match these efforts, the head of the Bavarian General-Direktion der Verkehrsanstalten Heinrich Gumbart asserted, would ‘provoke bitter and not unjustified criticism on the part of the public’, jeopardize the privileged position the state had been granted by the Reservatrechte, ‘and give renewed support to those efforts aimed at removing the independent telegraph administrations’.42 Both the Kaiserreich as a whole and its constituent states were engaged in a process of ‘defensive modernization’ to secure their position in a connected world, mollify domestic public opinion, and neutralize political opposition.43

In any case, the volume of traffic on Bavarian lines had by then become untenable. Since 1868, the number of paid telegrams handled annually (State telegrams were free of charge) had increased from around 678,000 to over 1.5 million, thanks in part to a reduction in tariff introduced early in 1872.44 A bill was therefore presented to the Bavarian parliament that explicitly followed the model put forward by Meydam, so that certain principles came to underpin both networks—in particular, that all towns of 2,000 or more inhabitants qualified for the establishment of a telegraph office. It also promised to take action to multiply its network’s ties to all towns bordering the German Empire.45

After Meydam’s death in 1875, the reorganization of the united Reichspost- und Telegraphenverwaltung under Heinrich Stephan reinvigorated the Reich’s efforts to integrate transport and communications. Stephan’s plan was even more ambitious, and involved a 34 million mark investment into the Reich telegraph network. The money was to be spent on replacing the country’s principal arteries (p.208) of communication with underground cables, which were better protected from both the elements and malicious intent. It was also to help pursue Meydam’s project to replace the country’s many rather diminutive telegraph offices with new, grander imperial Telegraphenämter.46 The Munich telegraph office had already been relocated to an independent building erected by the railway station in 1871, and a new ‘Kaiserliches Telegraphenamt’ (Imperial Telegraph Office) was inaugurated in Berlin in 1878.47 Similar considerations led to the razing of a building at the heart of Nuremberg’s market place, the Tuchhaus, and the construction of a new telegraph office in 1872. Bremen was granted a new Post- und Telegraphenamt in 1877.48

There is no doubt that Stephan’s ambition was indeed to establish a centralized network for the Empire. In 1878, he wrote to Interior Minister Eulenburg explaining that ‘it is the objective, to continue extending this [underground] network and thereby to create a permanently secure telegraphic connection between the central point of the German Reich and all important places of commerce in Germany as well as with the larger fortresses’.49 More generally, moreover, the Generalpostmeister’s overbearing presence and authority were often a source of friction between the German administrations. In 1877, for instance, the Reich administration was able to thwart Bavarian efforts to construct a telegraph line to the Pfalz by claiming jurisdiction over the land which it would have to cross.50 By 1880, the minister-president of Württemberg explicitly complained of ‘Stephan’s systematic efforts to demolish the respective Reservatrechte’.51

The point should not be overemphasized, however, as relations between states and the imperial administration were marked by a strong degree of cooperation. To a certain extent, the Kaiserreich came to occupy the role previously fulfilled by the Deutsch-Österreichischer Telegraphen-Verein, which it had dissolved in 1871. In Bremen, for instance, although the private Telegraphen-Verein was absorbed by the imperial telegraph administration, the latter relied heavily upon the advice and local authority of the city’s Senat and Handelskammer.52 The archives of Bavaria’s General-Direktion der Verkerhsanstalten, meanwhile, reveal close interaction between Stephan and its director, Heinrich Gumbart, if only for logistical reasons.53 Nor were influences one-directional, and Stephan acknowledged that (p.209) his efforts were aimed at bringing the imperial network to the same level of development as those in Bavaria and Württemberg.54

The intricate system of interlocking parts involved in the management of the network defies simplistic assumptions as to the nature of the Bismarckian Reich. The developments evoked thus far took place within the context of growing tensions between government and the liberal majority in the Reichstag, which culminated in a ‘conservative turn’ in 1878, when Bismarck turned away from the National Liberals and sought support from the Centre Party.55 In economic terms, so the argument runs, this shift was encouraged by the depression which set in after the Gründerkrach of 1873 and was marked by a rejection of free trade in favour of protectionism. The era witnessed increasing state intervention, with policies aimed at regulating the economy and eventually the creation of a ‘Sozialstaat’, as welfare measures were introduced in the 1880s to pull the rug out from under the socialist movement.56

Yet both government policy and parliamentary attitudes towards communications infrastructure present a far more complex picture. To be sure, Reichstag debates during the 1870s often reflected deputies’ frustrations at their lack of influence upon legislation in this as in other crucial aspects of the economy. Complaints raised the fact that they were not given adequate statistical information upon which to assess government proposals, and tariff changes introduced in the middle of the decade led to accusations of administrative despotism.57 But the administration of the telegraph network was connected to a raft of issues, attitudes to which cut across what are often identified as government or party lines.

The state’s duty to provide the transport and communications infrastructure upon which the economy depended was now widely accepted, if diffracted across the political spectrum. For the conservative Reichspartei deputy Karl Gustav Ackermann, the state’s monopoly was to be used to increase ‘the capital of the nation’ and its ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.58 For the National Liberal Johannes Miquel, it was ‘not the task of telegraphy to bring revenue to the treasury, it is an economic institution, and serves economic purposes’.59 Meydam himself had asserted that the extension of the network to smaller, unprofitable localities was ‘justified by (p.210) concerns for general utility and state assistance’ [staatliche Fürsorge]. Telegraphy, he stated, was ‘an essential means of driving contemporary civilized life’.60

Given the interdependence of the telegraphs and the railways, efforts to improve the former forced deputies to reconsider their stated attitudes to the latter. In 1876, Bismarck had proposed to create a unified Reichseisenbahn, involving the state’s purchase of the private railway companies. Bismarck had couched his project in terms of serving the ‘public good’ by removing the railways from the jurisdiction of companies purely driven by profit, asserting the state’s independence from market forces. The measure had split the parliamentary majority, with National Liberals broadly accepting the unifying aims of a Reichseisenbahn and Progressives allying with conservative particularists to oppose what was seen as unwarranted centralization.61

By 1878, true to this stance, the Progressive Eugen Richter similarly asserted that Reichstelegraphen were not needed everywhere, and that the Generalpostmeister should take the time ‘to establish a friendly relationship with the railways’, for the benefit of the telegraph service—and thereby the public—as a whole.62 In this matter, however, Richter had widespread support, including from the National Liberal Eduard Lasker, Centre Party leader Ludwig Windthorst, and the conservative Nordeck zur Rabenau. The priority, Lasker argued, was to provide those places deprived of telegraphic connections with an office, and only then to focus on state competition with the railways.63 Rallying around the defence of what they perceived to be the public interest, deputies had crossed party lines to oppose the government collectively.

The involvement of German firms in the production of telegraph cables, meanwhile, caused further contention. Both Siemens and Felten & Guilleaume had benefited from Heinrich Stephan’s mammoth infrastructural upheaval, the two firms establishing new cable manufactures during the 1870s to fulfil government contracts. Felten & Guilleaume had by now established subsidiaries across Europe, and by 1879 it even established a contract to provide cables for a major British company, the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co.64 In an early example of government-sponsored cartelization, the Postmaster General encouraged the two competitors to compromise and to collaborate in the laying of the network’s underground cables.65 Stephan defended the decision on the grounds that the two firms employed hundreds of workers, that the project would invigorate the iron industry, and that the time was ripe for action, not least because the (p.211) price of gutta-percha on the world’s markets was low. For Eugen Richter, however, the signs were ominous. The move was of benefit solely to the two major corporations, would be of little benefit to the workers, and prevented competition from bringing down prices.66

While the state’s management of the telegraph network was never seriously challenged, it was thus intrinsically connected to policies in other sectors of the economy, towards which attitudes were divided. Part of the problem, of course, was that in the wake of national unification the liberal majority in parliament was deprived of the one clear policy which had united its members in the 1860s. As attention turned to economic issues, divisions emerged within its ranks, particularly as liberal theories of free trade were discredited following the Gründerkrach.67 But the Reichstag debates also emphasize the importance of accounting for the multiple moving parts which together fuelled the telegraph’s development. Business circles, for instance, often welcomed government intervention in the railway sector, while state policies towards the companies involved had themselves fluctuated over the course of the century, defying linear narratives of growing state intervention.68 Instead, as explored below, government and parliamentary attitudes to the telegraph network were shaped by a broader discussion of the purposes of communication.

6.2 An Infrastructural Revolution

The projects initiated by the imperial and Bavarian administrations drove the telegraph further into the countryside.69 In the Reich’s jurisdiction, the number of offices increased from 3,325 in 1873 to over 8,000 by 1880, reducing the number of inhabitants per office from over 24,000 to under 7,000.70 In Bavaria, meanwhile, the number of offices increased from 755 to 1,112 in 1880, among which a few dozen were planned in villages of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, such as Karpfham, comprising a mere 197 souls.71 Both rural and urban space were increasingly pervaded with telegraphic connections as a result. The construction of new offices (p.212) in larger towns spawned an array of subsidiary branches—‘Zweigstellen’ or ‘Filialbüros’—which often reflected the changing social composition of the telegraph’s user base. Munich’s new central Telegraphenstation was connected to former offices in the Hauptpostgebäude (Central Post Office) and Börsengebäude (Stock Exchange), which were now subordinated to it.72 In Bremen, new suburban branches reflected the growing importance of its manufacturing districts.73 In Elberfeld and Barmen, whose populations were stretched out along a considerable portion of the Wupper River, small offices were set up at regular intervals through the valley.74

In towns themselves, efforts were made to ensure the reliable and uninterrupted flow of information across urban space. In Munich, for instance, a contract was established with Zechmeister’s Stadtomnibus-Institut, enabling telegraph messengers to use the omnibus service which was to ‘traverse the entire city in every direction at intervals of 15 minutes’. Within the city limits, the institute was contractually obliged to deliver telegrams into the hands of the addressee within thirty minutes of the messenger’s receipt of the message.75 In some metropolises, the human element of communication was bypassed as far as possible. From the 1860s, messengers were replaced with pneumatic telegraphs, or posts (Rohrposten), consisting of underground pipes through which small containers could be sent from one city office to another. These appeared in Berlin in 1865, in Vienna in 1875, and Munich in 1877, and in 1879 the Senat in Bremen granted the entrepreneur Carl Westenfeld a concession to establish a private urban telegraph network.76

Telegraphic circuits also came to underpin urban security as ‘fire telegraphs’ (Feuertelegraphen) were built throughout Germany. Siemens & Halske had introduced the concept in Berlin as early as 1851, but only later did the installation become widespread. In 1860, an urban signalling network was built in Stuttgart, with the municipal police department at its centre, to which were connected two of the city’s church towers, the commander of the fire department, and a number of other strategically placed watch points.77 This system facilitated the signalling of any outbreaks of fire and the coordination of responses to them, and could be used for policing purposes if necessary. Feuertelegraphen were introduced in Breslau in (p.213) 1865, Nuremberg in 1869, Augsburg and Aachen in 1871, Hamburg in 1872, Elberfeld in 1874, Frankfurt am Main in 1875, Barmen in 1876, and the list goes on.78 (See Figure 6.1 for a map of the telegraph network in Berlin.)

A Nation Connected

Figure 6.1 Map of the telegraph network in Berlin, 1881. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.

The power of telegraphic foresight was also applied to that great disruptor of everyday life—the weather. As early as 1850, the physicist Georg Ohm had suggested that the telegraph might be used to collect information on weather conditions, as well as other scientific observations.79 In the 1870s, the importance of a regular telegraphic meteorological reporting system was raised in the Reichstag, particularly ‘the national-economic value of reliable and prompt weather predictions’ which enabled agriculturalists to adapt to changing conditions.80 The regularity and reliability of information exchange which had primarily served business circles now extended to the countryside, and by 1881 services providing regular meteorological reports existed in both the Reich and Bavaria.81

(p.214) What the telegraph could do for social life, moreover, it would also do for the state. In a characteristically conservative understanding of progress, the deputy Eduard Georg von Bethusy-Huc asserted that the telegraph’s ‘principal value is not to be sought only in its speed, rather especially also in the absolute security and reliability of its functions. If this is already the case for the ordinary business correspondence of the public, so it will be all the more applicable when considering the question of the Reich’s diplomatic mission; to incidents…from which nobody can protect us with certainty.’82 The telegraph was thus to structure both state and society. As one Reichstag deputy put it, the laying of underground cables projected by Heinrich Stephan was crucial in order that these ‘nerves which traverse the Empire, these sensitive blood vessels, be protected from a chill’.83

Time itself began to spill out of the confines of railway stations and telegraph offices, channelled through the electric wires into public spaces. The new telegraph office projected for Nuremberg was to contain both a ‘meteorological station’ and an electric clock.84 As one report from the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873 emphasized, ‘[i]t is now possible, with the help of electricity, to transfer the precision of a scientifically controlled astronomical pendulum clock to a whole system of clocks, not only in railways, post offices, stock exchanges, large administrative buildings, etc., but also in the streets and on the squares of large towns, and thereby to create a reliable and precise management of time for the complicated activities of large centres of population and administration.’85

Under Heinrich Stephan’s stewardship, indeed, the revolution in communication appeared to be spreading to all Germans, regardless of social and geographical divisions. By 1878, almost half of the 34 million marks assigned to the project had been spent, the total number of publicly accessible telegraph offices within the imperial network had risen from 2,615 in 1871 to 6,842, and some deputies were calling for the tempo of construction to be moderated.86 But Stephan believed that a further 850 stations should be built, and in an address to the Reichstag he waxed lyrical about the capacity for telegraphy to serve the needs and wishes of all Germans, urban and rural:87

[T]hink of the distilleries, brickworks, sugar plants, and then of the foundations of the wool industry, the breeding of sheep, the cattle trade, cereal trade, wood trade; all of this creates considerable long-distance exchange…And family interests too! How many families in the countryside have had to send their children to distant schools, Gymnasien and universities; their sons to the army, (p.215) etc., and there can be instances in which it is a matter of dear interest, of peace of mind, of life and death, in which the most rapid transmission of news is of decisive importance…Think further, gentlemen, of instances where a doctor is called in all haste!…There are celebrations in the countryside; why should these be deprived of the comforts of the big cities?88

His concerns extended beyond the merely practical, moreover: ‘that which belongs to the beautification and the allure of life does not seem to me to be a matter of indifference in ethical and cultural terms…the clergy in the countryside tend to telegraph quite a lot…there the telegraph sustains the currents of intelligence. With the telegraph, you give these places a tongue.’89 (See Figure 6.2 for a portrait of Heinrich Stephan.)

A Nation Connected

Figure 6.2 Portrait of Heinrich Stephan, original by Anton Weber, c.1875. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.

(p.216) Heinrich Stephan’s triumphant tone reaffirmed his belief in the transformative power of telegraphy as a means of connecting all people and places. In providing this service equally to rich stockbrokers and lowly peasants, the state was taking liberal principles one step further. Verkehr was recognized not only as intrinsic to economic activity but as a social and cultural force. The telegraph, as Stephan imagined it, was now to bring progress and security to all Germans.

6.3 The Telegraphic Sphere

In 1873, roughly 80 per cent of the 9,077,000 telegrams sent by Germans within the Reich’s telegraphic jurisdiction were destined for correspondents within the same space. Of the remaining 1.5 million telegrams, almost a quarter were addressed to stations in Bavaria or Württemberg, and a further quarter to offices in Austria and Hungary. Well over four-fifths of telegraphic correspondence, therefore, remained confined to what might be described as a ‘großdeutsch’ sphere of communication. The most popular truly ‘international’ destinations for telegrams, meanwhile, were France (excluding occupied territories, 2 per cent of all telegrams sent, or 192,550), Great Britain and Ireland (1.6 per cent, or 146,779), followed by the Netherlands, Russia, Belgium, and Switzerland, in descending order. Around 11,000 telegrams were sent to ‘America’ in 1873, and 43 to Australia.90 By the early years of the Kaiserreich, therefore, telegraphic communication within a loosely defined Central European sphere had taken on significant dimensions, but the emerging global network served only a very small minority.

6.3.1 Finance and Trade

In 1873, the year that witnessed the Gründerkrach, the four principal hubs of communication within the Reich’s telegraphic jurisdiction were Berlin, followed by Frankfurt am Main, Cologne, and Hamburg, cities of clear commercial as well as demographic and political significance. Of the roughly 5.5 million telegrams which passed through Berlin in 1873, just over 1 million had been sent from or to the stock exchange alone. In fact, almost 8 per cent of all the telegrams sent across Germany in 1873 had emanated from the Berlin stock exchange itself.91 While there is no corresponding statistic for Frankfurt, it can be assumed that a large proportion of the 2.2 million telegrams handled there also passed through the (p.217) stock exchange.92 Finance and trade, as a sector, continued to occupy a disproportionately large share of the available telegraphic bandwidth.

Indeed, while Heinrich Stephan was increasingly eager to couch his infrastructural revolution in the rhetoric of a general public good, throughout the 1870s efforts continued to be made to accommodate the needs of the commercial elite. There already existed, for instance, a direct connection between the stock exchange in Berlin and that in Frankfurt am Main, as well as a selection of other ‘important Börsenplätze in Northern Germany’, and the decade witnessed the expansion of such dedicated channels for the circulation of financial information. The chamber of commerce in Cologne, for instance, regretted that they did not possess a direct line to the capital’s stock exchange, whose building, it was explained, did not have sufficient space to accommodate an extra connection.93 This neglect was soon put right, at which point, however, the business community in Elberfeld in turn complained that its recently acquired connection to Berlin—paid for by local inhabitants—was not as reliable as that to Cologne—stock prices from the capital city were reaching the city over two and a half hours after their dispatch.94

The emerging system of arteries connecting major centres of finance and trade across Germany and Europe threatened to exclude historically significant but now declining stock exchanges such as Augsburg. The Chamber of Commerce there complained that ‘[t]elegrams sent in the morning to Vienna and Berlin often receive a reply by night time or the next morning…and telegrams sent at the closing of the stock exchange in Frankfurt often do not arrive here on the same day’. The very ‘existence and capacity of a second-rank exchange depends principally upon the fact that it is in continuous and the promptest contact with the price fluctuations of the leading trading emporia’, it explained.95 Just as in Cologne and Elberfeld, the representatives of the Augsburg Börse—currently connected to Frankfurt by a telegraph line passing through Nuremberg—asked that direct lines be established between Augsburg and Munich, Frankfurt, and Hof (towards Berlin).96

In Bavaria too, indeed, the demands of the financial elite were placing disproportionate pressure upon the management of the network as a whole. Describing the situation in Augsburg, one official stated that ‘the Börse provides at most four percent of all correspondence, but requires a much speedier transmission of its telegrams than all other branches of communication, due to the task of completing (p.218) its business during a trading day, or even to operate on two stock exchanges at the same time’.97 As far as he was concerned, ‘the telegraph administration should not be particularly inclined to expand its means—which suffice for commercial and family telegrams—to the benefit of the stock exchange which offers no equivalent in terms of mass usage outside the stock exchange’s business hours’.98

The gradual installation of secure, direct intercity connections for the benefit of the business community was a pan-European phenomenon. Efforts had been made, for instance, to reach an international agreement allocating certain lines to the ‘Börsenpublikum’ during business hours, and at a higher tariff.99 The Dutch telegraph administration, meanwhile, sought to build a direct line between Vienna and Amsterdam ‘in the interest of the not insignificant stock exchange correspondence’.100 As will be shown below, the emergence of a privileged, transnational ‘telegraphic elite’ across Europe and beyond would become a source of tension in political discussions, particularly after the stock market crash of 1873.

It remains exceedingly difficult to establish whether the telegraph alleviated or exacerbated the effects of the Gründerkrach itself. As Hannah Catherine Davies has demonstrated, the technology’s role in the economic meltdown of 1873 was perceived differently by journalists and market actors in different locations on both sides of the Atlantic. On the one hand, the telegraph allowed some traders in Vienna and Berlin to react swiftly to news of the failure of the American bank Jay Cooke & Company, which had been involved in financing the Northern Pacific Railway. From this perspective, the technology appeared to fulfil the expectation that it would act as a stabilizing force in an interconnected global capital market. On the other hand, the influx of multiple, at times contradictory, telegraphic ‘sound bites’ from across the Atlantic left German journalists with an almost impossible task in seeking to untangle the course of events, contributing to the image of chaos caused by the panic itself.101

Whatever the perspective adopted, the crisis highlighted the technology’s role in connecting markets across the globe. Statistics compiled by the imperial telegraph administration directly attributed a dip in the volume of traffic in 1857 to the ‘business calm as a result of the monetary crisis’, and as the 1873 crisis was followed by a 1.7 per cent reduction in telegraphic correspondence—postal exchanges remaining unaffected—similar conclusions could be drawn.102 The journalist and economist Max Wirth observed that, already in 1857, ‘the telegraphs hurled the bad news…across all European places of commerce’, and (p.219) since then international exchange had intensified.103 This had also been fuelled by the railways, steamships, and reform of the postal system, but all, he emphasized, ‘stand in the shadow of the almost magical development of the telegraph, this most fairy-tale-like of all means of communication’.104 ‘Year on year’, he added, ‘that network is being drawn tighter around the earth which carries the winged word from place to place, from coast to coast, and links our thoughts to those in our antipodes.’105 Whether it diffused panic or facilitated rational responses to crises, the technology appeared to be accelerating economic feedback mechanisms across the globe.

And so the world of finance’s appetite for telegraphic communication continued to grow unabated after 1873, as German business slowly began to turn its attention overseas. Writing to announce the opening of a telegraphic connection between the ‘states of La Plata’ and Europe, the German Minister-Resident in Buenos Aires assured Bismarck that ‘European capital will more easily be brought to find a place [there…] when it can monitor the [stock prices] telegraphically’. As the official noted, given the high cost of the service—around 80 thaler for twenty words from Buenos Aires to Germany—this scale of communication and investment was limited to ‘large businesses’.106 Nevertheless, it placed a new market in South America more firmly on the horizon.107

The growth of international finance placed pressure upon administrations to ensure the speed and reliability of telegraphic communication. The telegraphic ticker had already made its appearance across the Atlantic in the late 1860s and was introduced to continental Europe over the following decades, but in the meantime the Reich administration collaborated with representatives of the stock exchanges in Berlin, Hamburg, and Frankfurt to streamline interactions. A new standardized form (Formular) to be filled out when executing transactions, for instance, was said to save around 50 per cent in time and labour.108 Other proposed reforms, which might impinge upon traders’ privilege, were not well received, however. The suggestion to open up the telegraph lines dedicated to stock exchanges for general correspondence outside the trading hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. were opposed on the grounds that businessmen carried out important transactions during the ‘Früh-’ or ‘Vorbörse’—lines were to remain open at all (p.220) times.109 The Aeltesten der Kaufmannschaft in Berlin, meanwhile, fought in vain to maintain the privilege of having telegrams delivered to their place of business when addressees could not be found at the stock exchange, an agreement they had negotiated with the administration in 1863.110

Often, seemingly trivial matters became a source of contention when they concerned the precious extra seconds which traders faced in making their transactions. Thus, the Börsenzeitung complained that too much time was now being lost buying stamps to send telegrams at the stock exchange, where customers had previously been able to run up a tab and pay later.111 In Bremen, customers at the stock exchange had flat out refused to adopt the practice.112 The telegraph thus helped to fuel the perception of stock exchanges as spaces of chaotic busyness. ‘On days when, for whatever reason, the markets are subject to strong fluctuations’, the Oberpostdirector in Berlin complained, ‘telegrams are scribbled down and handed over by the public at the stock exchange with unmistakable haste and precipitousness, and not rarely amended once again just as they are handed in’.113

Financial transactions across Europe as a whole were further facilitated by a policy introduced at the 1875 conference of the International Telegraph Union in St Petersburg, according to which private telegrams could henceforth be marked as ‘urgent’ and given priority in international transmission. Although this theoretically applied to any form of private correspondence, the triple tariff charged for this privilege placed a further premium on speed and time which remained in the hands of a transnational financial elite.114 Interestingly, the regulation had been rejected by a number of countries at the first conference of 1865, and it remained contentious throughout the 1870s. It was almost immediately introduced in France and Germany, it seems, but the British, in particular, refused to implement it into the 1880s, on the grounds that no private dispatches could be prioritized over others.115

By 1879, the Austrian minister of trade stated that ‘urgent’ dispatches were to be allowed on a trial basis in the Habsburg lands, though only ‘for correspondence between the stock exchange offices which are linked by direct lines’. That such a (p.221) policy was of particular utility to the world of finance was highlighted by the response from the Reich telegraph administration. Given that only Berlin and Frankfurt possessed a direct connection to Vienna, it was pointed out that ‘[t]here are also a large number of important Börsenplätze whose correspondence with Berlin takes place directly from exchange to exchange during trading hours…namely, the stock exchanges in Cologne, Bremen, Dresden, Hamburg, Königsberg i/P, Leipzig and Stettin, as well as foreign exchanges as in Paris, London [struck through in the original] and Brussels….’116 Together, these hubs constituted Europe’s network of financial urgency.

6.3.2 News and Public Opinion

The war of 1870 had sealed the alliance between the Prussian, now imperial, government and Germany’s principal telegraphic news agency, Wolffs.117 The agency’s display of patriotism in the campaign to win over national and international public opinion during the conflict secured its place in Bismarck’s general strategy of media manipulation during the 1870s, famously financed by the ‘Guelph fund’ which had been inherited from a defeated Hanover in 1867 and was now at the chancellor’s disposal.118 Not only did the agreement between the agency and the government ensure the latter’s ability to control the principal source of news for the domestic press, the resumption of the cartel between Havas, Reuters, and Wolffs—which was now granted control over newly annexed Alsace-Lorraine—provided it with a tool to help shape international public opinion.119 Encouraged by his experience in this field during the war, Bismarck collaborated with Wolffs to establish an outpost in London, ‘Schlesingers Correspondenz’, which was to help disseminate information to the British press.120

Wolffs was now in a position to secure its monopoly over Central Europe. After initially refusing to renew its contract with the Austrian K.K. Korrespondenz-Bureau, the latter’s dependence on news from its powerful northern counterpart forced it into a thoroughly subordinate position. Relations between the two agencies were re-established, on the condition that the Austrian bureau pay an indemnity for its breach of contract, and that it agree to hand over all its telegrams to Wolffs, while having to paying for the privilege of news in (p.222) exchange.121 Henceforth, the Austrian agency struggled to maintain its position on the international news market. A new, if weak, competitor briefly emerged in Austria itself—the ‘AG Globus’ offered its services to the German government, citing, in particular, the K. K Korrespondenz-Bureau’s anti-Prussian policy during the Franco-Prussian War.122 An attempt by the banker Louis Haber to turn the state agency into a joint-stock corporation, meanwhile, was turned down by the Austrian Ministry of Commerce, on the grounds that this would reduce the state’s influence over the dissemination of news, as well as over the rather volatile Viennese stock exchange.123 Only with the emergence of the ‘Eastern Question’ in the late 1870s would the K.K Korrespondenz-Bureau become an important source of information on the Balkans.124

The alliance between Wolff and the government, meanwhile, became an additional tool in the clampdown on the Catholic Church during the Kulturkampf initiated in 1873. The Kölnische Volkszeitung, for instance, claimed that a telegram sent by the Catholic ‘Wandererversammlung’ to Cardinal Antonelli, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, had been blocked by the authorities.125 In 1876, Prince Radziwill wrote to the administration to defend a priest’s use of Latin in a telegram to Cardinal Ledochowski, who had been imprisoned and later banished from the Kaiserreich for opposing his dismissal by the authorities. The telegram, the authorities revealed, opposed the election of a new priest who had not been approved by the local archbishop.126 When the head of the telegraph administration, Colonel Meydam, complained that the distribution of free political telegrams to newspapers was both costly and an affront to Wolffs’ monopoly, the Minister of the Interior replied that the publication in question needed such preference to help combat the ultramontane press in Westphalia.127

From the outset, however, the supranational nature of telegraphic news distribution, and of the 1870 news cartel itself, had constituted a potential source of tension in the state’s relationship with Wolffs. In 1874, the organization reconstituted itself as a publicly listed Aktiengesellschaft, without consulting the government, whose direct involvement in the management of the firm had been guaranteed by the agreement of 1869.128 As the global news cartel expanded to include the American Associated Press, meanwhile, rumours of a fusion of Reuters and Wolffs in 1875 led Bismarck’s close ally in the foreign office, (p.223) Bernhard von Bülow, to question the government’s relationship with the agency.129 The agency had complaints of its own, particularly regarding the time which the state administration was taking to verify telegrams before authorizing their publication, no doubt fuelling its desire to emancipate itself from the government’s tutelage.130

As the prospect of renewing the government’s ten-year contract with Wolffs appeared on the horizon, therefore, questions were raised regarding existing arrangements. Bismarck and Wolffs’ quasi-agent in London, Schlesinger, had established ties to The Times and had begun to take an independent stance on certain matters. Schlesinger’s criticisms of Gladstone, for instance, were seen to be damaging Anglo-German relations. When he began to stimulate rumours of hostilities between Germany and France, an investigation was launched into his operations, which revealed that the Austrian ambassador to London—and former Minister-President for the Habsburg monarchy—Ferdinand von Beust had gained influence over Schlesinger.131 The memorandum which resulted from these inquiries addressed the government’s relationship with Wolff in general. The latter, it was purported, had displayed a reluctance to support government policy and had reached agreements with Reuters and Havas instead of combatting their influence.132

As a result, the formal treaty between Wolffs and the government was not renewed in 1879. Bismarck’s efforts to establish a new, tighter agreement with Wolff which excluded Schlesinger were opposed by the agency’s representatives. In the end, in fact, Bismarck insisted on maintaining a purely informal agreement to cooperate with Wolffs. Doing so allowed Bismarck to avoid seeking the parliament’s approval for expenditures in this field, but it also reduced his ability to control the publication of problematic telegrams even in his own, favoured Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.133 Although the schism of 1879 by no means signalled the end of the alliance between the German government and Wolffs, it had highlighted the complexity of monitoring the increasingly international circulation of information, and the large corporations that regulated it.

The ties between the government, finance, and Wolffs were not lost on the public. Bismarck’s banker, Gerson Bleichröder, who had helped finance the restructuration of Wolffs in 1865—like his counterpart in France, the Baron d’Erlanger, who invested in Havas—was accused of meddling with the (p.224) distribution of news to influence the course of the stock market.134 The Allgemeine Zeitung, meanwhile, complained of undue censorship when it was refused a telegram reporting the dissolution of the Reichstag in 1878, a fact it threatened to share with its readers.135 Even the Saxon government, it seems, colluded with Reuter in an effort to counterbalance Wolffs’ influence on the news.136 These issues continued to be discussed by those attending the Journalistentage in the early years of the decade, who agreed on the need for more liberal press laws and proposed establishing an independent telegraphic news agency: ‘It is the German press’s duty’, one member explained, ‘to liberate itself from the semi-official dependency of the telegraphic bureaus.’137

In the third edition of his ‘Contribution to the History of the Press’, published in 1875, Heinrich Wuttke redoubled his attacks on the telegraphic news agencies, and Wolffs in particular. ‘Wolffs Telegrammbüreau in Berlin,’ he wrote, ‘which speaks daily in almost all German newspapers, was once favourable to the hegemonic or Prussian party, and unfavourable to the großdeutsch [party], such that it telegraphed to all the world the essential points of the products of the Prussian central press bureau, whose irrelevant views were received everywhere like the sayings of the oracle. Its connection with the authorities in Prussia is concealed only to superficial observers….’ Wuttke was concerned that ‘many readers still believe today that a telegram has greater significance than an ordinary newspaper report. Telegrams still evoke a blind faith. The sensible reading public must numb itself to them and learn to view them with mistrust.’138

6.3.3 Distant Connections, Local Realities

By the 1870s, the telegraph offices in thousands of German towns and villages were channelling myriad local, regional, and international exchanges. Wood merchants in the small village of Unterrodach in northern Bavaria were now concerned to keep up with ‘the value of paper money [which] often suddenly increases or falls as a result of apparently insignificant incidents’.139 In Traunstein, towards the foothills of the Alps, meanwhile, it was hoped the technology would (p.225) support local responses to major health epidemics—cholera, in particular—by enabling the district doctor and police to act quickly: ‘in these cases, intervention, for example by examining the cause of death, ordering the burial, disinfection, etc. must happen in the first instance’.140 Caspar Honegger, owner of the ‘Spinnerei, Weberei, Maschinenfabrik Kottern’ outside Kempten, depended on the service to help him face ‘the great competition, which is already developing in our branch of the cotton industry’, hinting at the changing global market in cotton after the end of the American Civil War, as Indian, Brazilian, and Egyptian producers pushed prices down.141

Telegraph offices thus occupied an increasingly important role in the everyday life of German communities. Through these offices, urban and rural Germans were connected to the channels of communication which were transforming the country, expanding markets, diversifying production, and, some feared, dissolving local communities by tying individuals to a broader network of social and economic relations. Indeed, the reconfiguration of local telegraph services to cater to a diversifying clientele highlighted the social divisions emerging within many cities, towns, and villages. But it also afforded the kind of new opportunities which, as Oliver Zimmer has shown, led to a reorientation of the local community within a ‘modern’ framework.142

In larger towns and cities, the reorientation of the telegraph service decentred the commercial elite within local networks of communication. The new central telegraph offices built during this period tended to be further removed from the stock exchanges in or near which they had originally been situated. In Bremen, the Reich administration’s plan to move the office to the new Oberpostdirectionsgebäude provoked complaints on the part of the Handelskammer. ‘The telegraph office was given its current place’, it explained, ‘on the one hand because it is at the centre of the town, but also because all trade correspondence is undertaken at the Börse, in particular during trading hours, and it is of vital importance for this correspondence…that it be in a position to use the telegraph at all times without losing any time.’143

Despite the Handelskammer’s complaints, the main telegraph office was indeed removed to the new post office building in 1878, but it was promised that a branch office would be established in the Börse. The administration insisted, however, that the space necessary for this installation be provided free of charge, ‘based on the understanding that the installation of this subsidiary is not necessitated by (p.226) general correspondence [emphasis in the original], rather is solely a measure for the benefit of the stock exchange’s traffic’.144 In effect, the interests of the local community as a whole were now being more clearly distinguished from those of the financial and mercantile elite. The Handelskammer reluctantly accepted this compromise, insisting that urgent telegrams nonetheless always be forwarded to the new central office ‘immediately after being handed over, without waiting for other telegrams to be collected’.145

To a great extent, it was the symbolic demotion of the mercantile elite in Bremen which caused frustration, as demonstrated when complaints regarding the practical consequences of the changes were statistically disproved by the administration.146 Indeed, the reconfiguration of Bremen’s network, both through the displacement of the Börse from its centre and the opening of new branches in the city’s suburbs, was a direct challenge to its ‘home town’ traditions, which had long revolved around the merchant and shipping community.147 By 1879, however, telegraphic traffic at the Bremen Börse, from which 19,500 telegrams had been sent, was considerably outpaced by that at the new central telegraph office, where the figure was 179,000. Alongside the central telegraph office, transmissions were now also being made from the offices in the surrounding districts of Neustadt, Horn, and Hastedt, albeit in small numbers at this stage.148

In Munich, meanwhile, Heinrich Gumbart recognized that the relocation of the Telegraphenamt to a building by the railway station ‘[brought] with it inconveniences for previously privileged classes within the population’. He therefore considered proposals for the introduction of a pneumatic post to connect the city’s various offices.149 As work got underway in 1876, it was recognized that this new network might also come to serve the urban community as a whole, and it was decided that the installation should be constructed so as ‘later with the increase in Munich’s population, to include the suburbs of Au, Haidhausen, Schwabing, and Sendling’.150 When the installation was inaugurated a year later, it was announced that a transmitter and receiver had been established, on a trial basis, ‘upon the urgent wishes of the local Handelsgremium…in the building in which the Börse is located’—a last-minute attempt to mollify the local elite.151 (See Figure 6.3.)

A Nation Connected

Figure 6.3 The Royal Telegraph Office, Bahnhofplatz, Munich. Woodblock print, 1876. Source: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München/Bildarchiv.

(p.227) As in Bremen, however, the symbolic displacement of a privileged social group within the network was just as important as its concrete implications. The utility of a pneumatic post installation in Munich was questioned in the Bavarian parliament, but as the former minister of trade, Gustav von Schlör explained, ‘there are now some things in the world which are desired by public opinion with such determination and emphasis, that one cannot successfully oppose them in the long term, and I include among them the installation of a pneumatic connection between the Centralstation and the Localstation. Even if you prove by a hair’s breadth and with mathematical certainty that the telegrams would not lose a minute if they were handed over to an omnibus, a messenger or a horse-drawn carriage…not a single person will believe you, and if only for this reason, this installation is necessary.’152

In Nuremberg, meanwhile, where industry played a more significant role, it was a broader alliance of businessmen which felt most threatened by changes to local infrastructure. In 1872, a petition from over 700 local businessmen (Geschäftsleute) was brought forward to complain of the recent transfer of the principal telegraph office to the central marketplace.153 Ignoring statistical evidence to the contrary, the petitioners asserted that the majority of correspondence (p.228) actually emanated from the now secondary, subordinate office at the railway station—that is to say, outside the city walls, where most industrial activity had developed.154 They requested that a specifically telegraphic connection therefore be established between the two offices, as ‘the carrying of telegrams to the main office by messengers, even if it takes place quickly and regularly, implies a loss of time relative to the previous transmission by telegraphic route’.155

Conflicts over local space had thus intensified since 1860. Then, the debates had centred upon the positioning of a single office which was to serve the needs of the entire community. As urban geography often reflected the socio-economic composition of a locality, the outcome had effectively privileged one professional group. By the 1870s, the communal nature of the telegraph was itself increasingly put into question, as multiple offices were built to serve the various needs of the population dispersed across an expanding urban environment, and the rifts between social groups were accentuated. The response, as these examples have shown, was to connect the various offices which were now opened in each town. The local ‘telegraphic elites’ of the preceding decades were thereby resituated within a new urban network of communication.

The manufacturing sector, meanwhile, stimulated a further individualization of the telegraph service, putting forward requests for the establishment of private, local telegraph lines. The objective was to help connect different branches of a given business, particularly where an individual’s home, office, and manufacture were in separate locations. An ironmonger in Munich, for instance, wished to connect his home to his depot.156 Both the Prussian and Bavarian governments had received such requests on occasion since the 1850s, and though official regulations on the matter remained unclear across Germany into the 1890s, an increasing number were approved. From the perspective of the authorities, the issue was to protect the state’s monopoly over public telegraph lines, ‘without unduly inhibiting the free movement of the individual in the realm of industry’.157 These requests were therefore considered on a case-by-case basis, and generally approved if the lines in question began and ended on private property.158

Soon, however, requests were also presented asking for individualized connections to the state network itself. In Bavaria, the first such successful request was put forward by a spinnery in Blaichach, in the Allgäu region, in 1869. The manufacturer asked that the state provide a telegraph line between their establishment and the nearest telegraph office, a request which was approved on condition that the spinnery pay interest of around 10 per cent of the installation costs.159 As a senior official in the Bavarian administration explained, its approval (p.229) was based on the example of Switzerland, where such installations had been allowed in order to bring ‘a lively traffic’ to isolated or disadvantaged locations and manufactures.160 The practice was clearly of particular utility in regions of decentralized production such as Switzerland, or indeed western Bavaria, as a means of coordinating the acquisition, transformation, and distribution of goods among different actors. The Bavarian minister of trade therefore worried that ‘a hundred private individuals [might] make claims to the same preferential treatment as the Spinnerei Blaichach, which is imaginable, even probable…’.161

And so, indeed, a growing number of private enterprises in the region reached arrangements with state and municipal governments in order to tailor the network to their needs. In 1870, the Swiss entrepreneur Caspar Honegger, evoked earlier, connected his isolated spinnery to the telegraph office in Kempten.162 In 1873, the founder of the renowned Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (BASF), August Clemm, obtained a connection between his factory and the telegraph office in Ludwigshafen in order to avoid ‘time-consuming messenger transport between both points’.163 Further agreements were reached with the Leineck spinnery and a manufacture near Bayreuth, an iron foundry near Eisenberg, and a manufacture of printers near Würzburg.164

One particular request during this period led to the introduction of a crucial innovation which was to transform practices of communication in decades to come. The München-Dachauer Aktien-Gesellschaft für Maschinenpapier Fabrikation asked for permission to connect two branches of its business, one in Dachau and the other in a Munich suburb, to ensure ‘quicker, direct and uninterrupted exchange’ between them. Concerned that this constituted a private network parallel to the state’s, in 1873 Heinrich Gumbart suggested that the two branches be connected via the Munich central office, which would effectively serve as a switchboard—the principle which was to support urban telephone networks from the late 1870s onwards.165 Driven by the needs of a manufacturing sector eager to establish very localiz ed connections to the much larger network upon which it depended, it had developed the principle of the central switchboard through which eventually, in theory, any two individuals could be placed in contact.

(p.230) 6.4 The Values of Time and Space

The consequences of the telegraph’s uneven progression across Germany became the object of Reichstag debates on the transformation of society and the economy, when deputies were asked to approve the government’s annual budget. Discussions generally revolved around the justification for an expansion of the network, the need to ensure that ‘the desire for an extension of the telegraphic installations, so often emphasized by so many parties’, in the words of Colonel Meydam, actually did reflect ‘a widespread and general need’.166 For a National Liberal such as Johannes Miquel, the matter was not up for debate. While conceding that ‘the telegraph service is incessantly forced to construct unprofitable lines’, particularly local connections, he insisted that these were nonetheless ‘economically necessary’.167

The Gründerkrach of 1873, however, raised questions as to the proportion of telegraphic exchanges dominated by the financial sector. Some deputies, such as the National Liberal August Grumbrecht, suggested that the technology had in fact caused the crisis by encouraging speculation among sections of the population who had no place or experience dealing in such financial matters.168 In general, though, the perception was that the telegraph service, as it was currently organized, was structured primarily to the benefit of a minority, a cosmopolitan elite of bankers and traders engaging in international transactions. To this extent, the crisis of 1873 drew deputies together across party lines in denouncing the influence of the highest echelons of the Wirtschaftsbürgertum.

In 1874, Leopold Sonnemann, a left-liberal and staunch opponent of the Bismarckian regime, complained that the greater part of the telegraph administration’s budget was spent on constructing lines which benefited the commercial bourgeoisie as a whole, including ‘merchants and such people who only occasionally send messages’. As for the Börsen, he believed, given their excessive occupation of the network’s bandwidth, they should be taxed for the priority which their telegrams were effectively being given.169 This policy, as we have seen, was then introduced following the international conference in St Petersburg in 1875. But the regulation was hardly a punitive measure, as it effectively formalized the temporal advantages that money could buy, a fact which his conservative colleague, Nordeck zur Rabenau, would later point out.170

The conference in St Petersburg, indeed, symbolized the growing dominance of an international, increasingly global, elite. It was as a result of the new regulations issued at the conference that Heinrich Stephan sought to introduce the new ‘Worttarif’, or pay-per-word tariff, which turned the Kaiserreich into one (p.231) homogeneous space of communication, and which evoked the vivid reaction from Theodor Günther quoted at the beginning of this chapter. There was no doubt that the policy was part of a movement to streamline international communication above all: ‘In the last few days’, Stephan explained to the Reichstag, ‘we have received the approval of France, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands…and we have thereby made a good start. We will therefore, in normalizing our new internal tariffs, provisionally go on the basis of the Worttarif’.’171

This uniform tariff resembled the postal Einheitsporto which had recently been introduced across Germany.172 As things stood, telegrams were charged according to both a price category reflecting the total number of words they contained and the distance over which they were being sent, for which a number of zones had been established. The Worttarif, by charging a flat rate of 5 pfennigs per word and eliminating zones, effectively made the distance of individual communications irrelevant—a practice which had already been adopted in Bavaria and Württemberg, though at a slightly lower rate. To the homogeneity of time which the network promised to create, the Worttarif promised to add the uniformity of ‘telegraphic space’.

The policy provoked heated discussions in the Reichstag, however, and highlighted the fallacy that distance had been annihilated. Indeed, the flat rate introduced by Stephan was higher than that previously charged for telegrams sent within ‘Zone 1’—that is to say, within the shortest radius. The conservative deputy and estate owner Theodor Günther therefore argued that the Worttarif would only be to the benefit of ‘Groβ‎handel’ and ‘Groβ‎industrie’. Unlike the post, he explained, only ‘particular classes are in the habit of sending telegrams over a long distance’.173 Instead, Günther claimed to defend the rights of ‘agriculture in its entirety, the artisan class, the public, even the working classes’, who only sent telegrams over short distances (though he felt compelled to insist that he by no means harboured socialist inclinations). If the interests of these groups were instead supported, Günther believed that their ‘propensity to telegraph’ would increase, and thereby also the network’s revenue. What, Günther asked, did Stephan intend to do for the ‘vast majority’ of the population?174 He was supported by his colleague at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Leopold Sonnemann, who recommended giving ‘the public the opportunity to telegraph more’ by lowering fees.175

In the end, the Worttarif was imposed, but Stephan also took up some of the deputies’ proposals. The triple tax on priority transmissions was, of course, introduced. It had been agreed in St Petersburg but, as mentioned earlier, not all states introduced the measure, and so the deputies’ support for it no doubt (p.232) encouraged its adoption in Germany. Other new policies included providing newspapers with the option of using telegraph lines at off-peak times, at a reduced cost. Thanks to this agreement, Stephan stated, the Kölnische Zeitung was printing extracts of the Reichstag proceedings in its daily paper.176

Resistance to the Worttarif nevertheless continued. In 1876, two deputies, the National Liberal Bernhard Schröder and the Progressive Wilhelm Spielberg, presented a request to the Reichstag asking that ‘Zone 1’, the most local zone of correspondence, be reintroduced in parallel with the Worttarif. Keeping the cost of local correspondence low, Schröder emphasized, would favour exchanges from ‘locality to locality, small enterprise to small enterprise, as well as agriculture’.177 To the needs and desires of finance, ‘Groβ‎industrie’ and ‘Groβ‎handel’, were thus being opposed those of a lower stratum within the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, whose interests were seen to align with those of rural producers.

And indeed, the conservative estate owner Friedrich Behr-Schmoldow similarly denounced the new tariff. His anger displayed a characteristically conservative blend of hostility to both producers and consumers of an emerging global financial order. ‘Where did we get this disastrous Worttarif from?,’ he asked. ‘I believe it comes from the transatlantic submarine cable companies.’ These companies, he continued, charged per individual word in order to limit the length of telegrams transmitted and avoid overburdening their lines.178 The left-leaning liberal Carl Schmidt concurred: the government was at the mercy of submarine cable companies which ‘seek more to reap high dividend than to promote the interests of communication’.179 Schmidt later raised the issue again, complaining of the excessively high costs of communicating with England by telegraph despite the international agreements of 1875 which should have regulated the matter.180

This time Stephan admitted that he was powerless to effect further change. On the one hand, he pointed to the lack of incentive among neighbouring states to clamp down on high costs. ‘As for the cable companies,’ he added, ‘it is for their benefit that they are not pursuing a liberal tariff policy.’181 Indeed, throughout the 1880s Stephan was to place pressure upon Bismarck to support the establishment of German submarine cables that might reduce this dependency upon foreign corporations, but the chancellor refused, his attention focused on the balance of power in Europe.182

For Behr-Schmoldow, meanwhile, these multinational companies were intimately connected with the agricultural crisis which had struck his class of Prussian estate owners, a consequence of cheap American and Russian grain flooding (p.233) European markets. Their power, he implied, derived from a new reliance upon global communications: ‘ever since Europe is used to finding out about every tremor in the gold securities [market] in New York; ever since, as we recently discovered, the price of wheat in Chicago can suddenly rise when General Ignatieff has some boxes packed up’. Despite the fact that the greater part of all telegraphic traffic was local, he explained, the Worttarif had doubled the cost of telegraphing at a distance equivalent to the former first zone, but halved that for transmissions at a distance of three zones. In Bavaria and Württemberg, at least, the flat rate was much lower, at 3 pfennigs.183

Heinrich Stephan admitted that the new tariff was in fact being adopted for the benefit of international correspondence, though he did not explicitly associate long-distance communication with a particular class.184 His resistance to the reintroduction of zones led to the pronouncement quoted at the beginning of this chapter, and to Günther’s response in defence of all Germans still living by the ‘hoof and clod’. Once again, the conservative was joined in his opposition by Eugen Richter, who believed that the new tariff was ‘an unfair increase in cost over short distances to the benefit of stock market exchanges’.185

In more practical terms, Richter also questioned the very possibility of annihilating distance by means of reduced costs, as Heinrich Stephan proposed: ‘The Generalpostmeister simply doesn’t take distance into account; he says that space must be conquered, no attachment to the clods of earth. Gentlemen, yes, following this principle we would eventually come to the conclusion that we can telegraph to India or America for only 5 Pfennig, but you are well aware that this is impracticable.’ Pointing out the technical limitations to providing cheap, long-distance correspondence, he added: ‘this shows, however, that the principle should not be over exaggerated, that there is a limit at which [the Generalpostmeister’s argument] becomes wrong and counterfactual.’186

Across the political spectrum, there was thus almost unanimous condemnation of, or at least frustration with, the power of the new financial elite. Denouncing the privilege purportedly granted by the administration to stock exchange traders, and to a lesser extent large-scale merchants and industrialists, deputies upheld the right of the lower middle classes, artisans, and agriculturalists to affordable communication. The intimate connection between the Gründerkrach and the frenzy of investment facilitated by the new technology had led the Reichstag to spotlight the social, as well as economic, dimension of telegraphic communication. When considering the purpose and structure of the network, it was not the particular activities pursued by the users which defined communities of interest but, rather, their relationship to space. Agricultural interests and artisans, but also (p.234) small-scale enterprise and, to a lesser extent, workers, were allied insofar as they identified with practices of short-distance communication.

Indeed, the Worttarif established a rate of 1 mark for an ordinary telegram of twenty words sent within Germany. In the mid 1870s, an independent craftsman in Münster could expect to earn up to 1,000 marks in a year, and, at around a third of his daily wage, the cost of telegraphing was perhaps exorbitant but by no means prohibitive.187 Communication across longer distances, however, and particularly using private submarine cables, remained well beyond the reach of ordinary Germans. Across the network, therefore, as new users poured in, social distinctions were being replicated, but they were being expressed in terms of distance and the communicative horizons of the interested parties.

The Worttarif was eventually accepted, but the organization of the telegraph network became intertwined with a further emerging social distinction. Whereas delivery fees had been universally abolished for postal services, the distribution of telegrams to individuals’ homes was charged according to their distance from a telegraph office. Those residing in a district without a telegraph office of its own (Landbestellbezirk) were required to cover the cost of delivering telegrams to their home. Yet it was generally in rural districts that such fees applied, effectively privileging urban residents who lived close enough to a telegraph office to receive their telegrams for free.

Graf Stolberg-Wernigerode, the conservative owner of a Pomeranian estate, complained of this inequality, arguing that if the delivery fees could not be abolished outright, all messenger services, regardless of their location, should be charged equally—urban recipients of telegrams effectively subsidizing the cost of reaching those living further away. This, Stolberg asserted, was the principle of ‘equalizing justice (ausgleichende Gerechtigkeit)’.188 He had the support of his fellow country estate owner, Behr-Schmoldow, who also complained of the disadvantage at which those living in rural areas were placed and warned of a dispute ‘between town and countryside’. He too believed that all should pay for the delivery of messages, so as to spread the cost more evenly.189

In this matter, the debate highlighted clearer social and party-political distinctions, as the conservative deputies representing rural interests opposed a policy which favoured urban dwellers. The Centre Party adherent Burghard von Schorlemer-Alst, however, turned their argument on its head. He too lived in the countryside, he explained, and similarly had ‘the luck, or bad luck, to receive (p.235) telegrams often’. He lived twenty-five minutes by foot from the telegraph office and often paid up to 1 mark to have his messages delivered. The fees were so high, he admitted, that he knew of craftsmen who had become messengers because of the generous wages involved. While he therefore wished that these costs ultimately be reduced, he could not support the idea that to charge all users the same fee was to exact ‘equalizing justice’; rather, it was to artificially overburden some to the benefit of others.190

Eugen Richter also admitted to having suffered from this policy, during the few months in the summer when he lived in the countryside. He too agreed that delivery fees were set too high, but he blamed the fact that the political boundaries of rural communities were not drawn ‘rationally’ and did not therefore correspond to delivery zones. As for Graf Stolberg’s proposition to charge a flat rate to all users, however, which paid no regard to the cost of labour involved, he denounced it—to the amusement of the right wing of the assembly—as a communist principle, far worse than social democracy.191

In response to the discussion, Heinrich Stephan reminded the deputies that messenger fees could not be reduced at will. The administration, he claimed, was beholden to the individual messengers’ demands, as they were in a position to withdraw their service. For his part, he asserted that, by a logic of ‘ausgleichende Gerechtigkeit’, it would be more appropriate to favour the towns, whose business was currently compensating for the deficit created in the countryside. More stations were being built, he emphasized, to come closer to the people.192

Basing their argument upon the principle of ‘equalizing justice’, the conservative deputies had demonstrated the widespread acceptance of contemporary terms of debate. Their complaint revealed that access to the network was now considered a universal right, and that it was regularly used by members of a landowning, politically active, class. In practice, however, the telegraph had also established distinctions between rural and urban localities, just as it had privileged certain sections of the Wirtschaftsbürgertum and excluded the artisans, workers, and agricultural labourers whose plight was increasingly the source of political concern. The struggle of liberal politicians and the rising middle class during the 1850s and 1860s to establish economic development as the primary objective of communication had largely been successful. But it had also drawn attention to the social divisions created by the forces of industrialization and market capitalism which it supported. In this respect, the deputies themselves called for state intervention to balance the inequalities which were emerging.

(p.236) 6.5 Networks of Modernity

By the late 1870s, the telegraph had begun to weave itself into the fabric of German society, encouraging users to resituate themselves within a new network of relationships. ‘A telegram to “Herr Müller in Berlin”’, an article in Die Gartenlaube explained to its readers in 1874, ‘is naturally undeliverable from the outset, for which of the thousand Müllers is the right one?’193 Visions of a global village notwithstanding, indeed, users of the telegraph network slowly became all the more aware of their position in a variety of local, regional, national, and global contexts. This cognitive transformation was, of course, a learning process—as one deputy informed the Reichstag, many people were initially ‘not so well informed of the distances’ across which they communicated.194 Die Gartenlaube therefore felt compelled to explain that ‘a precise address also requires a precise description of the location…A telegram to Straßburg, for instance, can be sent to Alsace but also to West Prussia’.195

Deputies in the Reichstag well knew that the technology was not yet one of mass consumption. Carl Schmidt explained that, whereas each German received on average nineteen letters per year, they were expected to receive fewer than one telegram annually.196 ‘Statistics make it clear’, he asserted, ‘that furor Teutonicus has not yet been transformed into furor telegraphicus.197 And so it was up to the state to inculcate individuals with the habit of telegraphing: ‘We all know, gentlemen,’ Schmidt continued, ‘that both the post and telegraph institutes stand in an intimate relationship with popular education. In those countries in which education is compulsory, the number of letters is greater than in those where it is not. Similarly, education also impacts the sending of telegrams.’ One way of encouraging uptake of the service, in Schmidt’s view, was therefore to familiarize people with it, perhaps by teaching children how to write ‘laconically’ in schools.198

The technology was nevertheless progressively embedded in the structures of everyday life, a fact reflected by its changing depiction in contemporary culture. Adverts in Kladderadatsch now regularly contained references to the telegraph services available in or near the country’s many Kurhäuser, as well as the occasional villa which was put up for sale. Businesses advertised the possibility of placing orders by telegraph, and working models of telegraphs could now be bought as Christmas presents. In the newspaper itself, meanwhile, the technology increasingly featured as an integral part of satirical plots rather than as a subject for explicit comment, as its novelty slowly faded in the shadow of the latest (p.237) invention—the telephone. Readers were presented with a ‘midsummer novel in letters, postcards and telegrams’, while an entire satirical poem was devoted to ‘instructions for telephone operators’.199

Indeed, as an article in Die Gegenwart explained in 1872, when Bernhard Wolff had first proposed to open a telegraphic news agency, one Berlin financier had thought him mad, but now even ‘the grocer in his cellar in Berlin demands that a telegraphic message bring him news over breakfast of the fire which took place that same night in Chicago. If the telegram is a few hours late, he considers harshly that the newspaper isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.’200 The article went on to describe the complexity of business at Wolff’s telegraph office, where Paul Lindau himself, founder of Die Gegenwart, had worked for some time. It was overwhelmed, the author stated, by the

desires, demands, accusations, instructions and rejections from a few hundred newspapers, each of which would like to see an office established just for itself. Subscribers in Berlin alone are difficult to satisfy. One of them notes that the market price of Dutch cheese is of particular importance to him, and yet is never telegraphed. Another, a well established and intelligent banker affirms quite seriously that the pronouncements of Louis Napoleon may well be of interest, but that it would be more important for the thoughts of the French sovereign to be relayed in a timely way, such that one could then make arrangements for one’s end-of-month settlements!.201

Telegraphic news agencies could find consolation, however, in the ‘feeling of their indispensability. Imagine the cries if the office in the Jägerstraße were one day to strike! If ever a great flood were to occur once again…one can guarantee that Noah II, upon awaking in his ark on the morning after the catastrophe, would ask not after the state of the menagerie he had brought with him, but rather after the latest telegraphic dispatches….’202 The notion that religious ideas and practices themselves were being ‘modernized’ was not, of course, far-fetched. As a satirical poem in Kladderadatsch made clear, while pilgrims had in the past made their way by foot, ‘per pedes Apostolorum’, the discomforts of those times were now over, and one could spot them ‘driven by steam’. Man, indeed, had ‘allied itself with evil’ in creating the first railway, but ‘everything, the iron steed and also tracks, must yet be of service to the pious. Even the telegraph, I should also note, serves good causes. For should the pope anathematize, its effects are felt already a few hours later in Berlin.’203 In matters of faith, too, the telegraph had helped shape the (p.238) passage from the ‘traditional’ to the ‘modern’, complete with its many ambiguities.204

For users sending rather than receiving telegrams, the dissemination of the practice of ‘laconic’ writing itself became the subject of satire. The need for conciseness in telegraphing had been accentuated by Heinrich Stephan’s application of the uniform Worttarif, which placed a price on each individual word. But in a country whose language possessed a remarkable capacity to amalgamate and thereby elongate words, the policy had required the introduction of limits on the length of a telegraphically recognized term. In an article addressed to ‘the orthographic commission’, Kladderadatsch explained that ‘[b]ecause of telegraphy, no word is to have more than 15 characters. Words breaching this rule must be reduced to the standard number. In some cases that is quite easy. Obergierungsrat instead of Oberregierungsrath is hardly remarkable. But it will be somewhat more difficult to reduce the Kammergerichtsauscultator from 25 to 15 characters. But no doubt a modus vivendi will be reached.’205

The progressive embedding of the technology into the foundations of social life could be traced in the realist fiction which flourished during this period. Friedrich Spielhagen’s often neglected, yet bestselling and wonderfully evocative, description of the Gründerzeit and its immediate aftermath, Sturmflut (1877), written in the thick of these transformations, illustrates the ideological connotations which new means of communication evoked.206 The novel revolves around the building of a railway and naval base in northern Germany specifically, but it highlights the conflict of world views which these modern infrastructural projects provoked between—and crucially, within—the proud but declining aristocracy and the rising entrepreneurial bourgeoisie who, more or less willingly, collaborated in bringing them to life. A key representative of the latter, the successful and tremendously wealthy Philipp Schmidt who invests in the railways, has four marble statues carved to adorn his new home, one of which represents Hermes, the Greek god who, we are told, ‘if only he had lived to see it, would undoubtedly have been appointed to the position of Olympian Postmaster General’.207 It is no coincidence, moreover, that the retreat of the metaphorical ‘Sturmflut’ of gold from French reparations, which brings these projects to an unhappy end, is interspersed with the arrival of important telegrams.

(p.239) It is, however, in Theodor Fontane’s novels, written in the ensuing decades, that the subtle penetration of new infrastructures of communication into the sinews of German society is most clearly expressed. Rarely does the author explicitly comment upon the impact of telegraphs, telephones, and railways, and yet they are omnipresent as the simultaneously binding and divisive social force which they had become.208 All the emerging characteristics of an ambiguous, connected modernity which have been described in these chapters are there, from the city as a ‘complex machine system’ to the punctuality that plagued the bourgeois elite, and the interaction of various means of communication, quiet manifestations of the uneven transformation which had preceded them and which Fontane had witnessed.209

The theme of time and punctuality appears early on in one of Fontane’s earlier novels, L’Adultera, published in 1882 but set in the Gründerjahre of the 1870s. The narrative, which unfolds in the stereotyped milieu of high finance, revolves around the converted Jewish banker Ezechiel van Straaten’s dissolving relationship with his young wife, Melanie de Caparoux, from an ennobled family of French heritage. Chief among the characteristics which van Straaten—no doubt modelled on Bismarck’s personal banker, Gerson Bleichröder—associates with the nobility he struggles in vain to integrate is that of ‘punctuality and not-causing-to-wait [Nichtwartenlassen]’,210 a concern bordering on obsession which structures the couple’s life. Dinner, for instance, should be taken at 7 p.m., when darkness had ‘naturally emerged’, rather than artificially, at 4 p.m., and throughout the novel letters, notes, and telegrams are sent to help keep Ezechiel and Melanie to time.211 When the marriage finally breaks down, Melanie herself insists that she must interrupt her conversation with her husband, as she is expected elsewhere: ‘And I don’t want to begin my new life with unpunctuality. To be unpunctual is to be disorganised.’212

If time forms the ‘iron cage’ in which the protagonists in L’Adultera are trapped, in his later novels Fontane increasingly emphasizes the various modes of communication which tie together his characters in relations of interdependence.213 In Cécile (1886), we follow the evolving relationship between a married young woman, Cécile von St Arnaud, and the man she meets by chance at a hotel. The man in question, Robert von Gordon-Leslie, is a former Prussian army officer turned civil engineer and telegraph cable expert—a background far too reminiscent of Werner Siemens to be coincidental, and a testament to the latter’s (p.240) recognized position within German society by the 1880s.214 Fontane’s depiction of the telegraph, in particular, is characteristically ambivalent. Indeed, throughout Cécile it becomes clear that Gordon-Leslie, a thoroughly modern man, has become so accustomed to using the telegraph as to hinder his ability to communicate his sentiments adequately—his letters, by contrast, serve principally to prolong Cécile’s suffering.215 The technology’s very characteristics are thus at the heart of the two protagonists’ difficult and fitful relationship—twice, when they threaten to cross the boundaries of ‘social propriety’, it is a telegram which calls Gordon-Leslie away to work.216

By the time he wrote his ‘social novels’, therefore, Fontane was no longer interested in the overt enthusiasm for the material and economic benefits of technological progress which his contemporaries had previously celebrated. Rather, as Eda Sagarra has argued, he sought to illustrate their profound socio-psychological impact.217 In Effi Briest, both the temporal structuring and disruption of daily life practised in L’Adultera and the ambivalent technological infrastructure of society help to shape the narrative. At the end of the novel, the telegraph in fact serves to disconnect the threads of social convention which led Effi’s parents to disown her: ‘Ich werde ganz einfach telegraphieren: “Effi Komm”, her father announces, symbolizing his desire to reintegrate his daughter into their family.218

Der Stechlin, Fontane’s last novel, published in 1898, most fully encapsulates the ambiguity of the telegraph’s impact upon society, an ambiguity which, this book has argued, was intrinsic to the technology itself. Here, the author does allow his protagonist, Dubslav von Stechlin, to comment quite explicitly upon the changes which he has witnessed. Encamped on his provincial estate, the elderly Dubslav depends upon the ‘tipp tipp tipp’ of the electric current to tie him into the political and social developments taking place across Germany and beyond: ‘these remarkable shifts in time and hour. Almost bizarre. When the September Revolution broke out in Paris in the year seventy, one knew about it over in America a few hours before the revolution even happened.’ Yet as a self-defined ‘recluse’, he claims never to be informed of events in time—an illustration of the uneven distribution of the service across the country.219 Of course, however, it is (p.241) nevertheless by means of the telegraph that he organizes his social life and receives the news of his son’s visit that launches the narrative as a whole.220

For this representative of a dissolving ‘traditional’ society, telegraphy is responsible for a range of disappointing changes, not least of which is the practice of ‘laconic’ writing: ‘brevity’, Dubslav laments, ‘is supposed to be a virtue, but to be brief often also means to be coarse’—the address ‘Herr’, in particular, had disappeared from common usage. When one of his guests replies that, sadly, ‘one cannot do without telegraphy, especially here in our solitude’, pointing to the technology’s indispensability in a connected age, Dubslav concedes that ‘[t]he devil is not quite so black as he is portrayed, nor is telegraphy’, acknowledging the wonderful scientific achievements upon which the technology was based.221 The protagonist’s attitude to telegraphy thus mirrors his (and arguably Fontane’s) characteristically moderate stance in politics, denouncing social democracy while also warning of the dangers of excessive conservatism.222

Now embedded in the infrastructure of modern Germany, the telegraph had become a force underpinning its social, economic, and even political divisions and yet connecting its extremes, at once a force of interaction, amalgamation, and differentiation which provoked ambiguous reactions. Or, in the characteristically terse words of Dubslav von Stechlin: ‘Es ist das mit dem Telegrafieren solche Sache, manches wird besser, aber manches wird auch schlechter….’223 (p.242)


(1) VDR (1876), vol. 1, 8 Nov. 1876, pp. 88–9.

(2) Ibid.

(3) J.-O. Hesse, Im Netz der Kommunikation: Die Reichs-Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung, 1876–1914 (Munich, 2002), pp. 51–3.

(11) Rather than conflating the processes, Stein Rokkan highlighted the differentiation involved in simultaneously unfolding processes of modernization, industrialization, and nation-state formation: ‘Dimensions of State Formation and Nation Building: a Possible Paradigm for Research Variation within Europe’, in C. Tilly (ed.), The Formation of National States in Europe (Princeton, 1975), pp. 562–600.

(12) GStA PK I HA Rep. 120 A XIV, Nr. 9, Bd. 2, Statistik des Verkehrs der Stationen des Deutschen Reichs-Telegraphen-Gebietes pro 1873, p. xi.

(13) GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, Circular, Eulenburg to all Regierungs-Präsidien and Landdrosteien, 30 July 1870.

(14) See, for example, GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, Magistrat Sagan to MInn, 2 Aug. 1870; GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, Magistrat Pasenvalk to Minn, 4 Aug. 1870.

(16) GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, Bürgermeister Bochum to Kgl. Landräthliche Behörde, 2 Aug. 1870.

(17) GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, Chauvin to Eulenburg, 2 Sept. 1870.

(18) GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, Eulenburg to Polizei Präsident, 8 Aug. 1870.

(19) See, for example, GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, Tit. 945, Nr. 51, Bd. 1, General-Direction der Telegraphen to Dr Hahn, 20 Oct. 1870.

(20) E. Dörfler and W. Pensold, Die Macht der Nachricht: Die Geschichte der Nachrichtenagenturen in Österreich (Vienna, 2001), p. 195.

(21) P. Knightley, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Kosovo (London, 2000), p. 45; A. Nalbach, ‘“The Ring Combination”: Information, Power, and the World News Agency Cartel, 1856-1914’ (PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, 1999), p. 170; Dörfler and Pensold, Die Macht der Nachricht, p. 194.

(23) Dörfler and Pensold, Die Macht der Nachricht, p. 191.

(26) ‘Denkschrift, betreffend die für die Jahre 1874 bis 1876 in Aussicht genommene Entwickelung und Vervollkommnung des deutschen Reichs-Telegraphennetzes’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, pp. 21–44.

(28) ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, p. 21.

(30) Article 52 of the Reichsverfassung affirmed the Reich’s power of legislation in postal and telegraphic matters, as well as its authority to negotiate international agreements and to determine the conditions of public access and any fee exemptions. The governments of Bavaria and Württemberg, however, maintained the right to determine their own tariffs and service regulations, and to reach agreements with their immediate neighbours. Their income from these institutions was also independent of the Reich’s: Huber, Dokumente zur Deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte, ii, pp. 298–300.

(31) Weichlein, Nation und Region.

(32) Huber, Dokumente zur Deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte, ii, p. 297.

(33) Aside from various clauses in the imperial Strafgesetzbuch which defined damage to state telegraph lines as an offence. The question of the state’s monopoly over telegraphy, moreover, had not been settled. See F. Kilger, Die Entwicklung des Telegraphenrechts im 19. Jahrhundert, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der technischen Entwicklung (Frankfurt am Main, 1993), p. 53.

(35) Hesse, Im Netz der Kommunikation, pp. 52–3.

(36) ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, p. 21.

(37) BHStA, GD 235, Stephan to General-Direktion Württemberg, 3 Feb. 1875.

(38) Hesse, Im Netz der Kommunikation, pp. 56–7; ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, pp. 21–44.

(39) ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, p. 21.

(40) See Chapter 5, p. 164.

(41) BHStA, GDVA 450, GDVA to MA, 30 Sept. 1872.

(42) BHStA, GDVA 234, Gumbart to MA, 20 Mar. 1873.

(44) BHStA, GDVA 234, Gumbart to MA, 20 Mar. 1873.

(45) BHStA, Staatsrat 7175, ‘Motive zum Gesetz-Entwurf’, 10 Nov. 1873; see discussions in VKA (1873–5), 19 Dec. 1873, pp. 114–19.

(46) ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, pp. 23–4.

(47) Rückblick auf das erste Jahrhundert der K. Bayer. Staatspost (1. März 1808 bis 31. Dezember 1908), ed. K. B. Staatsministerium für Verkehrsangelegenheiten (Munich, 1909), pp. 163–4.

(48) StAN, D4 158, Stadt-Magistrat to Handelskammer, 17 Nov. 1869; Stadtarchiv Nürnberg, Stadtchronik, pp. 538, 746; HKBA, MA P II 1 Bd. 2, J. Albers, Namens der Handelskammer to Oberpost-Direktor, 27 Sept. 1877.

(49) GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77 MInn., Tit. 1375, Nr. 4, Gen. Bd. 1, Stephan to Eulenburg, 17 Oct. 1878.

(50) BHStA, GDVA 235, Heinrich Gumbart to Kais. General Telegraphen-Amt, 18 Apr. 1877.

(51) BHStA, MA 109807, Bayerische Gesandtschaft to MA, 29 Oct. 1880.

(52) See, for example, HKB, MA—P II 1, Bd. 2, ‘Delbrück to Senat’, 4 May 1868.

(53) See the agreements reached in the construction of lines, contained in BHStA GDVA 234 and BHStA GDVA 235. For example, BHStA GDVA 235, Gumbart to Kais. Deutsche General-Direction der Telegraphen’, 3 May 1875, requesting a bias-current connection between Ludwigshafen and Mannheim to support the completion of the Bavarian network in the Pfalz.

(54) H. A. Wessel, Die Entwicklung des elektrischen Nachrichtenwesens in Deutschland (Wiesbaden, 1983), p. 300.

(55) Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, iii, pp. 866–73.

(56) Ibid., iii., 907–14.

(57) VDR (1873), 11 June 1873, p. 1083; VDR (1876), 8 Nov. 1876, pp. 90–1; VDR (1877), 12 Apr. 1877, p. 394.

(58) VDR (1871), 12 Nov. 1871, p. 269.

(59) VDR (1872), 24 May 1872, p. 491.

(60) ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, p. 21.

(61) Weichlein, Nation und Region, pp. 60–7.

(62) VDR (1878), 28 Mar. 1878, p. 571.

(63) Ibid.

(64) H. Vogt, Die Uberseebeziehungen von Felten & Guilleaume (1874–1914) (Stuttgart, 1979).

(65) Werner to Wilhelm, 10 Oct. 1876, in C. Matschoβ‎ (ed.), Werner Siemens. Ein kurzgefaβ‎tes Lebensbild nebst einer Auswahl seiner Briefe (2 vols., Berlin, 1916), ii, p. 503; on the rise of cartel capitalism from the late 1870s as a means of defending against economic instability, see H.-U. Wehler, Das Deutsche Kaiserreich, 1871–1918 (Göttingen, 1973).

(66) VDR (1879), 23 Mar. 1879, p. 579.

(68) As James Brophy has suggested, attitudes to state intervention within business circles were not always hostile, particularly in the wake of the 1873 Gründerkrach and ensuing depression, which directly impacted the value of railway stocks: J. M. Brophy, Capitalism, Politics, and Railroads in Prussia, 1830–1870 (Columbus, 1998), pp. 168–72; cf. also D. Ziegler, Eisenbahnen und Staat im Zeitalter der Industrialisierung: die Eisenbahnpolitik der deutschen Staaten im Vergleich (Stuttgart, 1996).

(69) BHStA, GDVA 234, Gumbart to MA, 20 Mar. 1873.

(70) Wessel, Entwicklung des Nachrichtenwesens, pp. 293, 298.

(71) Rückblick auf das erste Jahrhundert der Kgl. Bay. Staatspost (1.3.1808 bis 31.12.1908), ed. Kgl. Bay. Staatsministerium für Verkehrsangelegenheiten (Munich, 1911), p. 253; BHStA, MA 109800, Gumbart to MA, 22 Apr. 1873.

(72) BHStA, MA 109800, GDVA to MA, 22 Apr. 1877.

(73) HKBA, MA P II 1, Bd. 3, ‘Statistische Angaben über den telegraphischen Verkehr für das Jahr 1877’.

(74) Stadtarchiv Wuppertal, E V 22, Manuscript zum Verwaltungsbericht für das Jahr 1877.

(75) BHStA, GDVA 454, ‘Uebereinkommen zwischen der Telegraphen-Central-Station München und dem Stadt-Omnibus-Institute‘, 11 Nov. 1871.

(76) Matschoβ‎, Werner Siemens, pp. xliii–iv; ‘Ueber pneumatische Anlagen zur Depeschenbeförderung’, DPJ, 227 (1878), pp. 39–49; BHStA, MA 109800, Gumbart to MA, 27 July 1877; StAB, 6,40–K.4.c., Mittheilung des Senats, 24 June 1879.

(77) Deutsche Feuerwehr-Zeitung, 22 Mar. 1861.

(78) Stadtarchiv Wuppertal, G VIII 41, Brandrath Barmen: ‘Bericht über die Anlage eines Feuer-Telegraphen’, 26 Feb. 1878; ‘Der Frankfurter Feuertelegraph’, Museums-Depesche: Informationsschrift des Feuerwehrgeschichts- und Museumsvereins Frankfurt am Main e.V., 20 (Dec. 2014), pp. 3–14; see also Deutsche Feuerwehr-Zeitung, 22 Mar. 1861.

(79) BHStA, MH16802, Ohm ‘Gutachten zum Bericht der Eisenbahnbau Commission’, 21 June 1850.

(80) VDR (1879), 26 Mar. 1879, p. 619.

(81) Wessel, Entwicklung des Nachrichtenwesens, pp. 182, n. 206, 255.

(82) VDR (1879), 24 Mar. 1879, p. 576.

(83) Ibid., p. 579.

(84) StAN, D4 158, Magistrat to Handelsvortand, 12 Mar. 1869.

(85) Anonymous, ‘Die elektrischen Uhren auf der Wiener Weltausstellung’, DPJ, 209 (1873), pp. 461–4.

(86) Wessel, Entwicklung des Nachrichtenwesens, p. 285. The figure includes railway telegraph offices, with numbers increasing from 1,485 in 1871 to 2,699 in 1878; VDR (1878), 28 Mar. 1878, pp. 565–6. By 1879, 18 million marks had been spent: VDR (1879), 24 Mar. 1879, p. 578.

(87) VDR (1878), 28 Mar. 1878, p. 567.

(88) VDR (1879), 28 Mar. 1878, p. 569.

(89) Ibid.

(90) GStA PK I HA Rep. 120 A XIV, Nr. 9, Bd. 2, Statistik des Verkehrs der Stationen des Deutschen Reichs-Telegraphen-Gebietes pro 1873, p. 60.

(91) That is to say, the Kaiserreich excluding Bavaria and Württemberg.

(92) GStA PK I HA Rep. 120 A XIV, Nr. 9, Bd. 2, Statistik des Verkehrs der Stationen des Deutschen Reichs-Telegraphen-Gebietes pro 1873, pp. 26 and 54.

(93) GStA PK I. HA Rep. 120 A XIV, Nr. 9, Bd. 1, Itzenplitz to HK Cöln, 27 Nov. 1870.

(94) See, for example, GStA PK I. HA Rep. 120 A XIV, Nr. 9, Bd. 2, Elberfelder Zeitung, 27 Nov. 1874.

(95) BHStA, GD der VA 450, ‘Bericht der Handels- und Gewerbekammer von Schwaben und Neuburg’, 5 Sept. 1872.

(96) BHStA, GDVA 450, Bericht der TStation Augsburg Stadt to GDVA, 27 Sept. 1872.

(97) BHStA, MV I 2069, Gumbart to HM, 30 Sept. 1872.

(98) Ibid.

(99) Ibid.

(100) BHStA, GDVA 234, Hauptdirection der Niederländischen Staatstelegraphen to GDVA, 16 July 1873.

(101) H. C. Davies, ‘Spreading Fear, Communicating Trust: Writing Letters and Sending Telegrams during the Panic of 1873’, History and Technology, vol. 32, no. 2 (2016), pp. 159–77. See also R. Radu, Auguren des Geldes: Eine Kulturgeschichte des Finanzjournalismus in Deutschland, 1850–1914 (Göttingen, 2017), esp. pp. 114–54.

(102) Hesse, Im Netz der Kommunikation, p. 57.

(104) Ibid., p. 444.

(105) Ibid., p. 450.

(106) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, R901, Nr. 16206, Kaiserlicher Minister-Resident in Buenos Aires to Bismarck, 6 Aug. 1874.

(108) U. Stäheli, ‘Der Takt der Börse: Inklusionseffekt von Verbreitungsmedien am Beispiel des Börsen-Tickers’, Zeitschrift für Soziologie, vol. 33, no. 3 (June 2004), pp. 245–63; Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, Telegraphen-Direction Berlin to General-Direction der Telegraphen, 15 Sept. 1875; Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, Kaiserliche General-Direction der Telegraphen to Telegraphen-Direction Berlin, Hamburg and Erfurt, 17 Aug. 1875.

(109) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, Kaiserliches General-Telegraphen-Amt to kaiserliche Oberpostdirektion, 14 Mar. 1876; Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, Oberpostdirector to General-Telegraphen-Amt, 17 Apr. 1876.

(110) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, Oberpostdirector to 29 June 1876.

(111) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, Börsenzeitung, 21 Apr. 1879.

(112) HKBA, MA—P II 1, Bd.2, Oberpostdirektor to Praeses der HK, 29 Nov. 1876; HKBA, MA—P II 1, Bd. 2, Oberpostdirektor to Praeses der HK, 6 Jan. 1877.

(113) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 2133, ‘Verfahren des Telegraphenamts im Börsengebäude’, 30 Nov. 1878.

(114) Documents de la conférence télégraphique internationale de St-Pétersbourg (Bern, 1876), Article XLIV, pp. 53–4.

(115) According to a letter from the Directeur Général des Télégraphes to the Direction Générale des Télégraphes de l’Empire, 4 Jan. 1879, Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfeld, R4701, Nr. 9864. Cf. letter to HK Hamburg, Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, R4701, Nr. 9864.

(116) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, R4701, Nr. 9864, Kais. Deutsches General-Telegraphen-Amt to K.K. Handelsministerium Section für Posten und Telegraphen, 8 Nov. 1879.

(117) Technically then the Continental-Telegraphen-Compagnie.

(119) Nalbach, ‘Ring Combination’, p. 174.

(121) Dörfler and Pensold, Die Macht der Nachricht, pp. 198–200.

(122) GStA PK III MauswA II, Nr. 8117, Prospectus AG Globus with draft note to Philipsborn, 12 Dec. 1870.

(123) Dörfler and Pensold, Die Macht der Nachricht, pp. 200–1.

(124) Nalbach, ‘Ring Combination’, p. 193.

(125) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, R4701, Nr. 2027, Kais. Telegraphen-Direktor Cöln to Kais. General-Direktion der Telegraphen Berlin, 10 Jan. 1873.

(126) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, R4701, Nr. 2027, Report, Oberpostdirector, 25 Sept. 1877.

(127) GStA PK, I. HA Rep. 77, MInn, Tit. 845, Nr. 51, MInn to Meydam, 12 Dec. 1870.

(128) Nalbach, ‘Ring Combination’, p. 225.

(129) GStA III MauswA II, Nr. 8117, Bleichröder to MA, 20 Feb. 1875; GstA III MauswA II, Nr. 8117, Bülow to MA, 10 Mar. 1875.

(130) GStA III MauswA II, Nr. 8117, CTC Vertreter to Legationsrat, 12 Apr. 1875; Basse, Wolffs Telegraphisches Büro, p. 44.

(132) GStA III MauswA II, Nr. 8117, ‘Promemoria, das Wolff’sche Telegraphen-Bureau betreffend’, 26 Apr. 1876.

(133) Naujoks, ‘Bismarck und das Wolffsche Telegraphenbüro’.

(134) Nalbach, ‘Ring Combination’, p. 238; on Bleichröder and his involvement with the ‘fourth estate’, see F. Stern, Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder and the Building of the German Empire (London, 1977), pp. 262–79.

(135) Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, R4701, Nr. 2027, Gumbart to Kais. Telegraphenamt Berlin, 9 June 1878.

(136) Nalbach, ‘Ring Combination’, p. 217.

(137) Bericht des Vororts Breslau über die Verhandlungen des sechsten deutschen Journalistentages (Breslau, 1872), p. 40; R. Keyserlingk, Media Manipulation: The Press and Bismarck in Imperial Germany (Montreal, 1978), pp. 15–17.

(139) BHStA, MH 16873, Postexpeditor Unterrodach to HM, 24 Oct. 1870.

(140) BHStA GDVA 234, ‘Ausgenommen vom Protocoll, Dr Urban, K. Bezirksgerichtsarzt, Bezirksamt Traunstein’, 28 Aug. 1873.

(141) BHStA, MH 16873, Caspar Honegger, Vorstand der Spinnerei, Weberei, Maschinenfabrik Kottern, to HM, 1 Mar. 1870; S. Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism (London, 2014), pp. 274–311.

(143) HKBA, MA—P II 1, Bd.2, Handelskammer to Generalpostamt, 8 May 1875.

(144) HKBA, MA—P II 1, Bd.2, Oberpostdirektor to Praeses der Handelskammer, 25 Aug. 1877.

(145) HKBA, MA—P II 1, Bd.2, J. Albers, Namens der Handelskammer to Oberpostdirektor, 21 Sept. 1877.

(146) HKBA, MA—P II 1, Bd.2, Kaiserliches Telegraphenamt to Präsident der Handelskammer, 10 June 1879.

(147) HKBA, MA—PII 1, Bd. 3, ‘Statistische Angabe für den Bezirk der HK für das Jahr 1877’; HKBA, MA—PII 1, Bd. 3, ‘Statistische Angabe für den Bezirk der HK für das Jahr 1879’.

(148) HKBA, MA—PII 1, Bd. 3, ‘Statistische Angabe für den Bezirk der HK für das Jahr 1879’.

(149) BHStA, GDVA 234, Gumbart, ‘Voranschlag über die zur Erweiterung des bayerischen Telegraphennetzes herzustellenden Linien’, 25 Apr. 1873.

(150) BHStA, MA 109800, Gumbart to MA, 6 Feb. 1876.

(151) BHStA, MA 109800, Gumbart to MA, 22. Apr. 1877.

(152) VKA (1873/5), 19 Dec. 1873, p. 116.

(153) Stadtarchiv Nürnberg, C11/I (KA 4), Nr. 389, Antrag der Kämmerei Commission, 10 Aug. 1872.

(154) Ibid.

(155) StAN, D4 158, Handelskammer Nürnberg to Stadt-Magistrat, 7 Aug. 1872.

(156) BHStA, MH 16876, HM to Regierung von Oberbayern, KdI, 29 Apr. 1863.

(157) BHStA, MH 16876, Dyck to HM, 2 Apr. 1863.

(158) BHStA, MH 16876, Circular, HM to Kreisregierungen, 27 Jan. 1863.

(159) BHStA, MH 16873, Gumbart to HM, 19 Jan. 1869.

(160) Ibid.

(161) BHStA, MH 16873, HM to GDVA, 23 Jan. 1869.

(162) BHStA, MH 16873, Gumbart to HM, 5 Apr. 1870.

(163) BHStA, MA 109807, August Clemm of BASF to MA, 19 May 1873.

(164) BHStA, MA 109807, Gumbart to MA, 26 June 1873; BHStA MH 16873, Gumbart to HM, 23 May 1870; BHStA, MA 109807, Regierung Pfalz, Kammer des Innern, to MA, 18 Sept. 1878; BHStA, MA 109807, Gumbart to MA, 3 Apr. 1879.

(165) BHStA, MA 109807, Gumbart to MA, 20 Dec. 1873.

(166) ‘Denkschrift’, Haushalts-Etat des Deutschen Reichs für das Jahr 1874, Anlage XI, p. 24.

(167) VDR (1872), 24 May 1872, p. 491.

(168) VDR (1875), 26 Nov. 1875, p. 328.

(169) VDR (1874), 7 Dec. 1874, p. 542.

(170) VDR (1875/6), 26 Nov. 1875, p. 328.

(171) VDR (1875/6), 26 Nov. 1875, pp. 329–30.

(172) Weichlein, Nation und Region, pp. 118–20.

(173) VDR (1875/6), 26 Nov. 1875, pp. 326–7.

(174) Ibid., p. 327.

(175) Ibid., pp. 327–8.

(176) Ibid., p. 330.

(177) VDR (1876), 8 Nov. 1876, p. 84.

(178) Ibid., p. 85.

(179) VDR (1875/6), 26 Nov. 1875, p. 320.

(180) VDR (1877), 21 Apr. 1877, p. 803.

(181) Ibid., p. 806.

(182) R. Pommerin, ‘Seekabel und Nachrichtenbüros: Determinanten des Deutschlandbilds im Zeitalter des Imperialismus, 1871–1914’, Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, vol. 73, no. 4 (1986), pp. 520–31.

(183) VDR (1876), 8 Nov. 1876, p. 85.

(184) VDR (1875/6), 26 Nov. 1876, p. 329.

(185) VDR (1875/6), 8 Nov. 1876, pp. 90–1.

(186) Ibid., p. 91.

(188) VDR (1877), 12 Apr. 1877, p. 407.

(189) Ibid., p. 398.

(190) Ibid., p. 407.

(191) Ibid., pp. 408–9.

(192) Ibid., p. 407.

(193) R. Billig, ‘Ein Plauderstündchen bei der Depeschen-Annahme’, Die Gartenlaube, 26 (1874), pp. 418–20.

(194) VDR (1872), 18 June 1872, p. 1110.

(195) Billig, ‘Ein Plauderstündchen’, pp. 418–20.

(196) VDR (1872), 17 May 1872, p. 449.

(197) Ibid.

(198) VDR (1872), 24 May 1872, pp. 485–6.

(199) ‘Die ermöglichte Sommerreise’, Kladderadatsch, 25 June 1876; ‘Instruction für Fernsprech-Beamte’, Kladderadatsch, 16 Dec. 1877.

(200) ‘Aus der Telegraphenwelt’, Die Gegenwart, vol. 1, 9 (1872), pp. 130–2.

(201) Ibid.

(202) Ibid.

(203) Kladderadatsch, 25 Mar. 1877.

(205) Kladderadatsch, 23 Jan. 1876.

(209) Ibid., p. 153.

(211) Ibid., p. 21.

(212) Ibid., p. 105.

(214) T. Fontane, Cécile (Berlin, 1887); on Siemens’s reputation later in life, see J. Bähr, Werner von Siemens, 1816–1892 (Munich, 2016).

(217) Sagarra, ‘Kommunikationsrevolution und Bewusstseinsänderung’.

(220) Ibid., p. 12.

(221) Ibid., p. 26.

(223) Fontane, Der Stechlin, p. 25. ‘Telegraphing is one of those matters, some things get better, but others also get worse’ –author’s translation.