The Emergence of Technical Networks

Chapter 1

The Mastery of Space

The nineteenth century saw the slow emergence of a new mode of exchange and circulation of goods, messages, and persons, as well as a new mode of organizing production. In the course of the century, and especially after 1850, as the notion of freedom of opinion became more concrete, a variety of technical inventions made possible the development of new networks of communication. The historical forms in which each of the new circuits of exchange took root in diverse societies raises questions that resonated into the following century.

It was at the end of the eighteenth century, during the period of the Revolution, that France established the first system of telecommunication — although the term was not coined until the beginning of the twentieth century by a French engineer of the Postes et Télégraphes, to be ratified internationally in 1932. The basis of this system, which marked the first victory over time and space, was the optical or aerial telegraph — still referred to as the semaphore telegraph — invented by Claude Chappe. Approved by the French National Convention, the first link by overhead telegraph, which consisted of the transmission of repeated mechanical signals from post to post, was installed between Paris and Lille in 1793. A country at war needed to establish communication among its armies. The first use of this invention was thus for military ends, and so it would be used for a long time. In fact, when Chappe proposed to Consul Napoléon Bonaparte three civilian uses of the telegraph, two were refused: putting it at the disposal of industry and trade and launching a small telegraphic gazette. The only civilian use permitted was the transmission of lottery results (which foiled crafty speculators who played on


the delay in postal delivery between capital and province). As Yves Stourdzé observed, for 50 years, the optical telegraph was financed by subsidies from the Ministries of War and the Interior and by the national lottery. Only when a strong’ state arose would the risk be taken of opening the electric telegraph to the public.”1 During these 50 years French telegraphy built up the longest network in the world, consisting of 534 semaphore stations over nearly 5,000 kilometers. Like the road network, and later the rail network, it was constructed on a star system outward from Paris. The capital was in direct correspondence with 29 cities, with two outposts at Mainz and Turin.

French Semaphore SystemFrench Semaphore System

France opted for state monopoly. But when the United States inaugurated its system of semaphore telegraph in 1800, it adopted the commercial model. In England, between 1797 and 1808, the Admiralty built links between London and four coastal ports. After the Napoleonic Wars, a permanent network of semaphores was installed for military needs, while the lines destined for use by shippers and traders were built and operated by private firms. In Prussia, on the other hand, use of this technique, established only in 1832, would be the exclusive domain of the general staff.2

The preelectric telegraph aided the French state, as it emerged from the Revolution of 1789, in its project of mastering space. It was an element in a unified territorial scheme. A coherent vision of the national territory gave form to regulations assuring the flow of merchandise and people. Barriers between provinces were abolished, administrative divisions were stabilized; the tax system and the legal code were unified; French was imposed as the language of the nation-state. A corps of national engineers” was created, combining military engineering and public works (bridges and roads, ports, canals, and later, railways); the École Polytechnique was formed in 1795. A series of indispensable measures for economic and demographic management were passed. From this period date two pioneering normalizing” initiatives.

In 1792, a commission of weights and measures began to work on the of the metric system. Seven years later, a law endorsed the conclusions of this scientific assembly on the new basic units, putting an end to the patchwork of weights and measures in use in various regions of the country (although it was not until 1840 that the meter, the gram, the liter, and the hectare became mandatory). The norm was already becoming internationalized: following a number of European countries, Germany settled on this nomenclature in 1872, and Switzerland in 1877. A the hundred years after the French Revolution, England, Russia, Japan, and the United States would continue to make use officially of nonmetric measures, but most of Latin America rallied to the metric system.


A second administrative innovation occurred in 1796, when the Ministry of the Interior inaugurated the first official bureau of statistics, that is, the first state institution responsible not only for collecting and classifying reports and documents communicated to government but also for directly organizing the recording of facts for a general statistics. Bavaria, Russia, Italy, and Prussia took this step between 1800 and 1805. But it was not until 1832 that England acquired the same tool-a year later than Belgium, which, under the inspiration of mathematician and astronomer Adolphe Quételet, rapidly became the model for other countries in establishing statistical services. (At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the practice of taking a periodic census of inhabitants also began to be institutionalized in England and France in 1801 and in Prussia in 1810. Before that, only the Scandinavian countries — for example, Sweden in 1748 — and in 1790 the United States, had carried out such operations.) The formation of statistical offices and the emergence with Quételet of a political arithmetic” gave rise to the first suspicion of the disciplinary functions of these methods of managing numbers. In deducing averages from his statistical series, Quételet proposed norms, an average individual” desirable for social equilibrium and a moral order.”

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The setting up of a service of general statistics on the initiative of the French Ministry of the Interior at the end of the eighteenth century was contemporaneous with another project launched by the same institution: the organization of an annual exposition of the products of French industry. The aim of this exhibition was to give an overview of national production and technical and scientific innovations, with an eye to stimulating French industrialists in the fight against monarchic England.” The first exhibition took place in Paris in 1798, and there were ten more in the first half of the following century. A jury composed of eminent scientists designated by the government awarded prizes to companies, inventors, experts, engineers, artisans, and workers who distinguished themselves by the quality of their products or works. The need to systematize the order in which the products were displayed coincided with the concerns of experts responsible for developing a nomenclature for collecting and interpreting data on the main trends in industry.

But for a historian of communication, the expositions organized in this period take on a more precise interest: they initiate a new form of communication by placing science, industry, scientific research, and technical innovation on display. It is by means of the symbolic values they offered their visitors that these events progressively constructed the grand narratives of civilization-as-progress. These grand narratives, this progressive utopia, would not unfold in total freedom, however, until the expositions stopped being confined to national products and achievements


and became showcases for the whole world. This would happen in the universal expositions of the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Specter of the Black Cabinet”

Who should control the circulation of information, the installation and functioning of long-distance communication networks-the state or the private sector? Who should be authorized to use the new services? These questions predate the arrival of the manual telegraph. They were posed during the long history of postal institutions.

The Renaissance and the generalized use of paper converted the post into a regular service. One of the first initiatives was taken in 1464 by the French king Louis XI. Inspired by the organizational model of the Roman post-which in turn had adapted that of Cyrus the Greats Persia (529 B.C.) and by the network established in 1150 by the University of Paris for its own purposes, the edict of Luxiès instituted postmasters throughout French territory and laid the foundations of the system: relay stations, the essential links in the chain of postal delivery. The king of England would do the same in 1481, when vassals were authorized to use the king’s couriers. But the king reserved the right to read any letters entrusted to them.

It was more than a century later, under Henri IV [r1589-1610], that the French state took regular charge of the delivery of correspondence between individuals, previously the domain of private initiative. It was mandatory to keep records of names and addresses of senders, both for reasons of state security and because of the mechanisms of a service that was not paid for until a letter reached its destination. From this era onward, the history of the ancien régime of the post merges with the progressive unification of services into a single monopoly for the transport of mail, a monopoly that sealed the fate of a system in which various agencies, including the university, shared control. In the construction of this new administrative model, one name stands out: Louvois, the postal superintendent-general from 1668 to 1691.3 This minister of Louis XIV has gone down in history not so much for having reorganized the postal system as for having radically transformed the military system. Louvois paved the way for a modern army by substituting a permanent and regular army for improvised troops, reforming discipline, and organizing a corps of engineers. In suppressing private offices in 1635, England preceded France by very little the consecration of the post as a royal prerogative.

In a postal landscape dominated by the direct control of the sovereign, one major exception existed: the territories belonging to the Holy Roman Empire.4 In about 1450, the German emperor Frederick III confided to


the patrician Thurn and Taxis family from Venetia the organization of a postal service for a broad public. This mission was confirmed in 1516 by Charles V, who, at a time when the Reformation was reaching the smallest villages, counted on the post to assure from a central position in Brussels a permanent link between central power and the farthest-flung subjects of the Empire. More than one large Hanseatic city seeking to assume its own control over mail-carrying would rebel against this privilege. Despite changes of regime, invasions, and war, the Thurn and Taxis postmasters kept private monopoly for over three centuries on what was in effect the first trans-European network to defy territorial sovereigns. It was not until 1867, three years before the political unification of Germany, that the family lost its last monopoly over a postal service, with the merging of the post and telegraph over a major portion of German territory into a single state administration.

Throughout the prehistory of postal modernity, the fear of national or international conspiracy obsessed the directors of postal networks. This resulted in France during the reign5 of Louis XIII in the Black Cabinet,” a bureau where postal secrecy was violated. The revolutionaries of 1789 denounced this practice in their lists of grievances as one of the most absurd and infamous inventions of despotism.” A British historian goes so far as to say of the development of the post in his country: Anyone writing the early history of our Intelligence Service would at the same time be writing an account of the beginning of our postal services.”6

The equivalent of the French Black Cabinet” would come into existence in several countries and would stay active long after official acknowledgment of the citizen’s right to confidential correspondence. Although the French Revolution abolished it, Napoleon re-established it shortly afterward and extended the scope of his activities. If we may believe a former censor of the Russian czars’ Black Cabinet, clearly proud of his job: It is fair to say that nowhere in the world has a black cabinet’ worked as well as that of Russia, particularly that of St. Petersburg.”7 On the eve of the 1917 Revolution, a Black Cabinet still functioned in the Russian Empire. The Soviet Union, after having held it up to public opprobrium, quickly re-established it with formidable efficacy.

The Telegraphic Vanguard

In 1837 a pair of Englishmen, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone, and an American, Samuel Morse, perfected in their respective countries the first systems of electric telegraphy. The first client, starting in 1839, was the railway system in the suburbs of London. (Up to then the system, established in 1825, had used hand signals to communicate from station


to station) Private companies were in charge of management. By 1852, England, already endowed with the densest rail network in the world, could boast 6,500 kilometers (14,000 miles) of telegraphic line. She was ahead of the United States, which established the first intercity line (Washington-Baltimore) in 1844. The shift to commercial exploitation of the telegraph took place at the end of the Civil War in 1865 with the founding of the Western Union company, which unified the U.S. network.

Foy-Bréguet telegraph - shows letter ‘Q’ Foy-Bréguet telegraph machine, showing letter q’

France was one of the last countries to adopt the Morse system, since it preferred an electric version of the Chappe, known as the Foy-Bréguet. Although the decision to establish a telegraph network was made in 1845, the project was held up for an additional 7 years, picking up speed only in the 20 years that followed. In the same lapse of time, the rail network grew from 3,010 to 17,733 kilometers. In 1852 the use of telegraph by the public was finally authorized, but the new regulation was full of restrictions, in the name of public order and decency. We find again the same fear of conspiracy, combined with a dread of illicit speculation. No real liberalization took place until after 1867.

Meanwhile, the use of telegraphy for strategic purposes was tested on a number of occasions. The overhead telegraph installed in Algiers in 1842 proved a decisive aid during the occupation and colonization of Algeria, and was relayed after 1854 by the first electric telegraph lines. But the first ambitious application of this system by the general staff took place during8 the Crimean War. Fighting against the czar’s army, the French and British high commands established a liaison between headquarters and the various army corps in a coalition that also included expeditionary forces from the Piedmont and Turkey. The British Royal Engineers also laid an underwater cable in the Black Sea to assure a permanent link with Paris and London for the duration of the conflict. The Civil War in the United States stimulated the construction of 24,150 kilometers (15,100 miles) of cable in 4 years and the sending of more than 6.5 million telegrams.

In addition, the Crimean War allowed the military authorities to lay the foundation of new jurisprudence in the area of wartime censorship. For the first time in the history of modern media, images of the theater of operations were censored.”9

The British photographer Roger Fenton was authorized to take pictures on the condition that his lens carefully avoid capturing the horrors of the war. So as not to frighten the families of soldiers” was the reason given by the general staff. The result was 360 plates in which the war appeared as a picnic. This artificial construction contrasted markedly with the reports of journalist William Howard Russell, who in the London


Times described the slaughter in Balaclava on October 25, 1854, in which 400 of the 600 British cavalry sent up against the Russian cannons perished,“10 giving rise to an unprecedented awakening of public and parliamentary opinion. In February 1856, one month before the signing of the peace treaty, the British high command decided to put a stop to the free exercise of journalism. A decree made accreditation by the military authorities mandatory.

Less than ten years later, photographer Matthew Brady brought back from the Civil War thousands of daguerrotypes that were not subjected to advance censorship: scorched earth, burned-down houses, families in distress, corpses. Sales did not match his expectations, and Brady lost his fortune in the venture.

The Penny Post

As an indication of the frontier reached by long-distance communications up to that point, the International Telegraph Conference, organized in Rome in 1872 in order to regulate the new networks on the planet, brought together only 22 states: Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, the British Indies, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Spain, Belgium, Holland, the Dutch Indies, Romania, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Luxembourg, and Persia. All these countries or territories had joined the International Telegraph Union, founded at a first congress in Paris in 1865. The contracting parties had granted any person the right to correspond by means of telegraph,” reserving the right to prevent the transmission of private telegrams that threaten state security or violate the laws of country, public order or morals.” This Union represented the first international institution of the modern era and the first organization for the international regulation of a technical network.

The universal Postal Union was created a few years later, in 1875 in Bern, under the Universal Postal Convention of 1874. A first postal conference grouping together representatives of fourteen nations had been held in Paris in 1863. The initial decisions of this union were to harmonize international postal rates and to recognize the principle of respect for the secrecy of correspondence. The dusting off of old postal institutions was the order of the day.

England gave the example in 1840 with the Rowland Hill reform, named after its initiator, who was also the inventor of the postage stamp. The novelty was not to take account of the distance in the price for carrying postal correspondence, and to adopt a single rate of one penny. As a result of this measure, the number of letters jumped from 76 million in


1839 to 169 million the following year, an increase of 122 percent. The financial consequences were less fortunate, and it took 23 years for the British Post to surpass its net revenue of 1839. But as the French economist Paul Leroy-Beaulieu noted at the end of the last century: The low price of mail helped the development of trade, facilitated the growth of industries which, under the former rates, would have remained stagnant, and by thousands of indirect channels the Treasury received, through the increase in the revenue raised by other taxes, a sum that almost cancelled out or at least attenuated the loss it suffered by the long decline of postal revenue.” He concluded: The postal reform has been, without a doubt, along with railways, steamships, the telegraph, and Australian and Californian gold, among the powerful and diverse causes of the magnificent growth in trade in the past 35 years.”11

In 1847, the United States Congress adopted the postage stamp and copied several measures from the British reforms. The following year, France issued its first stamp and engaged in a less radical reform than the British one. The administration set the domestic rate at 20 centimes for letters weighing up to 7.5 grams. The increase in postal traffic was much smaller, a mere 34 percent.

While in the United States the telegraph remained under private control and mail service was public, the 1860s saw the merger throughout Europe, under government administration, of post and telegraph: in England in 1868, with the purchase of the telegraph network from private companies; in France in 1878; in Italy in 1889, and so on. The governmental status of post and telegraph remained diverse: in some cases they were given their own ministry, but in others they were attached to an existing ministry. At the end of the century, the two services were placed under the Ministry of the Interior in Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Greece, and Mexico, and under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria; certain states preferred to make them dependent on the Treasury. Such was the case in France at times, and in Sweden. Metropolitan models of organization of the postal service were exported to their peripheries. Thus Siam hired a German expert, and Persia an Austrian. Japan brought in an American when the feudal regime was abolished (1871), thrusting the country into the era of networks: the first telegraphic line went into service in 1869-70 and the first railroad in 1872, the year when the emperor undertook the unification and modernization of the army, and one year before the adoption of the Western calendar.

With the improvement of steam navigation, the transport of international correspondence was remodeled. Nevertheless, it was not until April 1838 that a steamship first crossed the Atlantic and entered the port of New York: the Sirius, belonging to an Irish shipper in Cork. In 1839, the


Brtish Admiralty accepted an offer from Samuel Cunard, backed by cotton importers, to establish a bimonthly service between Liverpool, Halifax, and Boston. The Admiralty, wanting to strengthen the imperial link with Canada, which had rebelled in 1837, granted this first postal company in the North Atlantic an annual subsidy of 35,000 pounds. In 1840, another postal contract was given to the Royal West India Mail Steam Packer Co., for the delivery of mail to the Caribbean and Brazil. France did not enter the race for international postal services by steamship until 1854, with the creation of the Compagnie Générale Maritime, ancestor of the French Line. Its founder was Émile Pereire, a Saint Simonian and proj ect manager of the first French railway, Paris to Saint-Germain (1837) its first president was Adolphe d’Eichtal, also a Saint-Simonian and president of the same railway.12 In most countries, the system of subsidies to companies engaged in shipping mail was the rule at the dawn of the twentieth century. None of the lines assuring this service was able to survive without state support, either in France or in the United States or even in England, despite the powerful resources of that country’s commercial fleet.

All these technical upheavals in modes of communication contributed to a radical change in the economic status of information. As the time necessary for transmitting messages diminished, modifications became necessary in the methods for collecting, treating, and codifying information. The existing means of regulation of the stock markets became archaic and new procedures for intervening in the market had to be found. Information became a matter for specialists and its complexity called for the skills of forecasters. How did businessmen of the time experience these upheavals? One answer is provided in a financial newspaper, The Sugar Cane, of Manchester, in 1888: In the good old days, commodities rarely produced losses, except in times of great panic. Tradesmen, even when they speculated far and wide, had existing commodities in warehouses and ports close at hand. Prudence, prediction, and intelligence were rewarded. The introduction of steamships changed all that, and the telegraph has completed the revolution. Exclusive information, laboriously acquired, which formerly brought an intelligent merchant a profit. has today become public property from the moment it appears. It is now available at literally the same time to the audacious speculator as to his competitors; this is now the rule.”13 An indication of the increasing flow: according to statistics compiled by the International Telegraph Union, the number of telegraphic transmissions in the world soared from 29 mil lion in 1868 to 121 million in 1880. Twenty years later, they reached 329 million. The international flow represented, at this point, slightly more than 20 percent of the total. Since 1875 the planet had been in the period characterized by the


British historian Eric Hobsbawm as the Age of Empire” (1875-1914). With the acceleration of technical changes and the takeoff of the colonizing countries, the chasm was dug between the developed world” and what would later be known as the Third World.” In 1800, the NorthSouth gap between gross national products per capita was insignificant; it was 2 to 1 in 1880, but it would be 3 to 1 in 1913 and 7 to 1 in 1970.14

The Wire Era

In the United States in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the invention of the telephone. The following year, the Bell Telephone Company undertook the commercial exploitation of his machine. In 1882, Bell set up its first subsidiary, at Anvers in Belgium. In 1885, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), later to become the head office of the Bell System, was founded. For over 80 years, AT&T succeeded in keeping its near-monopoly over the telecommunications networks of the United States. It would take the groundswell of deregulation at the beginning of the 1980s to dismantle it.

In 1881, the American network had 123,000 telephones. In Europe, Great Britain first chose to let the private sector carry out the extension of lines, but London had only 1,100 subscribers in 1881. Not until 1912 did the state take control of the entire system. In France, the telephone followed the administrative model” which had already proven its worth for the telegraph. But, as across the Channel, administration fell behind. In 1888, Paris had 5,800 telephones, or 70 percent of the total in the ten largest French cities. The first international telephone calls were exchanged between Paris and Brussels in 1887, between London and Paris in 1891, and between Paris and Switzerland in 1892. On each occasion, the signing of a bilateral agreement was necessary to authorize transmission. It was not until 1906 that the first multilateral agreements were signed, at the Berlin Conference on radiotelegraphy that saw the birth of the International Radiotelegraph Union. It must not be forgotten that at that time the area covered by international telephone lines was relatively limited. Telephone networks did not acquire a world dimension until 1956 when the first telephone cable was laid under the Atlantic-only a year before the satellite race broke out.

By 1900, the gaps within Europe were already noticeable. While Sweden had one telephone for every 115 people, and Germany one for every 397, France, with only one telephone for every 1,216 people, surpassed only Italy (one per 2,629) and Russia (one per 7,000). This lag with respect to other countries would remain a permanent structural feature of France’s telecommunications practically until the arrival of the digital


phone after 1974. (In less than 15 years, the number of telephones more than quadrupled.) At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States was well in the lead, with a ratio of one telephone per every 60 inhabitants. It was the U.S. manufacturers of telephone equipment who wove the first multinational network of production and sales. International Western Electric, subsidiary of Western Electric, itself owned by AT&T, set up branches in Great Britain, Belgium, Spain, France, Holland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Australia, China, and Japan.15 (In 1925, after an antitrust suit, it would cede the network to International Telephone and Telegraph-ITT-founded in 1920, and would not again gain a foothold abroad until after 1982, as a consequence of deregulation.)

In 1901, the Italian Guglielmo Marconi exploited the discovery of the propagation of electromagnetic waves and, with the support of naval armament companies and of newspaper groups, succeeded in establishing the first wireless trans-Atlantic telegraph transmission. The British Admiralty was the first to grasp the strategic implications of this innovation in radio communications, which pushed back the limits of communication on a globe already profoundly changed by underwater telegraphic cables. The Italian inventor’s patents served to found the British firm bearing his name. In 1899 the French War Ministry commissioned Captain Ferrié, author of the first book on radio technology, to write a study of its military applications but asked him to avoid contact with Marconi, who was in the service of a foreign power.” In 1907, the French Navy took the initiative of grouping together the first companies in this field.16 At the Berlin Conference in 1906, 28 states had debated equipment standards and procedures to minimize interference between stations, and the great naval powers, major users of radio (Great Britain, Germany, France, the United States, and Russia) had legitimated an imperial doctrine of radio frequency allocation, allowing priority to the country that first notified the International Radiotelegraph Union of its intention to use a specific radio frequency.

August 18, 1858, seven years after the laying of the underwater telegraphic cable linking Dover and Calais, the first link between England and the United States was established. Nevertheless, it was not until September 1866 that the trans-Atlantic cable became really operational. The first commercial message was a dispatch to the New York Herald transcribing in its entirety the speech of Emperor William, victor over the Austrians at Sadowa, before the Prussian Parliament. But the cost was prohibitive.

The international extension of cable was marked by the rivalry between the British and French empires, which intensified after 1869, with the opening of the Suez Canal. (Between 1851 and 1868, underwater net-


works developed essentially through links in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf.) The years 1870 to 1880 saw the successive inaugurations of communication links be tween the English coast and the Dutch East Indies (Batavia), the Caribbean network, the line from the British West Indies to Australia and China, the networks in the China and Japanese seas, the cable from Suez to Aden, communication between Aden and British India, the New Zealand cables, communication between the east and south coasts of Africa, and the cable from Hong Kong to Manila. In the 1880s, France established a series of links along the coast of Indochina and black Africa (with networks in Senegal and on the west coast of Africa). Another direction in which the network centers of Europe and the United States moved was toward Central and South America: in 1874, the south transAtlantic network opened, linking Lisbon with Recife, Brazil, via the Cape Verde Islands and Madeira; in 1876, a network was established along the coast of Chile; in 1880, another began along the coast of Mexico, and a year later the networks along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Peru were in operation.17 These cable networks that spanned the globe were largely in the hands of the private sector. Of the total cable distance of 104,000 miles, not more than 10 percent was administered by governments.

British supremacy over the underwater networks was overwhelming: in 1910, the Empire controlled about half the world total, or 260,000 kilometers. France, which in contrast to the United States and Great Britain opted for state administration of cable, controlled no more than 44,000 kilometers.18

The preponderance of British companies, which lasted until the end of World War I, rested on a dual control of international networks: direct control through ownership, and indirect control by means of diplomatic censorship, which London exercised over the messages traveling through British channels. From an industrial point of view, the Victorian Empire combined technology, factories, and a cable fleet, all of these more efficient than those of its rivals. It controlled the copper and guttapercha markets, since the world rates of these two raw materials for the manufacture of cable were fixed in London; British mining enterprises owned copper deposits and mines in Chile, the world’s biggest producer. Finally, the Crown spared no effort to assist these companies, either scientifically (Admiralty researchers and the cartographic service) or financially (higher subsidies than those of France). In 1904, 22 of the 25 companies that managed international networks were affiliates of British firms; Great Britain deployed 25 ships totaling 70,000 tons, while the six vessels of the French cable fleet amounted to only 7,000 tons.19

In 1898, during the Fashoda crisis, the culmination of the dispute be-


tween the two great colonial powers, when the French expansion plan from west to east, starting from Brazzaville, collided with Britain’s north-to-south plans, Paris was dependent on its rival’s networks, and had to ask the government in London for authorization to use the cable and General Kitchener’s ship to communicate with Captain Marchand, who had just occupied Fashoda. The Havas news agency found itself in a similar situation of subordination with respect to the Reuters Agency at the time of these events, which, as historians of the press note, saw the recognition of the weight of public opinion in international relations, such as the popular press reflects and refashions it.”20

First Genres of Mass Culture

Very early on, the large news agencies became assiduous users of long distance communications, happy to depend no longer on carrier pigeons to transport their dispatches.

The French Havas Agency (ancestor of AFP, Agence France Presse) was founded in 1835, the German agency Wolff in 1849, and the British Reuters in 1851. The American agency Associated Press (AP) began its history in 1848. But only the three European agencies began as international ones; not until the turn of the century did the American agency move in this direction. As a cartel, Havas, Reuters, and Wolff divided up the world market in an explicit agreement signed in 1870. The special territory of the Parisian agency was Mediterranean Europe, while that of Wolff was central and northern Europe. Reuters, meanwhile, followed the geographical lines of the British Empire. From the start, it made commercial and financial information its privileged area. Havas’s originality was to combine information and advertising. This plural function made it the precursor of the multimedia groups of the twentieth century. After World War I, Wolff ceased to be a world agency and Havas and Reuters emerged strengthened, until the 1930s when the U.S. agencies AP and United Press (UP) began to hunt for news on their terrain.”21

The rise of the large agency networks paralleled the advent of a press freed from the constraints of censorship. From 1853 to 1861, Great Britain eliminated all the taxes on knowledge” that had hampered the development of a mass press. The United States had preceded it in this, since even before 1850 an inexpensive daily press with a popular readership had appeared there.

In France, landmark legislation in 1881 freed printing, newspaper stands, and bookshops. Prior censorship was abolished, as was the surety bond and the stamp tax. The only press misdemeanors were provoking crime, inciting military disobedience, insulting the president of the Re-


public, sedition, indecency, defamation and personal injury, and offend ing heads of state and foreign diplomats. Newspaper peddling, sales, and bill-posting were permitted. The publisher was to be responsible for the publication, and his name was to appear on the masthead. These were the terms of the French law of July 29, 1881, hailed as the great law on the freedom of the press and considered a victory for the Republican bourgeoisie.

In 1890, Le Petit Parisien prided itself on being the first popular daily paper in Europe whose circulation exceeded one million.22 William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, symbol of the sensational press, could not reach this figure, despite its Sunday supplements and its comics. On both sides of the Atlantic, competition stimulated search for the first genres of mass culture. In France, where Le Petit Journal and Le Petit Parisien were engaged in a fierce battle, the serial story (feuilleton) became one of the trump cards of popular journalism. Introduced in 1836, this genre reached its apogee in the mid-1880s, when papers published two or three stories at a time amid large promotional campaigns.

In the United States, the fight between the Sunday supplements of Hearst’s paper and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World gave rise to the first comics in 1894. Less than 15 years later came the first strategy for penetrating the international market using this kind of editorial product. In 1909 Hearst created the first syndicate, International News Service, an agency whose function was to sell literary material, articles of popular science, crossword puzzles, and comic strips to newspapers. It was succeeded in 1915 by the King Feature Syndicate, one of whose staple products was comics. A consequence of the restructuring of this genre to meet the needs of the syndicate was the end of a craft style of production in favor of a more industrial division of labor (the agency retained the copyright and could retouch, eliminate, and modify the material, find a successor when a cartoonist left, and generally hold editorial control). Further, there was, in the words of Roman Gubern, a “standardization of material, which brought about a certain homogeneity in the international market and eliminated critical or aggressive aspects that might alienate customers in countries with different customs, religions, or political principles.” 23

But it was with the film industry that the first major internationalization of nascent mass culture began. The first film screenings took place in Paris and Berlin in 1895, and the following year in London, Brussels, and New York. The Lumière brothers disputed with Edison the claim to invention of this technology. The rivalry between the two systems was particularly felt in the large Latin American cities, which discovered cinema at the same time as the major European capitals. In fact, the first public


projections in Latin America took place in 1896 in Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Santiago, and Guatemala City, followed in 1897 by Havana and Lima. In Mexico and Brazil, the large provincial capitals — Guadalajara, Mérida, Puebla, Curitiba, São Paulo, Salvador de Bahia — soon saw the arrival of the film projector, whether that of Edison or the Lumière brothers. But the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, had to wait until 1904 for a first screening: Bolivia’s mining center, Oruro, saw no film until 1907.24 After the phase of traveling fairs and exhibitions, where spectators had to stand up, the cinema became a sedentary pleasure in 1902-3 in the United States, and three or four years later in France and Germany. On the eve of World War I, it was French producers, with the Pathé brothers (their firm was founded in 1907) at their head, followed by Gaumont (1885), who clearly dominated the European market. Pathé’s distribution bureaus were located in ten countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, the United States, and Brazil).

The Hollywood film industry was initiated by the independent studios between 1909 and 1913. In 1910 Carl Laemmle launched the first star, Mary Pickford, inaugurating the star system. In 1915 the Hollywood studio Reliance-Majestic produced Birth of a Nation by D. W. Griffith, a landmark film about which Jean-Luc Godard reflected: The great national cinemas have always been marked by war films, especially civil war films, in other words by moments when a nation is fighting against itself and no longer knows what it is.”25

The international trade in films was not hampered by a customs or trade policy. The first measure to oppose free trade was taken in 1916 and confirmed in 1917, when Germany imposed controls on the importation of foreign films. At the time Berlin was beginning to conceive a state policy with respect to its film industry.26

Creating the Event, or the Beginning of a Legend

It was in an atmosphere of bitter competition between two giants of the large-circulation daily press that a legend was forged about the power of the mass media and their relation to war.

At the end of the nineteenth century occurred the first great press campaign aimed at inciting a government to intervene militarily on foreign soil. The territory was Cuba, one of the last possessions of the moribund Spanish empire. President William McKinley proved unable to resist the pressure of public opinion stirred up by William Randolph Hearst. The Marines who landed on the island in 1898 — a year decidedly rich in events, with the Franco-British confrontation in Fashoda over the carving


up of Africa and the Dreyfus Affair in France also in the headlines — brought with them Vitagraph cameramen who filmed a military intervention for the first time, calling their report Fighting with Our Boys in Cuba. This intervention, in the eyes of many historians, could perfectly well have been avoided had not the war hysteria arisen, stoked by a press that did not shrink from lying to provoke the fateful outcome.27 A famous anecdote sums up this thunderous operation. Hearst sends to Havana a reporter and a well-known artist, Frederic Remington, who telegraphed his boss from the Cuban capital: Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. Wish to return.” Which brought the famous reply from Hearst: Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll provide the war.”28

This incident — immortalized in the newsreel sequence of Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane (1941) — counted more than a little in the emergence of the idea that the media have unlimited power and are capable of making and unmaking governments. It also testified to two new realities. First, the use of force represented by this landing signaled the beginning of a long history of imperial policies of interference of a nature different from customary colonial policy. Four years later, the French company that had begun work on the Panama Canal in 1881 ceded its property and rights to the United States, which helped the separatists in what was still a province of Colombia to secede and proclaim independence. The new nation-state of Panama forfeited sovereignty over the Canal Zone to the United States. The Canal opened to navigation in 1914. Mass information was already becoming an important stake. Determining whether the Spanish-American War would have taken place with or without a strident press campaign is a question of little interest for a prospective examination of the role of the media in society, until one stops thinking of the media as a new demiurgic or Machiavellian force and breaks the vicious circle of cause and effect.

It was in this region of the Americas and in this environment that the first multinational corporations were consolidated. In their front line was the monopoly on the planting of and trade in bananas held by the United Fruit Company29, founded in 1899, after the takeover of its competitors. One cannot ignore this company if one seeks to retrace the genealogy of the railroads, shipping lines, telegraph, and telephone in this part of the world. Weaving together, or even merging, business interests and interests of nations where it held land, the United Fruit holding company which would pioneer in introducing the radio even within the United States created a subsidiary, the Tropical Radio Telegraph Company30, which operated a network of telegraphic stations in nearly 20 countries in the Americas. Using this network to maintain links between produc-


tion enclaves as well as with the market, the company also offered telegraphic services and railroad and steamship transport to outside clients, substituting for, complementing, or competing with, as necessary, the public communication and transport services of complicit governments that were only too happy to see what they hailed as progress” arrive on their territory,31

The Iron Horse

The International Railway Conference32 was created in 1882, 17 years after the first international meetings concerning the telegraph. And yet Stephenson’s Rocket,” the very prototype of all steam locomotives, had appeared in 1829 and the world’s rail network had already reached 430,000 kilometers. The standardization of gauge came slowly. Even in England, the norm chosen by George Stephenson in 1825 for the railway line from Stockton to Darlington (4’8 or 1.435 meters), was not established definitively until 1892, despite the fact that Parliament in 1846 had granted its preference to this gauge, which coincided with that of road vehicles of the period. Among European countries, there was scarcely any unification of gauges. In 1844, under the influence of English engineers, Spain adopted a gauge of 1.674 and Russia chose 1.52 meters. For reasons of state security, neither of these two nations later sought to link up with other European networks, where the Stephenson standard had finally triumphed.33

When the representatives of the governments of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Russia, and Switzerland began to concert in 1882, they were not yet ready to discuss the harmonization of laws on commercial transport. Since goods were transported successively by several companies, each subject to different legislation, the problem was to determine which law should be applicable in case of loss or damage, which court would be competent to judge, and how decisions should be enforced.34

The reason for the relative delay in standardizing rail policies was that in contrast to the telegraph, which foreshadowed the real-time circulation of information in a global economy representing movement, the networks traced by the locomotive as a machine in movement recognized the rigidity of borders, the partitions of an age in which the nation” was the motor-force. The fate of the train, symbol of the dromocratic (or speed) revolution in transport,” in Paul Virilios phrase, was tied up with the construction of the industrial nation-state and the national bourgeoisies.35 It is revealing that the first measure taken in the United States to limit the principle of free enterprise was the Interstate Commerce Act


of 1887. The United States — like England and contrary to France, which had opted for a mixed system — had left completely to private initiative the task of establishing routes and to free competition that of laying down the lines. The Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 — like the Sherman Antitrust Act, passed at roughly the same time — was intended to regulate the rail network in order to allow the country to take a great leap forward” in the Industrial Revolution, which at this stage was still necessarily national in character. The first intercontinental train had been in operation since 1869. The law would not really be questioned until the Stagers Rail Act in 1980, when the process of deregulation of the whole range of communication networks-roads, airways, rail, media, telecommunications, and also those of finance-would set on fire an economy that was in the process of becoming global.

Imperial India Imperial India

When the international connection” of railroads made a qualitative leap in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the process favored new imperial strategies. The formation of three companies in India after 1845 (East Indian Railway, Great Indian Peninsula Railway, Madras Railways) had already set the tone: most of the lines had been conceived for ends more strategic than economic, that is, to shorten the transport time of troops. It was not until after the outbreak of the Mutiny in 1857 that a massive railway program began, facilitating the cotton and jute-processing industries and connecting the centers of heavy industry with the Indian coal deposits developed by the East Indian Railway. But the network of what one civil servant called the cyclopean forges of the railways” was never completed. It did not join Bengal to Burma, which was the rice bowl” of India. The Colonial Office deprived the country of this external outlet in order better to maintain control. The train,” declared Cecil Rhodes, is an instrument of pacification which costs less than the cannon and carries farther.” As French historian Marc Ferro reminds us in an issue of the journal Traverses devoted to rail networks, the train has generated its own international imaginary, not to be confused with the magical images of the Orient Express:

Its black smoke was the very sign of progress. Through the train, the West was identified with its symbol. In the name of the train, Victoria conquered Africa from the Cape to Cairo. In the name of the train, Nicholas and Alexander threatened Asia and would reach Vladivostok…. The French republican rooster aspired to the same dream: to span a continent. Alas, between Dakar and Djibouti, its hopes were quashed at Fashoda. To dominate the empire of the Rising Sun, or at least obtain an audience, Uncle Sam offered the Mikado a small mechanical train. Just as shamelessly, Tseu-Hi’s China offered itself to the great powers in return for an ex-press that would stop at the gates of Canton. Thus humanity in all its colors submitted to the masters of the smoking machine.36


The railway model of penetration developed in the colonial context through the exemplary network of railroads across Africa. These networks were intended to link administrative centers, located for the most part along the coast, with mines in the hinterland, or else to allow access to other territories to be conquered and colonized. Nine different types sof track were built, from the so-called imperial gauge” of the Victorian era (3’6, or 1.067 meters) to the broad gauge used almost exclusively in the mining region of South Africa (1.435 meters). Some countries colonized successively by two different powers even inherited a hybrid system: for example, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) was occupied by the Germans, whose gauge was one meter, and then by the British.

This lack of symmetry between rail systems also affected the independent nations of Latin America. The case of Argentina, with its three types of gauge, is instructive. The most common one (1.674 meters) corresponded to the norm chosen by English engineers who had imported equipment that had served in the Crimean War; a second (one meter) was that of French companies, and a third, which covered only a tenth of the network, conformed to Stephenson’s gauge. This case illustrates how the history of the railway was intimately linked to British economic hegemony in the region, at least until World War I. This is also demonstrated by the topography of the first railway lines in Chile, which connected ports with the British nitrate and copper mines. And since a communication network never arrived alone, the British predominance already noted in underwater cable combined with another, that of telegraphs and telephones. Brazil was another case entirely: on the eve of the twentieth century, there were no less than five independent railroads. Each regional network spread out in a fan pattern into the interior from a port. The non-interconnected regional model — with a strong concentration at the pole constituted by the contiguity of the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais — also governed the telegraph and telephone. (It prevail again with the beginnings of radio and television. In fact, not until the promulgation, under pressure from the army, of the first telecommunications code in 1962 and the nationalization of foreign telephone companies, did communication” become synonymous with national integration.”)37

In 1870, Europe’s share in the world rail network was about 50 percent; the United States was close behind. Fifteen years later, the United


States, with 365,000 kilometers, had moved ahead of Europe (202,000), Asia (24,000), Oceania (14,000), and Africa (about 7,000). By this time, the train had already completely transformed military strategy. Used in a military campaign for the first time in 1848 (in Schleswig-Holstein), again in the Crimean War (1854-56) and in the Italian campaign launched by Emperor Napoléon III (1859), the train definitively proved its strategic importance during the Civil War in the United States. During this war, which also saw the birth of devices such as the torpedo, the Union General McClellan employed, for the first time in military history, a corps specialized in the construction and destruction of railway lines, and put into action the Iron Horse,” an ancestor of the tank.

Between 1865 and 1875, the general staffs of the German, British, and French armies, in their turn, created railway engineering corps. This new cinematic” conception of logistics, or the art of moving armies,” led the Prussian general Von Moltke, creator during the Austro-Prussian War of the first bureau of communication lines” (1866), to declare that he preferred the building of railroads to that of fortifications.”38

In contrast to the star-shaped system of the French railways, centered around the capital, the model that prevailed in imperial Germany consisted not only of tracks radiating in all directions from Berlin but also of a system of concentric lines circling the empire, so as to maintain communication between big cities in case tracks were destroyed in wartime.

This circular construction developed slowly. In 1834, the economist Friedrich List, promoter of the Zollverein, the union of customs and economies of the German states created at the initiative of Prussia, declared that the railway system and the customs union are Siamese twins.” After the political unification of Germany (1870), Chancellor Bismarck, on the advice of Von Moltke, sparked a movement to unify the networks, breaking down regional particularisms by nationalizing the major lines and organizing them according to military principles, an idea Von Moltke had been advocating since 1840, with his first strategic of rail.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870) provided a practical demonstration of German superiority in organizing rapid movement of massive armies. The Boer Wars (1899-1902) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) prefigured the strategic methods of World War I.

The Chronometer

The rail model” — as it was dubbed by Paul Virilio — is above all a model of the administration of time. Witness this statement of Mert, a


French polytechnician in charge of rail exploitation in those years of network rationalization: If we all succeed, over the whole extent of the network, in respecting time to the second, we will have given humanity the most effective instrument for the construction of a new world.”39

This mystique of controlling time, allied with the mystique of heavy industry, was also shared by the American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) who in the 1880s began to wage his campaign against workers’ loafing”and to apply his scientific system” of labor organization in large steelworks. It is intriguing to note that in 1880 Caribbean writer Paul Lafargue, the son-in-law of Karl Marx, published Le droit à la paresse (The right to be lazy).40 This apologia for pleasure, a mordantly ironic plea in favor of the right to leisure,” was to prove the most often translated text, after The Communist Manifesto, in socialist literature before World War I, appearing in languages from Russian to Yiddish.

In dissecting the movements of the human animal” while perfecting new machine tools, Taylor broke all activity down into elementary, automatic operations. His idea was to induce workers to surpass the supposedly normal output by penalizing them if they did not attain it, and richly rewarding them if they surpassed it. This was Taylor’s principle of differential wage rates. The use of the stopwatch made it possible to determine scientifically” the base time for the manufacture of a piece. By reducing the number of people performing a given task and by substantially increasing the number of supervisors or inspectors, time-keepers or rhythm managers, accountants, and other managers of the time of workers subjected to the system-route clerks, instruction cards clerks, cost and time clerks, gang bosses, speed bosses, inspectors, repair bosses, the shop disciplinarian the inventor of the first managerial doctrine was also proposing a scheme of internal communication. As Taylor himself wrote, Dealing with every workman as a separate individual in this way involved the building of a labor office for the superintendent and clerks who were in charge of this section of the work. In this office, every laborer’s work was planned out well in advance, and the workmen were all moved from place to place by the clerks with elaborate diagrams or maps of the yard before them, very much as chessmen are moved on a chess-board, a telephone and messenger system having been installed for this purpose,”41

These ideas developed in a context where the question of labor organization gave rise, among its theoreticians, to the most daring projects regarding possible uses of new tools of communication. Thus, in his Motion Study (1911), the American Frank Bunker Gilbreth, a specialist in the study of micromovements and a pioneer of the rationalization of


bricklaying, advised intelligent bosses” to play music on a phonograph on their shop floors to fight boredom and monotony.

The concept of the separation of tasks” and of the worker as a human motor” would be ridiculed by the French anarcho-syndicalist Emile Pouget(1860-1931) in his work L’organisation du surmenage: Le système Taylor (The organization of overwork: The Taylor system), published in 1914 on the occasion of a workers’ strike in the Renault auto factory against the American engineer’s system.42 These demands were blown away like straw in the wind by the imperative to mobilize production for war ends. The paradox was that in the United States one of the bitterest critiques of Taylor’s disciplinary system of work was to come from rear admiral John Edwards, general inspector of machines in U. S. Navy warships. As quoted by Pouget43, Edwards declared: Taylor carries the system to such a degree that it becomes more of an obstacle than an aid in the efficient management and development of industry. It discourages mechanics, who do not feel motivated to show initiative by inventing improvements to remedy the faults inherent in construction.”44

In the wake of the introduction of the stopwatch as an instrument to measure workers motions, there also appeared an instrument for checking on their presence or absence. This was the time clock, whose true function was well described by an advertisement published in the Almanach Didot-Bottin in 1901: Devices for controlling workers, patented in Germany and abroad. Latest novelty! New principle! The fastest. surest, simplest way of controlling the comings and goings of workers, while remaining invisible to them.”

Numbers, Targets, Fingerprints

The need to manage large numbers engendered the need to process information. It was during the census of 1890 that the U. S. federal government first used a machine with perforated cards, invented ten years earli et by the American statistician Hermann Hollerith (1860-1929). It was based on the same principle as that perfected by Joseph-Marie Jacquard for his industrial loom. This first machine for processing information would be industrialized after 1896 by the Hollerith Tabulating Machines Corporation, an ancestor of IBM (International Business Machines), founded in 1924.

In the field of the media, this preoccupation with measurement and calculation was still in an embryonic phase. The modern American advertising agency was born in the early 1840s in Philadelphia; Volney B. Palmer is generally credited with being the father of the first agency. But it was not until 1865 that the concept of target” was deployed. It origi-


nated with the J. Walter Thompson agency, which continued to be in the forefront of the refinement of approaches to the consumer in the follow ing century. The first reflections on the target” were made in the 1870s on the occasion of the first advertisements in the recently founded women’s magazines (Godey’s Ladies’ Book and Peterson’s Magazine, published in Philadelphia, the magazine center of America in this period), which were also the first periodicals that aimed to build a mass public. It was through women that access could be gained to the whole family targeted by the advertising message.45 Not until the 1920s, however, would there emerge, under the aegis of Fordism, a rationalization” of the targeting of consumers. In the meantime, in 1899, J. Walter Thompson was already installing a London office, the foundation stone of a whole network of branch offices that by the end of the 1920s was becoming international, following in the footsteps of General Motors, its first multinational client.

It should be noted that in the two last decades of the nineteenth centu ry measurement and the need for classification obsessed those in charge of both the judicial and the penitentiary systems. In 1885, Rome saw the first congress of criminal anthropology, or the science of the study of the delinquent,” which signaled the point of departure of numerous national associations in this field and international links among them.

This congress, opened by Professor Cesare Lombroso, a doctor by profession and the author of L’uomo delinquente (Criminal man, 1876), had been preceded by the first international penitentiary congress, organized in London in 1882; it would be followed by the first congress of the International Union of Penal Law, to take place in Brussels in 1889, the year of the second congress of criminal anthropology, timed to coincide with the Universal Exposition in Paris. This new science, inspired by positivist philosophy, was eminently operational. It defined and classified the delinquent as an abnormal and dangerous individual, fundamentally psychopathic, mentally ill.” It was at this time that studies were made of anarchists, seen as antisocial subjects” par excellence. This was also the time when the notion of race” as a criterion for evaluating the dangerousness” or the intelligence” of the foreign individual” revealed its profound ambiguity,

Anthropometry became a police tool for determining individual identity. A method of identifying delinquents known as Bertillonage (invented by the French anthropometrist Alphonse Bertillon, 1853-1914) was officially adopted in France in 1890. Here began the judicial identity photo, with shots face-on and in profile, combined with bodily measurements. Since 1871, date of the insurrection of the Paris Commune and its brutal suppression, state power had not ceased to display its concern for


the use of photography for police purposes. In the 1890s, in the same perspective of clinical criminology, the Argentine police officer Juan Vucetich invented a fingerprinting system of criminal identification that rivaled Bertillon’s method. We should not be surprised that Argentina manifested such concern in this domain. Like other countries in the Americas with a large influx of immigrants, Argentina’s public authorities tried to better control the entry of common delinquents” fleeing justice in their country of origin, and, above all, the entry of elements arriv ing from Europe contaminated by dangerous and corrupting ideas.” In their international congresses, Latin American specialists were not con tent with merely comparing the respective merits of Bertillon and Vucetich; they went so far as to propose the creation of intercontinental offices of identification” to better control the immigrant influxes. The anthropometrist Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), best known as the pioneer of eugenics, published his Method of Indexing Finger Marks in London in 1891, followed by Finger-Prints the next year.

Metaphors of Progress

In the second half of the nineteenth century, new actors and new forms of organization made their entrance onto the international scene. As we have seen, the first international organization of the modern age was created in 1865 to regulate the use of the electric telegraph.

After 1870, administrative unions and agreements between states multiplied. While only 20 were concluded in the 1870-80 period, there were 31 between 1880 and 1890, 61 between 1890 and 1900, and 108 between 1900 and 1904.46 These unions and agreements concerned many different domains: the Universal Postal Union; the Red Cross (1874); an agreement signed by 25 nations on universal time,” fixed with reference to the Greenwich Meridian (1884); the Private International Law Agreement, concerned mainly with defining the forms of legal aid in interstate relations (1896); and others. This new type of organization inaugurated the new age of legal and technical internationalization. Codification and nomenclature were the order of the day.

In the appearance of these new spaces of international mediation, communications played a large role; it was tied up symbolically with the bringing together of peoples.” Throughout these decades, communica tions shared this mythology of general concord” with other new forms of international relations: the universal expositions. They supported each other in a synergetic movement. In 1851, the first universal exposition-the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations-took place at the Crystal Palace in


London. This was the occasion of the first telegraphic link between England and France. In 1876, the Philadelphia Exposition unveiled Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposi tion of Chicago opened with the inauguration of the first telephone link between Chicago and New York. These are examples of how communications inventions were among the first ways of materializing — and also idealizing — notions of progress, civilization, the universal and universalism. These expositions were made to show the degree of civilization and progress the various nations have attained,” as Gérault put it in 1902.47 In the international fairs of the Middle Ages (Beaucaire, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Lyon, Nijni Novgorod), the exhibited objects were destined for immediate sale. The universal expositions, on the other hand, exhibited the machines used to make these objects. They were organized to give an idea of the development of industry, trade and the arts in different countries,” wrote Gérault.48

Self-promoted as peaceful gatherings of progress,” they did not escape the permanent tension characterizing the world at the time between the desire for general harmony and the impulse toward war. At the 1851 exposition, in the section occupied by the Zollverein, the electric telegraphs of the Siemens firm were placed alongside Krupp cannons. And 20 years later, at the Philadelphia exposition celebrating the centennial of U.S. independence, an official French report did not hesitate to stress, again with respect to the German section:

One feels dominated by a painful feeling when, walking around the exposition, one finds nothing but entire German regiments, the em peror, the Crown Prince, Bismarck, Moltke and Roon, in porcelain, bisque, bronze, zinc, terra cotra, china-painted, embroidered, sculpted, printed, woven, etc…. In the machine section, seven-eighths of the space is occupied by the Krupp cannons, killing machines as the Americans call them, which seem a brutal menace among the peaceful exhibits of other nations.49

And the novelist Émile Zola could not find words strong enough to lambast the 1867 Paris Exposition, which he described as an imperial festival,” an extravaganza of lies,” stuffed with majesties and highnesses” where the crowds thronging the exhibitions made a popular success of the Krupp cannons, huge and dark, exhibited by Germany.”50

Krupp cannon Krupp cannon exhibit

After London’s 1851 exposition, the largest of these fairs took place in Paris (1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900), London (1862), Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), and Chicago (1893), each trying to outdo the other in attendance records. The 14,000 exhibitors at the Crystal Palace attracted 6 million visitors; the 83,000 exhibitors at the 1900 Paris Exposi


tion drew nearly 51 million. The Paris Exposition of 1889, which celebrated the centennial of the Revolution, covered 100 hectares; that of Chicago, celebrating the fourth centenary of Christopher Columbus’s expedition, was five times as large but drew only 27 million visitors.

The gigantic proportions of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago reflected the large political stakes. Reinterpreting Columbus’s feat, the young American nation sought to swing the pendulum of the international order toward Pan-Americanism. In the words of anthropologist M. R. Trouillot, the Pan-American strategy was intended in part to block the British (whose investments in South America exceeded those of the United States), the French (perceived as a major threat until the 1889 collapse of their Panama Canal project), and, to a lesser extent, the Germans and Italians.”51

In 1889, Secretary of State James Blaine invited Latin American countries to the First International Conference in Washington. Its purpose was to promote continental peace, to sign agreements on customs and trade, and to formulate a plan of arbitration for the settlement of disputes. The results of the meeting did not match Washington’s hopes. Its most important accomplishment was the creation of the Commercial Bureau of American Republics (later changed at its fourth conference in Buenos Aires in 1910 to the Pan American Union).

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw the proliferation of the form of communication known as the international exposition. Numerous cities organized such events, without attaining the scope of the great expositions already mentioned. Between 1879 and 1889, there were no less than 25: Sidney (1879), Melbourne (1880), Bombay (1887), Barcelona (1886), Edinburgh (1886), and many more. To this long list must be added the first great specialized exposition: the International Ex position of Electricity in Paris (1881). In the preceding decade, some Latin American capitals had also organized expositions: Lima (1872), Bogotá (1872), and Santiago de Chile (1875). The first international exposition on African soil was organized in the Cape of Good Hope, at Grahamstown, in 1898.

The cosmopolitan rhetoric of universal fraternity and the people’s fair scarcely conceals the fact that the universal exposition was a place of rival nationalisms and the production of a public discourse — political and scientific — that consecrated the notion of Western civilization” as the beacon of progress for other peoples. Professor Michel Chevalier, reporting on the Paris Exposition of 1867, wrote enthusiastically:

Civilization has displaced its original home…. After India and Egypt, Chaldea and Greece; after Rome, the great triad of modern


Europe: France, England, Germany. It is in these latter regions that the forces of the human spirit have most developed, and that morality, science, and industry have taken on a superiority to everything that came before…. In the regions that have been relegated to an inferior rank, the genius of Europe opens territories through perfected communications.52

He added: I use the term Western civilization instead of European civi lization because of the United States, which one cannot consider separate from it, since the people of that country practice the same arts, follow the same methods, and generally live on the basis of the same religious, moral, social, political, and scientific ideas.”53

After 1874, Friedrich Nietzsche discerned beneath the grand celebra tions of universalisms the morbidity of the European expansionist instinct:

The Roman of the Empire ceased to be a Roman through the contemplation of the world that lay at his feet; he lost himself in the crowd of foreigners that streamed into Rome, and degenerated amid the cosmopolitan carnival of arts, worships and moralities. It is the same with the modern man, who is continually having a world-panorama unrolled before his eyes by his historical artists. He is turned into a restless, dilettante spectator, and arrives at a condition when even great wars and revolutions cannot affect him beyond the moment. The war is hardly at an end, and it is already converted into thousands of copies of printed matter, and will be soon served up as the latest means of tickling the jaded palates of the historical gourmets.54

A quarter of a century later, John Arkinson Hobson, one of the first analysts of modern imperialism, denounced the universal expositions even more firmly:

It is obvious that the spectatorial lust of Jingoism is a most serious factor in Imperialism. The dramatic falsification both of war and of the whole policy of imperial expansion required to feed this popular passion forms no small portion of the art of the real organizers of imperialist exploits.55

What is beyond dispute is that the new scenario of international exchanges, to which the ephemeral shop windows of the universal expositions bore witness, had since the end of the nineteenth century profoundly changed people’s representations of the world and their ways of experiencing the relation between national and international. The intricate network of communications, banking and insurance services, the


great trans-Atlantic migrations, the expansion of multilateral trade through the international division of labor, together brought the ideas of interdependence” and a system of interdependence. As historian Douglas McKie wrote:

The tacit assumptions on which the system of interdependence was based concerned both the relationship of countries to each other and of governments to their peoples. The segregation of economics and politics, reflected in the limited extent to which politicians in terfered with international economic specialization, depended largely upon the social framework and social pressures inside their countries.. The conception of a legal” or moral” order behind this intricate pattern of interdependence was challenged most articulately before 1914 at moments of business recession, as in the years 1907-1908 when there were sharp downswings in the volume of economic activity and employment.56

The search for this new international order took place in a world in which the structure of relations among states was still fundamentally determined by the fear-driven policies of the great powers. The tension be tween the logics of negotiation and those of securityfinsecurity was too tangible to render credible the first efforts to construct a system for regulating international relations. Examples are the first of 1899, whose purpose was to restrict competition in the accumulation of armaments, and the Conference of Algeciras in 1906 that aimed to settle colonial disputes. It was only much later that the founding of the permanent court of arbitration, approved at the 1899 Hague Conference, revealed its pioneering character. In the short term, the arms race was to continue and the two conventions relating to the rules of war signed dur ing this first world peace conference would carry little weight when confronted with the violence of World War 1. How did theory account, during the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, for the rise in the power of technical networks of communication and the setting up of mechanisms of mass opinion? That is the question broached in the next chapter.

United Fruit Company

Documentary:‘Century of the Self’ (Adam Curtis) - section on the United Fruit Company

  1. Y. Stourdze, Genealogie des telecommunications francaises,” in Les reseaux pen­sants, coordinated by Giraud et al., Paris, Masson, 1977.↩︎

  2. To situate the historical landmarks of the evolution of the telegraph and the tele­ phone, we used two classics: A. Belloc, La telegraphie historique depuis Jes temps Jes plus recules jusqu’ii nos jours, Paris, Firmin-Didot, 1888; C. Bertho, Telegraphes et telephones. De Valmy au microprocesseur, Paris, Le livre de poche, 1981.↩︎

  3. See E. Vaille, Histoire generale des pastes francaises, Paris, PUF, 1947-55, 6 vol­umes.↩︎

  4. B. Delepinne, Histoire de la paste internationale en Belgique, Brussels, Presses H. Wellens & W. Godenne, 1952, p. 80.↩︎

  5. Ruled 1610-1643↩︎

  6. F. Staff, The Penny Post, London, Lutterworth Press, 1964, p. 22.↩︎

  7. S. Maiski quoted in J. Medvedev, Le secret de la correspondance est garanti par la loi, Paris, Julliard, 1972, p. 121.↩︎

  8. 1853-6↩︎

  9. G. Freund, Photographie et societe, Paris, Seuil, 1974.↩︎

  10. On the horrors of the Crimean War, one of the most eloquent texts is Leo Tolstoy’s Sebastopol Sketches, trans. D. McDuff, London, Penguin, 1986, written in 1855-56.↩︎

  11. P. Leroy-Beaulieu in La grande encyclopedie, Paris, 1902.↩︎

  12. M. Barbance, Histoire de la Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, Paris, Arts et metiers graphiques, 1955.↩︎

  13. The Sugar Cane,” quoted in M. Moreno Fraginals, El ingenio, complejo economi­cosocial cubano del azucar, Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1978.↩︎

  14. E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire (1875-1914), London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.↩︎

  15. N. R. Danielian, A.T.& T.: The Story of Industrial Conquest, New York, Vanguard Press, 1939.↩︎

  16. See the dossier Entre guerre et paix” (“Between War and Peace”) coordinated by A. Lefebure, Interferences, no. 1, Paris, 1981.↩︎

  17. Information published by the Bureau international des administrations tele­graphiques, report, Bern, 1890, 3d edition.↩︎

  18. Bertho, Telegraphes et telephones.↩︎

  19. P. Baca, Les cables sous-marins des origines a nos jours,”Telecommunications, no. 45, Paris, October 1982.↩︎

  20. M. Palmer, Des petits journaux aux grandes agences. Naissance du journalisme moderne, Paris, Aubier, 1983, p. 194.↩︎

  21. See J.O. Boyd and M. Palmer, *Le trafic des nouvelles. Les agences mondiales d’in**formation,* Paris, Alain Moreau, 1981.↩︎

  22. Palmer, Des petits journaux.↩︎

  23. R. Gubern, El lenguage de Los comics, Barcelona, Ediciones Peninsula, 1974, p. 70.↩︎

  24. P. Paranagua, Cinema na America Latina, Porto Alegre, L & PM, 1984.↩︎

  25. Quoted in J.M. Frodon, L’Amerique et ses demons,” Le Monde, May 7, 1992, p.30.↩︎

  26. P. Bachlin, Histoire economique du cinema, Paris, La Nouvelle Edition, 1947.↩︎

  27. G. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950, London, Secker & Warburg, 1952.↩︎

  28. F. Williams, The Right to Know, London, Longman, 1969.↩︎

  29. see documentary video at bottom of page↩︎

  30. See - Drale, C. S. (2010). The United Fruit Company and early radio development. Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 17(2):195–210.↩︎

  31. On the history of United Fruit Company, by one of its former employees, see T. Mc­Cann, An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit, New York, Crown, 1976. For a critical history containing insightful analyses of the company’s communications system, see C. Fontanellas, ed., United Fruit Co., Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1976.↩︎

  32. Also later -> https://uic.org/about/about-uic/↩︎

  33. H. Peyret, Histoire des chemins de fer en France et dans le monde, Paris, Societe d’editions francaises et internationales, 1949.↩︎

  34. Les archives diplomatiques, Paris, 1888.↩︎

  35. P. Virilio, L’empire de l’emprise,” Traverses, no. 13, December 1978. See also, by the same author, Speed and Politics, New York, Semiotext(e), 1986; and in collaboration with S. Lotringer, Pure War, New York, Semiotext(e), 1983.↩︎

  36. M. Ferro, Images de l’histoire,” Traverses, no. 13, p. 52.↩︎

  37. A. Mattelart and H. Schmucler, Communication and Information Technologies: Freedom of Choice for Latin America?, trans. D. Buxton, Norwood, N.J., Ablex, 1985.↩︎

  38. P. Virilio, L’empire.”↩︎

  39. Quoted in ibid. These remarks by the French engineer could be generalized. See, for example, the analyses of historian A. D. Chandler on the relation between the formation of managerial philosophy and the implantation of the railroad system in the United States: A.D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Cam­ bridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1977.↩︎

  40. P. Lafargue, Le droit a la paresse, Paris, Maspero, 1976.↩︎

  41. F. W. Taylor, Principles and Methods of Scientific Management, New York, Harper, 1911. This work had been preceded by several articles, including Shop Management” (1903), published in Transactions, the organ of the American Society of Mechanical Engi­ neers.↩︎

  42. E. Pouget, L’organisation du surmenage: Le systeme Taylor, Paris, Librairie des sci­ences politiques et sociales, M. Riviere, 1914.↩︎

  43. Ibid.↩︎

  44. Other works by Pouget are available at: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/category/author/emile-pouget↩︎

  45. 1909 JWT Blue Book, 1909-10, original edition reproduced in facsimile for the centennial of the agency. Advertising Age, December 7, 1964.↩︎

  46. T. Schieder, Political and Social Developments in Europe,” The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. 11, pp. 253-54. See also the pioneering work of W. Sombart, Der moderne Kapitalismus, Munich and Leipzig, 1902-1928, 3 vols.↩︎

  47. G. Gerault, Les expositions universelles envisagees au point de vue de leurs resultats economiques, Paris, Librairie societe du recueil general des lois et des arrets, 1902, p. 23.↩︎

  48. Ibid.↩︎

  49. F. Maquaire et al., Rapport des delegues mecaniciens en precision a /’Exposition universe/le de Philadelphie (1876), Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1879, p. 21.↩︎

  50. E. Zola, L’argent, Paris, 1891.↩︎

  51. M. R. Trouillot, Good Day Columbus: Silences, Power and Public History,” Public Culture 3, no. 1, Fall 1990, p. 15.↩︎

  52. Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris. The reports of the international jury are published by M. Chevalier, ed., Paris, Imprimerie administrative de Paul Dupont, 1868, p. cdxc.↩︎

  53. Ibid., p.vi.↩︎

  54. F. Nietzsche, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, vol. 2, ed. Oscar Levy, trans. A. Collins, London, Russell & Russell, 1909, p. 39.↩︎

  55. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, 1988, p. 215 (original edition 1902). On the national profile” in the expositions, see P. Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851-1939, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1988.↩︎

  56. D. McKie, The World Economy: Interdependence and Planning,” The New Cambridge Modern History, vol. 12, chap. 3, p. 43.↩︎

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