The Telegraph Comes to North Carolina: How a New Communications Technology Impacted the Tar Heel State

  • Thomas C. Jepsen


Thomas C. Jepsen examines the rise and fall of the telegraph industry in North Carolina, starting in the mid-nineteenth century and continuing to this day, although with great changes in its operations. Jepsen notes the twinned rise of railroads  and telegraphs, the latter first being primarily used to monitor the movements of trains. However, businessmen, newspaper editors and private individuals quickly adapted to the new technology. Jepsen highlights the role played by women in the
telegraphy business, their activism in union, suffrage, and community-affairs, and the rise and slow fall of their numbers. Focusing on small town and rural North Carolina, Jepsen points out that as telephones were slow to appear in these areas,  the telegraph served as a stand-in. Even today, although Western Union, which had taken over telegraph operations in North Carolina after the Civil War, has ceased to carry messages, the company still plays a significant role by facilitating money transfers.

Author Biography

Thomas C. Jepsen

Thomas C. Jepsen is an independent scholar, author of My Sisters Telegraphic: Women in the Telegraph Industry, 1846-1950 (Ohio University Press 2000) and has an article forthcoming in Technology and Culture, January 2018.