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The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, 7 Volume Set by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, Radhika Parameswaran, Erica Scharrer, Vicki Mayer, Sharon Mazzarella, Kelly Gates, John Nerone, Angharad N. Valdivia

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13

Communications Networks in the United States

From Chappe to Marconi

Richard R. John

ABSTRACT

The history of communications in the United States is a relatively uncultivated field. Generalizations abound yet conceptual frameworks are few. This essay contends that the history of the country's dominant communications networks can be understood as a chapter in the history of government-business relations, or what contemporaries would have called political economy. In the long nineteenth century that began in 1788 and ended in 1914, the three most important communications networks – that is, the mail, the telegraph, and the telephone – were shaped not only, or even primarily, by technological imperatives and economic incentives, but also by the regulatory regimes in which they were embedded.

The history of communications in the United States is a relatively uncultivated field. Generalizations abound yet conceptual frameworks are few. This essay contends that the history of the country's dominant communications networks can be understood as a chapter in the history of government–business relations, or what contemporaries would have called political economy. In the long nineteenth century that began in 1788 and ended in 1914, the three most important communications networks – that is, the mail, the telegraph, and the telephone – were shaped not only, or even primarily, by technological imperatives and economic incentives, but also by the regulatory regimes in which they were embedded. ...

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