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Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications Hardcover – April 12, 2010
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A foundational business history that will be an essential component of what well-educated Americans need to know about their society. (Richard White, Stanford University)
In a compact, learned-yet-lucid, and deeply informed book spanning roughly eight decades, Richard R. John provides an engrossing history of the emergence of telecommunication networks in the United States. (David A. Hounshell, Carnegie Mellon University)
The innovators who built America's telecommunication networks created more than new devices. With elegant prose and exhaustive research, Richard R. John's eagerly awaited masterwork shows how business and governmental institutions shaped the first century of the telegraph and the telephone. (Pamela Walker Laird, author of Pull: Networking and Success since Benjamin Franklin)
This is a valuable book on the technological and economic trends that impacted the popularization of the telephone, one of the most profoundly significant inventions in the record of humanity. To understand the history of American telecommunications is to attend to the political economies at the time technological innovation occurred. John brilliantly articulates this context. Shifting municipal and federal sensibilities always shaped the diffusion of technologies, even in times where strong federal governmental oversight did not yet exist. The threat of federal and municipal government ownership of telecommunication systems was real, as seen in the case of the Bell system (and its failure). (Jim Hahn Library Journal)
Could it be that Americans actually like communications monopolists? Do we want dominant firms to run our world? Richard R. John's splendid book helps to answer that question by telling us just where this American affection for info-monopoly came from. John has produced a detailed study of the grand-daddies of it all: AT&T and Western Union, the first great info-monopolists, whose role in communications history is similar to that of the Allosaurus and the T. rex in the history of the animal kingdom. A work of careful history based on archival research, Network Nation begins with Samuel Morse's construction of the first electric telegraph line in 1844 and concludes with the establishment of AT&T (or Bell, a term that can be used interchangeably with AT&T) as America's regulated telephone monopoly… What Network Nation does deliver is a nuanced answer to the basic question, why monopoly? (Tim Wu New Republic 2011-06-09)
This is a richly detailed and readable book that fills an important gap in the history of communication networks. It definitively debunks palaver about mass communications as an autonomous agent of change, emphasizing how Americans constructed the telegraph and the telephone through a political process of continual negotiation and redefinition. (David E. Nye American Historical Review 2011-02-01)
[An] exceptional new history of American communications technologies from 1840 to 1920. (Steven W. Usselman Business History Review 2011-09-01)
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The issue of patenting, actually, turns out to be a prime example of the intersection of technology, business, and government. Morse built his historic Washington-Baltimore demonstration line with a $30,000 grant from Congress. And from 1837 through the granting of the all-important patent in 1840, and its subsequent defense and promotion, the "assistance" that patent commissioner Henry L. Ellsworth gave Morse, his friend of over thirty years, was "little short of astounding." Similarly, Postmaster General Amos Kendall actively promoted "the rapid diffusion of intelligence" through telegraphy, and then went to work for Morse defending his patents. But the patenting of technical improvements was new and controversial. "Scientist Joseph Henry...refused as a matter of principle."