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J.L. Böckmann. Versuch ueber Telegraphic und Telegraphen, 1794

As both a student and a pioneer of the telegraph, it isn’t surprising that George Edward Dering collected so many books on the subject. The development of this miraculous machine depended on the accumulated efforts of scientists stretching back well into the eighteenth century. The honor of developing the first commercial telegraph, however, goes to Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. This 1839 description of their patent is personally inscribed by Cooke.

A. Jones. Historical Sketch of the Electric Telegraph, 1852

But when profitable innovation in telecommunication is achieved, litigation seems inevitably to follow. Laid into this patent description are two clippings from The Times reporting on a patent infringement suit brought against one John Nott by Cooke and Wheatstone’s Electric Telegraph Company. These offensive measures have long issued from companies trying to maintain (or increase) their market domination. The business section of any current-day news source will feature stories of tech giants engaged in similar disputes. So it should have come as no surprise that, following the invention of the telephone, the patent challenges filed by Alexander Graham Bell and AT&T would fill volumes.

C. Bright. Submarine Telegraphs, 1898

Theodore Vail, the eponymous donor of the Vail Collection, was no stranger to the telegraph himself (nor to the litigation that attended its invention). His cousin Alfred Vail was developing a telegraph with Samuel Morse at the same time Cooke and Wheatstone were developing their own on the other side of the Atlantic. The Vail Collection contains Alfred’s own account of the development of the different telegraph systems, with the title placing special emphasis on his American model. MIT’s copy of this book is distinguished by a handwritten letter from Theodore Vail bound in at the end.

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