2017 NIA Hall of Fame Inductee
Ezra Cornell: (1807-1874)
Ezra Cornell (January 11, 1807 – December 9, 1874) was an American businessman, politician, philanthropist and educational administrator. He was the founder of Western Union and a co-founder of Cornell University. He also served as President of the New York Agriculture Society and as a New York state Senator.
He made significnat contributions to the development of the telegraph, the origination of open wire insulators!
Cornell ran into an acquaintance of his, F.O.J. Smith who was working on plans for a tool to help bury telegraph lines. Smith had been granted a one-quarter share of the telegraph patent held by Samuel F.B. Morse, and was attempting to devise a way of burying the telegraph lines in the ground in lead pipe. Ezra's knowledge of plows was put to the test and Ezra devised a special kind of plow that would dig a 2½ foot ditch, lay the pipe and telegraph wire in the ditch and cover it back up as it went. Later it was found that condensation in the pipes and poor insulation of the wires impeded the electrical current on the wires and so hanging the wire from telegraph poles became the accepted method.
Cornell made his fortune in the telegraph business as an associate of Samuel Morse, having gained his trust by constructing and stringing the telegraph poles between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, as the first ever telegraph line of substance in the U.S. To address the problem of telegraph lines shorting out to the ground, Cornell invented the idea of using glass insulators at the point where telegraph lines are connected to supporting poles. After joining with Morse, Cornell supervised the erection of many telegraph lines, including a portion of the New York, Albany & Buffalo line in 1846 and the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company connecting Buffalo to Milwaukee with partners John James Speed and Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith. Cornell, Speed and Smith also built the New York and Erie line competing with and paralleling to the south the New York, Albany and Buffalo line in which Morse had a major share. The line was completed in 1849 and Cornell was made president of the company. Cornell's sister Phoebe married Martin B. Wood and moved to Albion, Michigan, in 1848. Cornell gave Wood a job constructing new lines and made Phoebe his telegraph operator, the first woman operator in the United States. Cornell earned a substantial fortune when the Erie and Michigan was consolidated with Hiram Sibley and his New York and Mississippi Company to form the Western Union company.
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