The Years 1876 to 1888

491 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia - About 1889. Warren Webster is second from left.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.

The year 1888 is the key-year in Warren Webster’s business career. His handling of his affairs in that year—at the age of twenty-five, establishes beyond question the quality of his foresight and judgment. To really appreciate this, one must go back to 1888 and realize the conditions and facts on which this foresight and judgment had to be based. To do this it is necessary to subtract from our modern world every suggestion of skyscrapers, automobiles, gasoline-motors, airplanes, motion pictures, radios! As a further help, this chapter is devoted to a cross-section listing of the world news, showing some of the things people were thinking, doing and planning in 1888 and the preceding twelve years.

After the Centennial in 1876, the advance of the New Age notably quickened in tempo. It advanced on well defined fronts—meat, wheat, coal, steam, transportation, steel and iron, oil. Each was interdependent on the others—steam on coal, transportation on steam, coal on transportation, steel and iron on coal and transportation; meat, wheat—and the concentration of foodstuffs that came to be known as the “packing industry,” on coal and transportation.

Soon steam added two branches as mighty as the main stem—electric power and steam heating. For economic reasons, certain districts became the centers of various developments: the packing and food business centered in Chicago, spreading later to Kansas City, Omaha, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Milwaukee; coal in Pennsylvania and West Virginia; steel and iron around Pittsburgh; oil in Pennsylvania; steam—wherever transportation, power, electricity and heating were required.

To the factories, attracted by urban life, nocked a goodly proportion of the farm population; ships unloaded millions of immigrants yearly from every land to supply man-power. Villages became towns, towns became cities, cities vast metropolitan areas, until shortage of space at the industrial centers begat large buildings and skyscrapers, which in turn created a demand for better heating systems.

These movements were well started by 1888, but they were not yet clearly defined. The America of 1888 was decidedly different from the America of 1876, but it still bore little resemblance to the America of today. The change was just begun. Yet so much had happened since 1876!

In 1876, Bell had exhibited his telephone. Thomas A. Edison and Elisha Gray were both working on a device of this nature. Bell beat Gray in obtaining a patent by a matter of hours and Edison had already filed a caveat. However, it was not until Edison added the transmitter that the instrument became practical.

Behind the telephone were researches dating back to 1837 by Berliner, Blake, Hughes, Dolbear, Page, Borseui and Reis. And, in 1876, following close on the heels of the telephone, Edison dazzled the world with the phonograph.

Early in 1876, it was announced that work on a tunnel between Dover, England, and Calais, France, would be started immediately.

In 1650 Von Guericke built a motor for generating electricity. In 1700, Hawksbee produced light with the same machine. Von Kliest invented the Leyden Jar about 1745 and Franklin experimented with it. Davy discovered the arc light in 1809-1810, and Faraday discovered the principle of the magneto in 1831. In 1841, DeMolyns made the first decisive steps toward the discovery of the incandescent light. Stan and King substituted carbon filaments for platinum in 1845. The experiments of Farmer, Watson and Swan contributed to the work. Brush exhibited his arc lights at the Centennial, and lighted a public square in Cleveland, and Madison and Union Squares, New York. This long pursuit of electric light was brought to a glorious conclusion on October 21, 1879, when Edison presented the world with the first perfected, practical incandescent electric lamp. The first business house lighted was in New York, the first newspaper—the New York Herald; the first theater—in Boston; the first city—New York; the first church—in London; the first exposition—Paris, in 1878.

The original Brooklyn Bridge was opened by President Arthur, on May 24, 1883, and took its place as the latest wonder of the world.

On May 23, 1885, Edison filed patent claims for wireless telegraphy. This was actually operated between moving trains and stations on the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1886.

Which brings us to the year 1888, in which all the following events occurred:

During this time, the peace of Europe trembled in the balance. Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly of February 18, 1888, had this to say: “Nothing is settled but the certainty of a tremendous convulsion that may come tomorrow, or next week, or in six months, but that cannot be averted by anything less than the direct interposition of the Almighty.” (Yet this “Convulsion” did not come for twenty-six years—1914.)

On February 6th to 11th, the Walking Match in Madison Square Garden was won by James Albert. Distance covered, 490 miles.

There were 377 fires in New York City alone during January.

In St. Paul, Minn., 475 saloons out of 780 closed by the High License Law.

Texas had a treasury surplus of $1,725,000 and the press was urging the governor to call a special session of the legislature to reduce taxes.

A syndicate of New York, Toledo, Chicago, and Detroit capitalists, representing $25,000,000, organized to build a pipe-line from northwestern Ohio oil fields to Toledo, and to erect refineries, so as to compete with the Standard Oil Company.

Preparations were being hurried by United States manufacturers to participate in the Paris Exposition of 1889. England virtually boycotted the Exposition on the grounds that she did not care to participate in an Exposition celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the fall of the Bastille.

Washington: Speaker Carlisle ordered all Stock Exchange “tickers” removed from the Capitol.

The Boston Bureau of Health announced an increase in the average length of human life throughout the world.

“Jumbo” Magnet, most powerful in world, was constructed at Willett’s Point. Long Island Sound, New York, by Major W. R. King, U. S. Engineers. Pull at center was said to be in excess of five tons.

Washington: The House Committee on Territories decided to formulate an omnibus Enabling Act for the admission as States of the four Territories—Dakota, Montana, Washington and New Mexico.

Chicago: A large steel company decided to substitute crude petroleum for coal as a fuel for four large boilers. They also planned to test the use of oil for the heating of ingots and blooms.

A letter written by General Grant in 1880 was published showing he declined the American Presidency of the Panama Canal Company because he believed the subscribers would lose all their investments.

Washington, March, 1888: A convention of women discussed “Women’s Work”—among the delegates were Clara Barton, Mrs. Howe and Miss Edna D. Cheney.

St. Paul, Minn.—A plan was being discussed in the Northwest to build a railroad to Pekin, China, and Irkutsk, Asiatic Russia, from St. Paul via Bismarck, N. D., British Columbia and Alaska, crossing Bering Strait (only twenty-six miles wide) on inter-island bridge.

Washington: Eight bills for the erection of public buildings in various cities, and appropriating $1,262,000 therefore, passed the House in one day. Twenty-two other bills were reported, proposing to appropriate $2,745,000 more. (America was building!)

Oswego County, N. Y.—Legislature confirms election of Miss Ida L. Griffin as School Commissioner of Oswego County and passed special law that sex should be no bar to office.

Spain: The Spanish Senate approved a bill establishing trial by jury.

Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y.—The enrollment of 83 students in electrical engineering was considered an “indication of the rapid growth of the interest in application of electricity to engineering problems.”

Washington: A bill was introduced in the House proposing to amnesty all offenses committed against the internal revenue laws by moonshiners, illicit distillers, etc., down to February 22nd, 1888. Strangely enough the bill came from a South Carolina representative.

Washington: The United States Senate passed a bill to incorporate the Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua, with a capital of $100,000,000 for the construction, equipment, management and operation of a ship canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, either entirely through Nicaragua, or partly through Costa Rica.

Augusta, ME.—John M. Chase, after five years of experimenting, claimed to have invented a practical aerial warship which he was demonstrating to a naval committee at Washington. The ship was propelled by wings and driven by a coal or oil-fired engine.

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania inaugurated Veterinary School as department of the University.

March 11th-13th: Blizzard swept through the East and other parts of the country, turning even New York City into an Arctic world, without communication, and, in many places, without food, fuel or shelter. Many lives were lost. (This was the Great Blizzard of 1888, the yardstick of all other recorded blizzards.)

Washington: President Cleveland signed Chinese Bill prohibiting Chinese immigration for twenty years.

Washington, May 22nd: Convention of Lawyers formed National Bar Association.

New York: Monsieur Joseph Dugnoi, one-time gastronomical director of the Cafe Bignon, Paris, and Emperor William I’s palace at Berlin, Germany, became “Cook” to Mr. W. K. Vanderbilt, at S10,000 a year, contract to run five years.

Minneapolis: Architect L. S. Buffington obtained a large number of patents, both in this country and Europe, on an invention which he claimed would revolutionize the building world. By it, buildings can be constructed of any desired height, starting from a foundation like the base of a bridge pier. A Minneapolis syndicate of capitalists proposed to erect a building 80 x 80 x 300 feet, or 28 stories high.

Kansas: Farmers, stock-raisers and feeders started a movement to inaugurate the Farmers’ Trust for Northwestern States and Tributaries of Mississippi Valley, to control shipments and regulate supply and prices of the products of the soil.

A new instrument called the “Autographometer” was invented. It was claimed that it could be carried in any light vehicle and would automatically indicate the difference of level of all places over which it had passed.

Wireless telephonic communication, it was announced, could be carried on between ships by means of sound-producing and receiving apparatus attached to the hull of each ship below the water-line.

Pyrodene was another invention of the year. It was claimed to make wood, textile fabrics, paper and other inflammable material fireproof.

London: The Automatic Alarm Thermometer was invented, which rings a bell when temperature falls below (or goes above) the point at which it has been set.

Professor Elisha Gray, considered by some persons as the real inventor of the telephone, announced two new inventions. The first was the Talentograph by means of which letters and pictures could be transmitted from one person to another to a distance of 500 miles. The transmitting and receiving instruments, it was explained, were both equipped with electrically motivated pencils. Manipulation of the transmitting pencil of one instrument caused the receiving pencil of the other instrument to be similarly operated. The second invention was an automatic switchboard for telephone exchanges by means of which the operator of the exchange could put himself in connection with any other telephone.

Philadelphia: Cruiser Yorktown was launched at Cramp’s Shipyard for the “new American Navy.”

Baltimore: Five patents were issued to Elias P. Ries for electric heating apparatus, two of them for heating railway cars.

Pretoria, Transvaal Republic, South Africa: Paul Kruger elected President of the Republic.

Rio de Janeiro, May 14, 1888: Brazilian parliament abolished slavery.

New York: The Electric Club demonstrated “new” uses of electricity: the electric light-cluster; setting type by dictation from phonograph; electric combination-lock safe; a storage battery; cooking by electricity; shining shoes electrically; electrically-operated piano.

Washington: The bill to establish a Department of Agriculture, with a Weather Bureau, was passed by the House of Representatives but was expected to be defeated in the Senate. Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, of June 9,1888, said: “Such a machine could do nothing for farming, nothing for labor, nothing for commerce or any material interest, and would be merely a needless expense.”

Washington: A careful Treasury estimate placed government revenues for the year (1888) at $380,000,000; expenditures, $313,400,000; excess receipts, $66,600,000;

A syndicate of American capitalists employed engineers to explore thoroughly the provinces of Athabasca, Alberta and British Columbia and then take a look at Alaska, all with the purpose of ascertaining the feasibility of building a railway from some point on the Northern Pacific in Dakota to Fort Wrangel, Alaska.

Cincinnati: The Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley was held from July 4th to October 27th. The electrical display was the principal feature. In the twelve years since the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, it was explained, the electric light had come into general use and the telephone had become so useful “it could not be dispensed with.”

Paraldehyde, a new sleep-producer, was declared to be “quicker than chloral, as safe as the bromides, and not injurious except when used to excess.”

Colonel William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) proposed to conduct a party of British noblemen, together with several distinguished Americans, on a pleasure-excursion across the plains. The party to start from Colonel Cody’s ranch, go through Nebraska, New Mexico and Arizona, and come out through Lower California.

Edison in this year brought out his “perfected” phonograph.

In 1888 the United States already had about one-half the railway mileage of the world.

Electric welding was introduced.

Mr. John Wanamaker, of Philadelphia, was the first United States citizen to have $1,000,000 insurance on his life. The next largest policyholder was Mr. John B. Stetson, hat manufacturer of the same city, who had $750,000.

Artificial silk was discovered and declared to be “practically equal to natural silk.”

Portable electric lights, with storage batteries to be hung on one’s coat, were used for reading in railway cars.

California: Population—1,500,000—twice that of 1880.

General Philip H. Sheridan, Civil War hero, died at Nonquitt, Mass.

Gettysburg, Pa., August 8th: The bronze statue, by Gerhardt, of General G. K. Warren, in whose honor Warren Webster was named, was unveiled with military exercises. It appropriately stands on Little Round Top, the hill which proved the key-point of the Union lines and which Warren’s military genius prompted him to seize and save in the nick of time.

August 21: Great storm swept the Chesapeake. Spectacle of waterspout seen by hundreds.

Paris: Railway through Bulgaria established direct communication between Paris and Constantinople. Time, approximately three-and-one-half days.

One million persons were reported to be studying Volapuk—the “universal” language.

The Government of the Hawaiian Islands was reported to be insolvent and bankruptcy to be imminent.

Tomsk, Siberia, August 3, 1888—The magnificent new Imperial University was opened.

Republican candidates General Benjamin Harrison, for president, and Levi P. Morton, for vice-president, were elected defeating President Cleveland and Alien S. Thurman, the Democratic candidates for president and vice-president, respectively.

Belva Lockwood was nominated for president by the Equal Rights Group. She had previously opposed Blaine and Cleveland in 1884, receiving the electoral votes of Indiana and Oregon, totaling sixteen. She was the second woman candidate for the presidency of the United States, the first being Miss Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872.

A freight train of eighteen cars with dry goods to equip a wholesale store at Tacoma, Washington Territory, left Jersey City over the Erie Railroad on December 7th. The train was the largest to start a run of 2500 miles in the history of railway service. It was estimated that it would reach its destination about Christmas Day.

Washington: Postmaster General’s report showed that by comparison of cheapness of postage, gross revenues and expenditures, number of post-offices, extent of mail routes, mileage of mail service and volume of mail matter carried, the Postal System of the United States was the leading one of the world.

Paris: New Pasteur Institute Building was dedicated. Cost, $500,000. Among the subscribers were the Czar, the Sultan, the Emperor of Brazil. This was the twentieth laboratory—seven in Russia, five in Italy, one each in Rumania, Austria, Brazil, Cuba and the Argentine. Two more were nearing completion—one in Chicago and one in Malta.

Paris, December 17th: Bankruptcy of Panama Canal Company announced, with a loss to the subscribers of $250,000,000 in cash.

In the United States there were 5,351 individual plants and central electric light stations, producing every night 192,500 arc and 1,925,000 incandescent lights. These were employed as the motive-power of dynamos, steam engines aggregating 459,495 h.p.

There were in operation thirty-four electric railroads, comprising 138 miles of single track. The number of persons employed in making electric motors was placed at 1,500. There were eight publications devoted exclusively to electricity and its dependent industries in the United States.

The Labor Commission estimated that in 1887 there were 853 strikes, involving 1,862 establishments, as against 1,411 strikes, involving 1,881 establishments in 1886.

Washington, October 31st: Lord Sackville-West, British Ambassador, dismissed by President Cleveland for unwarranted interference in American politics on the eve of an election.

Kentucky: Bloody clashes take place between gangs of “White Caps,” who took upon themselves the forcible regulation of business, and the mountaineers whom they sought to regulate.

In December the Maryland Police Steamer Governor MacLane had a desperate fight with Chesapeake oyster-pirates. The Governor MacLane rammed and scuttled two pirate schooners after sweeping their decks with grape and cannister, took another schooner as a prize to port, captured the entire crews of the vessels and drove four others ashore. The number of pirates killed is not listed.

Mannheim, Germany: What is described as a “novel carriagemotor” has just been produced by Benz & Company. The motive power is a small engine located under the body of the carriage, driven by gas generated from benzine. The driver sits in front and guides the carriage by a steering-wheel and at the same time regulates the speed of the engine. For a journey of one hour, one liter (about a quart) of benzine is required.

Philadelphia: Warren Webster entered the heating industry and founded Warren Webster & Company.

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