An Early Email Proposal in 1884?
MAILS BY ELECTRICITY.
New York Times - 26 April 1884
The Post Office Committee of the House has referred to a sub-committee all the bills authorizing the building or buying of telegraph lines for the purpose of establishing a postal telegraph—that is, of sending mails by electricity—with instructions to draft a bill providing for contracts for a postal telegraph service.
A postal telegraph is not impossible because it seems inexpedient that the Government should either build new lines or buy old ones. The proposed alternative is supported by strong analogies. The Post Office is now popularly said to carry the mails. As a matter of fact and practice it merely hires them carried. The Post Office. to its credit, does not own one of the gorgeous ramshackle vans which carry the mails between City Hall Park and Grand Central Station. Nor does it own the horses or employ the drivers. All is done by contract. So it is with the star service, and so it is with the carriage of mails by steam power. The Government does not own or operate railways. It contracts with them to carry mail matter delivered to them. It does not appear why there should be any difference of principle because of the substitution of electricity for steam.
Many difficulties would be obviated by the establishment of a system of postal telegraphy by this system of contract with an existing company. It would not be necessary, for instance, to add to the civil service an army of employes. On the other hand, whether the Postmasters and operators were or were not the same persons, at least they would work on the same premises and as part of a harmonious organization. The result would be an important economy of administration which might make fifteen-cent or even ten-cent telegrams soon possible. An important aid to this result would be the popular familiarity with Post Office methods. Nearly everybody knows where the Post Office is, what its rates are, and how a letter may be posted. In case of ignorance the information can readily be had. But it is a rare exception for anyone to know where the nearest telegraph office is, or what its rates are, or how a message should be counted and reckoned. These are considerations which would influence a vast amount of traffic, and might speedily make the present volume of business seem infantile. The objections to buying or building Government lines of telegraph are also met by the contract system. For instance, no capital would be necessary. Thus the price of telegrams would be separated from the necessity of earning interest on a fictitious capital, and would be left to find the level fixed by competition. That level it would reach, for during the contract term, at least, combination or consolidation would be impossible.
No company would have any right to complain of such competition. All would have the same right to compete for the Post Office contract, and the Government would not be in any sense a competitor with the corporations deriving franchises from it. And as there would be no capital investment the Government could retire from the enterprise at its pleasure. To buy or build lines is only one way of giving bonds in one hundred millions that the Postal Telegraph shall succeed. Under the contract system the cost of retirement might indeed rise to considerable figures, but it would be trifling compared with the cost of sustaining a failing enterprise in the hope of better times. And the periodical letting of the contract would afford useful periods for fixing anew the price of telegrams.