The Telegraph Arrives in Brownville

A Pony Express rider saluting the telegraph builders (who would soon put the Pony Express out of business) was a popular motif in illustrations of the period. NSHS RG24090-144

A Pony Express rider saluting the telegraph builders (who would soon put the Pony Express out of business) was a popular motif in illustrations of the period. NSHS RG24090-144

The most thrilling event of the summer of 1860 for the residents of Brownville, Nebraska Territory, was the completion of a telegraph line from St. Joseph, Missouri, to their town and the transmission of the first telegrams over the wires. On August 28 the Stebbins telegraph line was linked to Brownville, with a grand celebration planned for the following day.

The first telegram sent by the citizens of Brownville from Nebraska Territory on August 29, 1860, went to the Associated Press and was entitled “Nebraska Sends Greetings to the States.” The first telegram received in Nebraska Territory also came into Brownville that day. The St. Joseph Gazette in neighboring Missouri returned the greeting sent by Robert W. Furnas, then editor of the Nebraska Advertiser.

Robert W. Furnas. NSHS RG4389-9

Robert W. Furnas. NSHS RG4389-9

A large celebration was held that evening in Brownville, complete with bonfires, music, speeches, and toasts. Rounds of ammunition were fired, one for each of the states, one for Nebraska Territory, and one for the telegraph line. A parade led by the Brownville brass band ended the official celebration, but it was rumored that a barrel of wine was carried up to the telegraph office in an upstairs room of the Hoadley Building, where an unofficial celebration continued.

For an account of Nebraska Territory’s role in the building of the first transcontinental telegraph, see First Telegraph Line across the Continent: Charles Brown’s 1861 Diary, edited by Dennis N. Mihelich and James E. Potter, and published by the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2011. Read the book’s prologue here. Brown’s lively narrative is the only known extensive source written about the daily construction of one segment of the first transcontinental line, and is filled with period detail. The book is available from the NSHS Landmark Stores. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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