Monday, October 20th, 2008
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.
October 24, 1861
The transcontinental telegraph line is finished, literally uniting the United States by wire just as the country was disintegrating into Civil War.
Just before the shooting started, Congress had offered a substantial bribe (known as a subsidy) to any company agreeing to take on the seemingly impossible project — a hair-brained plan to hang a thin wire on poles marching hundreds of miles across the Great Plains, up the Rockies, and into the Wild West.
Work began in June of 1861. Just like the transcontinental railroad a few years later, one section started in the east, one in the west, with the goal of linking up in Utah.
The two crews worked their ways toward Salt Lake City for six long months, following the route established less than a year and a half earlier by the Pony Express. It was an epic struggle. Thousands of poles were planted in scorching heat and freezing snow, and the workers negotiated not only with the hostile elements, but with Native Americans and Mormons.