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Dead medium: Optical Telegraphy; Heliography
From: (Mike Antman)

Source(s): "A Blueprint for America's Free Markets: The History of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange"

(((Mike Antman remarks: Here's something from the Philadelphia Stock Exchange's capabilities brochure about an early form of long-distance communication for stock traders. My firm (a Chicago marketing communications agency) did all of the exchange's public relations and advertising for a number of years. There's a reference to the light signaling system on their web site,

"In 1791, hooves pounded and coaches lurched over the dirt highway near New Brunswick. 'Not less than twenty expresses have passed through this city within one week,from New York to Philadelphia and back,' a wondering newsman reported, 'They travel with uncommon speed, from which it appears that something of great importance is carrying on.' The newsman hardly imagined that he was witnessing the origins of what would one day be the world's most efficient capital markets.

"Philadelphia, the financial heart of the nation, in 1790 had established the first stock exchange in the United States; yet, New York, a more easterly port, was first to receive news as ships arrived from Europe. The speeding coaches that clattered from New York to Philadelphia carried speculators and stock-jobbers, agents of foreign investors, and inside traders with privileged information that could move the market, and make their fortune at the expense of the Philadelphia merchants.

"The coups scored by these early commuters led a group of Philadelphia brokers to set up signal stations on high points across New Jersey. The signalmen watched through telescopes as coded flashes of light brought news of stock prices, lottery numbers and other important information.

"Relayed from station to station, the information could move from New York to Philadelphia in as little as 10 minutes, more quickly than any coach horse could run, so the system sharply narrowed the advantage of New York speculators. It remained in use until the arrival of the telegraph in 1846.

"Such bold strokes of innovation have characterized the Philadelphia Stock Exchange from its inception."


"As exchanges originally operated, a large part of the value to their members was access to secret information. In order to keep it secret, the exchange levied a fine of twenty-five cents on any member going out and returning during a session == fifty cents if he took his sales book with him. Although all partners of a firm were allowed to depart as a body, provided they not return during the session, if only one member left it cost him fifty cents. Passing notes to the outside was also forbidden and punishable.

"The coming of the telegraph, and in 1884 the ticker, made many of these rules obsolete. However, as late as the 1900's the exchange coffers waxed rich with the contributions of members who cursed, spat, or refused to address their peers as 'Mister.'"


"As the world financial community becomes more sophisticated, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange is focusing on creating new products and new financial instruments promising to change the way businesses do business. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange is also developing faster techniques for executing and reporting trades, knowing that some day the cutting edge computerized trading systems that we now use will seem as primitive as the earlier method of lights and mirrors. This is as it should be, because continued success comes only with a willingness to build further on the foundation of past achievements and in this process, we must keep the courage to change the future."

Mike Antman (