New York Times, November 28, 1877 (Editorial):
AN ELECTRICAL OUTRAGE.
When the phonograph, that marvelous instrument for bottling speeches and preserving them for any length of time without injuring their tone, was invented, the public began to grew uneasy. What, with the telegraph, the telephone, and the phonograph, it seemed as it electricians had lost all self-restraint, and there was a general feeling that this habit of constantly inventing improved methods of electrical communication was being carried altogether too far. Now we have still another invention, which is more startling than any of its predecessors. Prof. LOOMIS, of Washington, claims that he has discovered a method of telegraphy through the air without the aid of telegraph wires, telegraph poles, or small boys clad in uniform. This invention is fraught with enormous danger to the public, and should at once be sternly frowned down. As to what should be done to Prof. LOOMIS, himself, that question may be properly left to a jury of his fellow-citizens.
The new invention is based upon the alleged fact that there is a constant current of electricity in the atmosphere at a comparatively low height. Prof. LOOMIS erects a perpendicular iron rod on the top of a hill, which rod reaches the aerial electrical current. He also erects a similar rod on the top of another hill, and connects with each of them a battery and a telegraphic machine. Then he sends a message up one of the rods into the aerial current. The current takes it up and carries it to the other rod, down which it descends and is received by the operator. It will be seen that all that is needed in this system of telegraphy is a pair of perpendicular rods, a pair of moderately high hills, two telegraphic machines, and two operators. Prof. LOOMIS has already telegraphed in this way over a distance of fifteen miles, and confidently expects to be able to send messages from the top of Trinity steeple in this City, to the top of St. Paul's, in London, without the use of any connecting wire. The first objection to this nefarious invention is the fact that messages sent by the aerial current will come down any and every wire that happens to penetrate the current. No man will be able to send a message exclusively to any other man. If Mr. PATTERSON, for instance, telegraphs to Gov. HAMPTON that he will vote for BUTLER, and that those handcuffs will not be needed, the message, instead of going to the State-house steeple in Columbia, and no where else, will travel around the globe, dropping in upon every Chinese pagoda and European cathedral, and finally striking the Washington Capitol and passing along the gas-pipes into the Senatorial chamber. If a man, being about to visit Coney Island with a friend, telegraphs to his wife that he will be detained down town by business until a late hour, the message will reach every town in the United States, and fill the minds of his business correspondents with the conviction that he has fallen into dissolute ways, and will soon become an eminently respectable citizen and a defaulter. By the old-fashioned method of telegraphing, messages could be made to steer any desired course. Under Prof. LOOMIS' system, they will be launched into air, without the possibility of regulating their course.
What is the precise height above the surface of the earth of the aerial electrical current we are not told, but there is good reason to believe that nearly all the lightning-rods erected upon buildings of two stories or more in height, are in communication with it. Hitherto those rods have been looked upon as a protection from the danger of being struck by lightning, but if Prof. LOOMIS is permitted to carry his invention into operation, they will become a terrible source of danger. The aerial electrical current will be constantly full of Congressional speeches and other ponderous matter, which will be liable at any moment to descend out lightning-rods and penetrate our houses. A man may be quietly sitting in his study, dreaming of no danger, when suddenly he may be struck and prostrated by a Presidential oration on the beauty of conciliation. A mother, sitting in the nursery with her baby in her arms, may be struck by a violent speech by WENDELL PHILLIPS, and sustain fatal injuries. An eloquent clergyman, while preaching in his pulpit, may be struck by one of Mr. COX'S Congressional jokes, and be made a gibbering idiot for the rest of his life. No house provided with a lightning-rod will be safe from disasters like these; and during a political campaign or the May anniversaries, when the aerial current is charged to an unusual extent with speeches, no prudent man will venture to remain indoors. And yet, wherever he may go, he will be unable to secure absolute safety. If he takes passage on a steamer, flying messages will continually descend the lightning-rod, and the deck will be dented with German six-syllable words, or littered with the froth of Herald dispatches describing extraordinary weddings; while, if he climbs Mount Washington, he will find himself exposed to a hail of messages from the four quarters of the globe. Since the usual current is sure to ascend or descend in accordance with the state of the barometer, it may be argued that the Weather Bureau can warn us when there is an area of political telegrams in the lake region, or when an area of Congressional speeches threatens the New-England States. Instead, however, of affording us any security, their warnings would only tend to create panics. It needs little imagination to foresee the alarm which would be caused by the announcement that "a speech by Senator MATTHEWS is rapidly forming in the region of Washington, and will reach the Atlantic States early to-morrow morning."
In view of the inevitable results of the new invention, Prof. LOOMIS should instantly abandon it. If he will do this peaceably, he may hope to be forgiven. If he remains obstinate he should be dealt with as a reckless, unprincipled, and dangerous inventor.