Ticker tape was a crucial telecommunications device

Ticker Tape – Origins of Telecom

3d rendering of technical financial graph on stock exchange display panel

You’ve heard of ticker tape parades but probably never gave stock tickers much thought. You might not associate them with telecommunications, but they were crucial telecommunications devices during their time. This invention revolutionized the stock market — and it helped put Thomas Edison on the map. It also brought us ticker tape, and in turn, ticker tape parades.

In the mid-1800s, investors across the country relied on messengers and mail service to receive the latest news from the New York Stock Exchange. While we’re used to real-time stock quotes, the investors of yesteryear had to wait hours, if not days or even weeks to hear the latest share prices. The chief telegrapher at the New York office of Western Union, Edward Calahan, had sent plenty of stock-related telegrams on behalf of messenger boys sent from the exchange to the telegraph office and figured there had to be a more efficient way to distribute this information.

Calahan imagined placing a special telegraph machine in each stock broker’s office. The machine would receive and print out stock information sent via a mass broadcast of sorts. Calahan’s invention, which he called an “improvement in telegraphic indicators” in his patent application, transmitted stock market information over long distance telegraph wires. The sending office used a telegraph typewriter device to produce the message while the receiving offices were equipped with “tickers,” which were analog machines that printed the stock quotes on thin strips of paper known as ticker tape.

The telegraph typewriter consisted of a metal disk containing marked numbers and words and a pointer which could be manipulated to form the message. Magnets and clock mechanisms were also used in this instrument.

The receiving device, the ticker, included a dial with markings corresponding to the numbers and words found on the telegraph typewriter. Pulses originating from the sending device moved through the ticker, actuating springs, magnets, and gears to change the dial to match that of the sending device. The sending and receiving devices remained in unison throughout the transmission.

Calahan’s invention was patented on March 31, 1868. Tickers were later rented to regional stock brokerages across the country.

Where does Thomas Edison fit into this story? Edison improved upon Calahan’s invention in 1871 His Universal Stock Printer transmitted and printed real-time stock market data simultaneously from the exchange floor to brokers and investors across the country. Edison’s device included a mechanism synchronized all tickers on a line, enabling them to print the same information.

Ticker tape displayed the stock’s symbol, the number of shares traded on a given day, and the share’s price. When a parade in honor of the Statue of Liberty’s dedication marched up Broadway, employees celebrated by throwing ticker tape out of their office windows — and thus, the first ticker tape parade was born.

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