From Thos. Edison to Amelia Earhart…

…by way of Western Union

If you’ve ever seen grainy photos of New York City parades with streams of paper floating everywhere, then you know what “ticker tape” is. But do you know anything about the machines that produce it?

The ticker tape machine was invented in 1867 by an engineer with the American Telegraph Co., Edward A. Calahan. His printing telegraph worked to get stock prices disseminated more quickly, and came to be known as a “stock ticker” due to its rhythmic ticking sound, and was quickly adopted by the New York Stock Exchange.

Within a few years, Thomas Edison, who’d spent his early working years as a telegraph operator was working for Gold and Stock Telegraph, a division of Western Union, and which owned the patents to the stock ticker. Using that knowledge, he began working independently on an improved version of the machine. Among his improvements: he developed the system of printing abbreviated company names as alphabetic symbols followed by the stock transaction information on long, narrow continuous-feed strips of paper.

Between 1871 and 1874 The NY Stock Exchange bought nearly 5,000 of Edison’s “Universal Stock Printer” machines, before buying the rights to the machine in order to manufacture them and sell stock quotation services to brokers. Offices up and down Wall Street kept tickers furiously generating tape when the stock market was open. Office workers quickly saw that throwing those long streams of tape out the windows was loads of fun during city celebrations, hence the term “ticker tape parade”. (1)

Fun Fact: 5,438 tons of paper were thrown during the 1945 celebration of the end of WW II: the most in parade history. (2)

Want to own a piece of history? Take a look at lot 50 in our February 15th Estate Antiques, Fine & Decorative Arts Auction. Up for auction is an antique Thomas Edison Western Union ticker tape machine, Model 35-A, serial #11858. The machine sits on a cast iron base under a glass dome, and would make a most interesting focal point for any home- or traditional office. Pre-auction estimate: $2,000 – 4,000.

Click to view the full auction details and catalog.

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Sources:

1. A History of Wall Street’s Stock Tickers, The Institute (The IEEE News Source), by the IEEE History Center Staff, October 2017.

2. By The Numbers: Ticker Tape Parades, CNN, by Emily Smith, CNN and Evelyn Andrews, Special to CNN, July 2015.