The stock ticker evolved from telegraph technology. Many inventors
of the 19th-century such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell got their start as telegraph operators. Their experience
as telegraphers provided them with a good understanding of the principles of electricity, electromagnets, mechanical devices,
and machining tools.
In 1867, Mr. S.S. Laws invented the "gold indicator," which was
then used by the Gold Exchange on Wall Street. Mr. Laws was the President of the Gold Exchange at the time. The Laws Gold
Indicator was a device that displayed the price of gold by using double-faced panels that flipped to the appropriate numbers.
One side of the panel faced out the window of the Gold Exchange and was visible to New Street, and the other side of the panel
was visible to the traders inside the exchange. Laws was assisted by F.L. Pope, who would later become an early partner of
Thomas Edison worked on a device called the Edison Telegraph Printer.
This device was designed to make it possible for a lower-skilled person to run a telegraph apparatus because it printed out
a message in readable text. The Edison Telegraph Printer dates to approximately 1867 when Edison was a young telegrapher working
in Boston. This type of technology would evolve into the introduction of the first stock tickers.
In 1867, Mr. E.A. Calahan of the American Telegraph Company invented
the first stock telegraph printing instrument. It was his idea at the time that prices might be furnished through some form
of telegraphy. The distinct sound of this telegraph printing instrument eventually earned it the name of "stock ticker." In
this same year, on the site of the Mills Building on Broad Street, opposite the New York Stock Exchange, was an old building
used for the trading of gold and stocks. Two prominent brokerage firms were located off the main hallway of this building.
Young men were used as runners between the exchange and the brokerage offices. Each runner was dedicated to an active stock.
The commotion, noise, and crowded quarters once resulted in Mr. Calahan literally being swept back out into the street and
drenched in an April shower. By the time Mr. Calahan had produced his fourth stock ticker he had a subscription list of 100
clients via word-of-mouth alone.
One of the first competitors to the Calahan Stock Ticker was the
Laws Stock Printer. Observing the tremendous success of the Calahan ticker, Mr. Laws decided not to limit himself to gold
prices. He produced the Laws Stock Printer. Mr. Laws retired early from this business and sold his rights to the Laws Gold
Indicator and the Laws Stock Printer to the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company. Gold & Stock discontinued the Laws Stock
Printer, and continued to use the Laws Gold Indicator until gold ceased to be quoted at a premium.
A note about the "unison device": Four years after the Calahan Stock
Ticker was introduced in 1867, Mr. Henry Van Hoevenbergh invented a device which brought all the tickers on a network into
unison from a central transmitter. Before this time, a runner would have to go to the client's location and reset the ticker
by hand. The first unison device was tested on a Laws Stock Printer. This was a crude and unreliable mechanism. Thomas Edison
improved on this design significantly (spring of 1871) and received a patent for his "screw-thread unison" device. It is comprised
of a lever with the free end traveling on a spiral or worm, on the type-wheel shaft, until it met a pin at the end of the
worm, thus obstructing the shaft and leaving the type wheels at the zero point until released by the print lever. All the
mechanical tickers after this point incorporated this unison device, which made the ticker's wide appeal possible.
Marshall Lefferts became Edison's mentor and friend. Lefferts
became the President of a newly formed company that acquired the patents to both the Laws Gold Indicator and the Calahan Stock
Ticker. It was called the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company. Eventually Gold & Stock would acquire important stock ticker-related
patents from Thomas Edison, Phelps, and others, including the Edison Printing Telegraph patent from Edison's Boston partners.
Gold & Stock would become a competitor to Western Union and eventually (in 1881) lease its lines, instruments, and property
to Western Union--guaranteeing it six percent per year on its capital stock of $5 million dollars.
Edison started working on an improved stock ticker after gaining
experience with the Calahan Stock Ticker and the Laws Gold Indicator. Several variations of stock tickers were manufactured
in small numbers under partnerships that Edison established. Today the Edison and Pope Stock Ticker and the Edison and Unger
Stock Ticker are available for viewing at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
Some of Edison's early stock ticker prototypes did not perform
very well on tests conducted on the Cotton and Produce Exchanges. According to an article published in 1901 in the Electrical
World and Engineer, by Edward A. Calahan (the original inventor of the stock ticker), "as such it [Edison's stock ticker]
was only a partial success, owning to inferior workmanship. It was replaced by a ticker invented by G.M. Phelps that was vastly
superior in workmanship, speed, and accuracy, but more expensive and delicate, which may account for its limited use." It's
possible Mr. Calahan was not a fan of Edison's. Edison continued to make improvements to his "cotton instrument," which eventually
evolved into the very successful Universal Stock Ticker.
Eventually Edison's evolving improvements in stock ticker technology
resulted in the introduction of the Universal Stock Ticker. The Universal was highly dependable and was produced in high volume.
At least 5,000 of these devices were produced and served investors. The Universal Stock Ticker was Edison's first commercial
success and established him with Wall Street connections that would fund development at his Menlo Park laboratory, as well
as funding many of his greatest inventions, including the incandescent electric light bulb.
The Consolidated Exchange also abandoned the Gold & Stock
ticker and adopted the ticker used by the Stock Quotation Telegraph Company as its exclusive ticker. It was initially invented
by Mr. A. Wirshing and was improved by Mr. John Burry, who eliminated some weight and added a self-winding device. By 1910,
Western Union (the Gold & Stock identity now gone) had thousands of Burry tickers which they were renting from the Stock
Quotation Telegraph Company at the rate of $3 per month, which totaled $35,000 per year (11,666 Burry stock tickers in service).
As always the American economy continues to grow, and the volume
of trades on the stock exchange grew in number. Imagine "bandwidth" in the late 19th-century as a 3/4-inch-wide piece of paper
tape. In order to keep up with the volume of trades, stock tickers were engineered to print faster. The new self-winding stock
ticker invented by Gold & Stock was much faster than the Universal, though both remained in service together for many
The Gold & Stock self-winding ticker was invented by George B. Scott, Superintendent of Gold & Stock,
and W.P. Phelps of the Philadelphia Local Telegraph Company. In 1903, J.C. Barclay, Assistant General Manager of Gold &
Stock, called Jay R. Page in Chicago to come to New York to help make the device smaller. They decided to place the escapement
magnet and the adjustment screws inside the ticker frame. After this change the ticker was called the Scott-Phelps-Barclay-Page
Eventually it would come to be known simply as the self-winding stock ticker, and come to be identified with
Western Union. The self-winding device is the image one generally imagines when referring to a stock ticker. One of the manufacturing
vendors in the early 1900s was Thomas Edison's West Orange, New Jersey, plant, current site of the Edison National Historic
Site. These "Western Union" self-winding tickers are sometimes mistakenly thought to be invented by Thomas Edison because
they were manufactured at his plant. In reality, it is doubtful that Edison had any involvement with Western Union's self-winding
During the stock market crash of October 1929, the mechanical
printers could not keep up with the volume of trades. As the tickers fell behind the volume of trading, panic gripped investors.
It was clear that a new and faster ticker was needed. By 1934, the
New York Quotation Company put the black box into full operation. This was an extremely fast machine.
The Universal and the self-winding stock tickers were turned into
sports tickers. The Universal was often used in baseball stadiums and in illegal sports gambling. The self-winder was used
at radio stations as a news feed. Many were destroyed as excess inventory when the New York Quotation Stock Ticker became
the preferred ticker in the early 1900s. It has also been reported that during World War II many of the Universal and self-winding
tickers were scrapped for metal or sold off to businesses in South America. In 1960, Western Union ordered all these remaining
In 1960, The New York Quotation Company introduced the last mechanical
ticker. This extremely fast machine was eventually replaced by modern-day computers and electronic displays.
Today all stock tickers are digital!
|Edison and Unger Stock Ticker