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The Invisible Empire: A History of the Telecommunications Industry in Canada in 1846-1956 by R. Jean-Guy and K. Roth. Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Dec 12th, 2019

The book is perhaps a reflection of the Canadian stature in international technology from the middle of the 19th century to the middle the 20th century. Within such a short period in history, as shown in the current developments in the information phase, tremendous improvements in the telecommunication industry emerge clearly in the book.

As a constant theme in the book, the rise of Canada as a technological powerhouse not only in the North American continent but also around the world prominently comes out in the presentation. The authors capture the various scientific, economic and social interactions that the Canadians had during the period under contemplation.

By relying on various interactions that the authors present on Canada, the book manages to highlight various factors that promoted the emergence of the nation as a telecommunications powerhouse in the world. In view of these factors, this book review highlights a few factors to illustrate their magnitude in propulsion of the country as a technological victor in history in telecommunications.

Among these factors include, industrial revolution precipitation for spontaneous inventions, Canadian public and private sector cooperation, world political events incidental to telecommunications growth, corporate developments in Canada and globalization events necessitating telecommunications growth.

Invention Precipitation by Industrial Revolution

The developments of the industrial revolution that culminated around the 1840s must have played a role in the precipitation of hunger for telecommunications innovations. As presented in the book by the authors, several spontaneous inventions beyond telecommunications took place around the industrial revolution duration.

With respect to telecommunications, the authors present the initial telegraph inventions taking place in France, in the late 1700s (Jean-Guy and Roth, 2001, p. 7). In this instance of the invention, the authors present Claude Chappe working for the French military playing an enormous role in setting the blueprint of inventions on telegraphy.

By the 1800s, several spontaneous developments in the invention and enhancement of the telegraph occurred, with the semaphore reaching the Canadian army at around the same time. Reports of several inventions and undying invention spirit around the world in telecommunications emerge clearly in the book.

British and Italian inventors taking part in the invention the telephone and the radio illustrate the author’s apparent depiction of the arrival of the ‘right time’ to invent. Perhaps, the depiction of a period when several inventions and innovations took place augurs well with the conclusion that the precipitation of the environment by the industrial revolution contributed to growth of telecommunications.

In the version taken by the authors, the depiction of happenings around the world with regard to telecommunications takes a spontaneous tag. In illustration of the arrival of the telephone to Canada, the authors break the spontaneity of the invention with respect to Canadian contribution (p. 45).

However, the growth of the telecommunications industry around the telephone presents the importance of the country in development and improvement of the telephone as a product (p. 81).

With a presentation of experiences by Graham Bell and Guglielmo Marconi for the telephone and the radio inventions outside Canada and the deep impact inside Canada, the authors succeed in depicting the invention spontaneity pattern. The arrival of the radio in Canada in this early telecommunication age and the incidental developments likewise show how the authors stick with the theme of Canadian contributions (p. 184).

World Political Events

In view of the importance of the 20th century political developments, the authors illustrate the development of telecommunications as an inevitable factor needed for the success of political events. The authors clearly capture significant developments in political scenes, in the 1900s, with the World Wars emerging as a center of attraction of political intrigues.

As one of the most prominent themes of the political developments in the World Wars, militarism and technical capacity building by global military powerhouses clearly emerge. Communication as a vital component of war management implied that the world political powers had to invest heavily, in order to ensure that the art of war kept improving.

As witnessed in the case of Claude Chappe in France, military contribution in the invention of the telegraph clearly shows the trend of political power involvement. Alternatively, Canadian military taking over the development of the semaphore at the turn of the century not only depicts the necessity of military development to Canada but as a common trend around the world (p. 275).

One weakness in the elaboration of Canada’s emergence into global politics perhaps with respect to the military concept perhaps fails since world participants mainly came from Europe. The involvement of the USA in the global politics obscures the presentation of Canada as a global military nation, particularly throughout the World Wars (p. 276).

The investment of the Canadian government in defense and national security plainly highlights the trends in the period contemplated by the study (p. 183).

Using the observations made from the telecommunications interactions by the military, the world political events and developments support the growth witnessed in Canada (p. ii). As illustrated by the need of Canadian administration led by Prince Edward during the onset of the telecommunication developments, the Canadian government has kept in touch with modernized government communication needs.

The authors appreciate potential missing links in the connection between political processes and the telecommunication industry (p. xviii). The authors reckon that the connection the government telecommunication projects and the military remained inseparable and similar (p. 227).

The depiction of the Canadian military involvement in telecommunications and around the world perhaps explains the importance and success that the industry enjoyed. As a matter of national security, telecommunications destiny could only relate with success (p. 229). Probably, the appreciation that the book takes a field approach as opposed to an academic approach responds to related criticism.

Corporate Evolution in Canada

The book takes account of the role of the industrial evolution that the Canadian companies had with respect to telecommunications (p. 195). In view of the business culture in Canada and indeed in North America, any other industry would develop and reach the success that the telecommunication industry attained. As given in the presentation, various telegraph and telephone companies emerged in the stipulated period.

The authors’ opinion reflects the impact of the corporate culture in Canada on the developments in the industrial evolution of the telecommunications industry. By the turn of the 19th century, corporations’ boom captured the business markets in Canada just as in many parts of the world. Among the most influential corporations in Canada during the stipulated time, telegraphy corporations such as Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara and St Catherine’s Electrical Magnetic Company clearly emerge in the presentation (p. 11).

Many other companies around the telegraph emerged competing for the lucrative market opportunities, at a time when long distance communication started to make sense. Telephony emerged soon after, with a composite industrial characteristic of both telegraph and telephone (P. 64).

The competition witnessed among companies such as Montreal Telegraph Company and the momentous monopolistic Bell Telephone define the role of the emerging corporate culture (p. 11). Despite the difficulties in the challenges experienced under the emerging capitalism definition of the market in Canada around the period under consideration, several of Canada’s telecommunications companies survived (p. 12).

In view of the authors’ depiction of the corporate developments in Canada, telecommunications industry success captures the explanation of the penetration rate in the country above many world technology powerhouses (p. 286). Canada emerged among the highest ranked in the world with respect to laying of networks for telecommunications infrastructure. Soon, deep-sea cable network connecting Canada and continental Europe illustrates the role of Canada in telecommunication in the Trans-Atlantic interactions (p. 321).

As a clear illustration of the developments in the labor market with regard to the telecommunication industry, Canadians resolve to participate in the transformation of relations emerges in the authors’ presentation. Despite the turmoil in the shift from personnel management to human resource management that peaked during the time under consideration, Canadian industry performed well (p. 259).

In a precise presentation, the authors capture the development of the telecommunications industry accurately throughout the book by highlighting the role of inventions to the formation of the industry. Within the details of the development of the industrial integrity of Canadian telecommunication, far-reaching historical contributions of public and private sectors emerge clearly.

Canadian Public and Private Sector Cooperation

As illustrated in the presentation by the authors, the growth of certain industries requires cooperation between the government and private investors. In view of the contributions made by the Canadian government in terms of regulation, telecommunications would have failed without the assistance and cooperation demonstrated by the authors (p. 207).

As an illustration of the potential of government regulation acting as a bottleneck to inventions, the case of Marconi’s frustration by the Italian government regarding licensing of his radio project comes into light (p. 184). In the Canadian illustration, the government partakes in the development of such cooperation that enhances growth. For instance, the authors present the creation of a universal radio service in Canada as a government project (p. 205).

The authors present the example of the Jubilee celebrations where the government’s role of facilitating transmissions through radio emerges (p. 207). In terms of the impact that such cooperation, Bell Telephone Company thrived enabling efficient delivery and coverage of telephone services throughout the country.

Apparently, the development of the theme of leadership conscious of the need of establishing telecommunications assists the authors in painting the seamless cooperation between the two sectors. Taking timely decisions to save the industry from collapse amid various industry pressures appear timely for the nation as depicted by the authors (p. 214). The success witnessed at the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission illuminates the success attained in the presentation of the book.

Globalization Events Necessitating Telecommunications Growth

In a world with an obsession of searching for overseas economic success, communication became a necessity that only telecommunication technology solved. It implies that the efforts to explore overseas opportunities presented to the world powers would require sufficient investment in communication solutions.

Canada played a useful role in the first attempts to connect Europe with the Americas through the Newfoundland (p. 324). As demonstrated in the management of the World Wars, communication between the military and command base at the home of origin for the various world powers increasingly became a war tactic.

Seamless communication offered by the telecommunications technologies offered tremendous success for the troops working overseas. In the presentation by the authors, it emerges that the next phase of international relations depended on constant communication between nations.

Canada’s participation in intercontinental affairs comes out clearly for the telecommunications prowess attained by the end of the Second World War. The intercontinental link between Ottawa, New York and London worked until its closure in 1978, showing the success of the Canadian contribution to intercontinental telecommunication (p. 321).

Whereas the nations that participated directly in the World Wars continued to face difficulties in reconstruction, Canada continued to develop the telecommunications industry with relative advantage. As an illustration, the Great Britain suffered terrific post war ramifications that led to the nationalization of most of the private corporations (p. 328).

The next phase of telecommunications at the helm of the emerging post war global communication regarded the unification of electrical communications. Under the International Telegraph Union as well as the International Radiotelegraph Union that later merged into one body, the future of telecommunication appeared safe. The International Telecommunications Union at the helm of international communication implied that Canada’s interaction with globalization trends took shape (p. 332).

The authors highlight the inevitability of the international developments in telecommunications, which increased private sector participation in shaping the future of the industry. Perhaps, the modern communication platform dominated by private companies with a perfect capitalist model originated from the formation of the agreement by the League of Nations (p. 328).

Reference

Jean-Guy, R., & Roth, K. (2001). The invisible empire: A history of the telecommunications industry in Canada in 1846-1956, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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