Glass insulators used to be a common sight perched on utility pole crossties. If you are more than 60 years old, you might remember seeing the final vestiges of them as the same system was used with early telephone lines. There were so many glass insulators because each pole had so many wires requiring insulators.
The telegraph was the first widespread commercial use of electricity. It revolutionized the 19th century world as dramatically as cell phones have in this century. Prior to telegraphs, a physical piece of paper was transported to deliver information. The telegraph allowed messages from one end of the wire to the other to be transmitted almost instantly. But as the wire stretched across the country, it lost conductivity at each contact with wood or obstacles, especially during wet weather. Therefore, glass insulators were used to keep the wire from contacting the wooden post.
Each carrier had to have a clear wire to communicate. For instance, Western Union had a wire from junction to junction, but if a message needed to switch carriers, it had to be retrieved and re-entered. Many companies wanted secure, uninterrupted service, so they installed their own wire. The more businesses an area had, the more wires and insulators were required. With a pole every 60 or 70 yards, innumerable insulators were needed between cities, for example Houston and Dallas or to link all the cities across America.
The insulators were mounted on wooden pegs on the crosstie, which was then mounted on a pole. Glass insulators came in a rainbow of colors because inexpensive glass in that era had imperfections that tinted it various shades of yellow, green, and blue. Eventually, insulators were made of many materials such as stoneware, ceramics, rubber and plastic, but the glass insulators are beauties that are popular with collectors. The demand for more lines was so great during the 19th century that many manufacturers produced millions of insulators. The diversity and rarity of insulators produced by small, low-volume manufacturers are favored by collectors. The Juergen’s Store Museum at Cypress Top Historic Park currently has a display of telegraph insulators that shows how they carried the wire up close.
If you would like to learn more about American, Texas or Cypress history, visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Hempstead Highway, open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The museum buildings are open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To arrange a special tour, contact the park at 281-357-5324 or email@example.com. The park is home to the Cypress Historical Society, housed in the California Poppy yellow train depot in the back of the park and open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and the third Saturday of the month from noon to 3 p.m. The society has a treasure trove of genealogy information and historical information for the greater Cypress area. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-758-0083. If you have questions or comments about this article, contact Fred Collins at email@example.com.
Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.