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Friday, May 23, 2008

The Telectroscope That Links New York To London

It started when Paul St George went through his grandmother’s attic and found a packet of dusty papers in a trunk. The papers were from his great-grandfather, an engineer named Alexander Stanhope St George. From there the Telectroscope was born.
The Telectroscope was described a an enormous telescope with a strange bee-hive shaped cowl at one end containing a complex configuration of mirrors and lenses. This device would act as a visual amplifier, allowing people to see through a tunnel of immense length… a tunnel, the drawings implied, stretching from one side of the world to the other.

Paul St George took his great-grandfather's diaries, diagrams, correspondence, scribbled calculations, and even one or two photographs and made the invention a reality.

In what is said to be an extremely long 3,471 mile tunnel, with one of the Telectroscope’s terminals surfacing next to the Brooklyn Bridge on the banks of the East River in New York and the other emerging next to the Tower Bridge on the banks of London’s Thames and using a set of mirrors to transmit the images, BBC conducted what they call the "most laborious and least informative interview" ever conducted.

They used the Telectroscope and two whiteboards, two marker pens, one person in New York and one in London.

Peter Coleman, who handled the New York End of the project is quoted by the BBC as saying, "It is a piece of art, and it's also a sort of curiosity in a public space. London and New York are cities with millions of people. They can't believe that those are actually people in another city looking at them. That's what I find all these people are sort of amazed at. It pulls you right into it."

No modern day technology is involved according to officials responsible for this project, just a very long tunnel, mirrors set to positions that will allow people on one end to read what is written on a whiteboard all the way across the world and to respond by writing on their own whiteboard.

There are dials, and levers, and thermometer gauges on the side of the 20m long brass and wood construction.

Peer into it and you can see people on the other side of the Atlantic.

Wave at them, they wave back at you.

Write on the whiteboard, and ask a question, and they will write back.

(An illustration of the Telectroscope concept from Alexander Stanhope St George’s papers)

A five minute interview with some of the answers being only a single word and yet groups of people, thousands of miles apart can watch each other and communicate without using webcams, computers or telephones.

There are two women at the London end who are from New York City - they are writing where exactly they come from.

They hold up their sign.

"Bay Ridge Brooklyn, yer, go Bay Ridge!!" the New York crowd shout, and for a moment, two groups of strangers, in two cities thousands of miles apart, jump up and down and smile at one another.

Alexander Stanhope St George had a dream that turned into an obsession as he suffered severe setbacks in trying to turn that dream into reality, according to the Telectroscope website.

The first major blow came on 5th March 1892 when the ocean breached the tunnel roof. Fifteen men were lost. Alexander wrote: “The loss of life is a terrible cross to bear and yet, for the greater good, we must persevere.” After this, however, the project was beset by problems both large and small. Gradually, the workforce dwindled and Alexander was forced to draft in less skilled and experienced workers, thus exacerbating his problems.

Alexander was eventually forced to abandon the project and he died in 1917, in an insane asylum.

His papers, his diaries, diagrams, etc.. remained with his family, hidden away in an attic in a trunk, all but forgotten, until his great-grandson, Paul St George, found them, dusted them off and turned Alexander's invention, dream, obsession, whatever many would call it, into a reality.

It took over a century but Alexander's invention is now open to the public.

The project opened on May 22, 2008 and will remain open to the public until June 15, 2008.