Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/192

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182
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

parties using wires. Their operations are conducted in two hundred and eighty-five offices, allowing only one office to each telephone company. But, as each telephonic subscriber requires a separate instrument, there are, practically, as many offices as subscribers, and the above number must be increased by several thousands. As each of these thousands of telegraphic and telephonic offices has from one to several hundred wires running from it to some other point, one realizes what a gigantic net-work of wires has been woven over us; and, when we add the testimony of the senses, the stupendousness of the encroachment becomes still more apparent. From roofs of private buildings and from poles in public streets the meshes depend, each pole strung with from to one to one hundred and sixty or even more wires. At the corner of Wall and Water Streets, for instance, is a pole with one hundred and ninety-six insulating points. Be these public ways wide or narrow matters not, so far as encroachment is concerned. Some of the largest poles have been erected in the narrowest ways. In Fulton Street, west of Broadway, for example, there are poles seventy-eight inches in circumference. In other places poles sixty and sixty-four inches in circumference have been placed, and a diameter of a foot and a half is common.

Now, all these facts and figures bear startling testimony to the extent to which a system of encroachment upon public and private rights may silently proceed when unchecked. When to this thought we add a recollection of the instances of danger, obstruction, and accident occasioned to life, limb, and property by wires and poles, it must be admitted that a system, whose benefits can hardly be overestimated, has nevertheless become, through an utter disregard of the changed conditions brought about by time, obnoxious in its operation. In the language of modern thought, it has failed to adjust itself to its changed external relations. It is out of correspondence with its environment. This want of correspondence in the case of a human being is called death. In the case of the system under discussion, instinct has taught the layman to call it a public nuisance, which, if so, is theoretically about the same thing as death, inasmuch as, in the eye of the law, that which is a public nuisance has forfeited the right to exist. That this lay opinion is right and that the system is, per se, a, public nuisance, is a matter of elementary law.

How comes it, then, that such a condition of things has arisen? Ask the offending corporations, and they will tell you that it is a legalized nuisance, and point to legislative enactments which they claim legalize their acts. It becomes necessary, then, to examine these enactments. In a magazine article it is of course impossible to review the laws of all the States. We propose to confine ourselves, therefore, to those affecting New York city, which is the longest-suffering and most interested of our municipalities.

The Legislature of the State of New York, in 1848, authorized the