History | Pioneer Telegrapher James Beemer Austin| Back

An edited  transcription of a page 3 article from 3 Aug 1916 issue  of Simcoe Reformer. [Some paragraph breaks added by the transcriber]

Pioneer Telegrapher James Beemer Austin

Now visiting Canada at Place of Birth
His record unsurpassed

(Washington Star)

James Beemer Austin, a pioneer telegrapher, who was in charge of the station at the [U.S.] Capitol as early as 1870; who covered the national convention in which General Grant was nominated for President; who sent the first bulletins on the assassination and death of President Garfield, and received the first bulletin on the shooting of McKinley, has retired.

Mr. Austin is further distinguished as having been associated in the organization of the United Press, and in 1878 operated the first duplex set installed in Washington.

He was one of the best known telegraphers in the U.S.

He has gone to Hagersville, Ontario, near his birthplace, for the summer, and will make his permanent residence with his son-in-law in South Bend, Indiana.

Mr. Austin has been a member of Pentalpha Lodge, No. 23, F.A.A.M., since 1873, and treasurer of that lodge since 1906. He is active in the National Union, and a member of Esther Chapter, No. 5, Order of the Eastern Star.

In 1871 he was sent to the republican national convention, and next to the democratic convention at Baltimore.

Mr. Austin was born in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, November 2, 1846, and educated in the public schools of that town, first entering the service of the Montreal Telegraph Co., at Simcoe, March 6, 1862.

He left there in July 1865, going first to Sturgis, Mich., for the United States Telegraph Company, thence in September to Toledo, Ohio, for the same company, and in the fall of 1866 to Meadville, Pa.

When the company was absorbed by the Western Union Telegraph Company the next year, Mr. Austin went to Franklin, Pa., for that corporation.

From there he was sent to Oil City, and in the fall of the succeeding year to Erie, Pa., where he remained until January, 1870, when he came to Washington, and was put in charge of the Western Union commercial office at the Capitol. He worked at the main office at night.

Six years later, when the Phelps printing telegraph system was introduced, Mr. Austin took up the study of it and worked at it with A. J. Lombard and Frederick Royce for six years. About 1878 the first duplex set was installed at the Washington office and he was the first to operate the sending apparatus, and a year later was one of the first four men to operate the quadruplex set.

Mr. Austin was the first to forward news of both the shooting and of the subsequent death of President Garfield.

In 1883 he went into service for the United Press, which was then being organized by Walter E. Philips and for several years he and another operator were doing the day and night work at the main office and looking out for the Capitol during the time that Congress was in session. 

Three years later saw him cashier of that company in which capacity he served until the company collapsed in 1897.

The New York Associated Press was absorbed by the United Press in 1893, and Mr. Austin submitted plans for the new office in the Washington Post building, which so favorably impressed the architect that he used them.

The devices in the plans were entirely original and when the building was completed eminent telegraph men and electricians visited the office and commended the construction of the lines.

Changes in the companies resulted in the formation of the United Press Association. During his service with this company he received the first bulletin announcing the death of President McKinley.

In July 1909, Mr. Austin retired from the service of the press association and returned to the Western Union Company which immediately placed him in charge of the office at the Capitol, which he had occupied forty years before.

He took up the study of the use of both the Phillips code and the typewriter when they became necessary to the knowledge of a man in his position.


President U. S. Grant

President Garfield

President McKinley

Copyright 2008-2012 John Cardiff