The Telectroscope

A peek through the worldWouldn’t it be amazing if there was a device that let you see things in another part of the world? You’d probably be more amazed if you were asked that question 125 years ago.

As the story goes, in Victorian London (during the 1890’s), an eccentric engineer named Alexander Stanhope St George conceived of the idea and developed the plans for a Telectroscope, a strange-looking powerful optical machine made up of mirrors and lenses that would allow people on one side of the world to see people on the other side through a tunnel that stretched from one side of the world to the other.

St George managed to raise the necessary financing and other resources to start construction of his Telectroscope. A London to New York tunnel was started but, tragically, the project came to a halt as the ocean breached the excavations and several lives were lost. St George tried unsuccessfully to get the project going again, and he went from frustration to disappointment and eventually to insanity. Both he and his project came to an end in an asylum in 1917.

St George’s great-grandson, artist Paul St George, discovered his plans and papers in a dust-covered trunk in his grandmother’s attic. From these long-missing notes and drawings (not to mention the benefit of over 100 years of technological development) Paul constructed a Telectroscope. From May 22 to June 15, 2008, thousands of people lined up both in New York and London to peer and wave at people on the other side of the earth.

St George’s story encapsulates the drama of bringing any innovation into the world: the spark of an idea and a person with undying obsessive faith in it; the enthusiasm and perseverance needed to find financial backers and workers willing to build on the dreams of a genius…, or crackpot; the setbacks and failures that invariably appear along the way; the dark, darkest moments;  the eventual breakthrough of something whose time has finally come; then perhaps fame and fortune, or maybe only the ability to say, “I told you so.”

Does art imitate life, or is it the other way around?

Find out more about the Telectroscope project at: http://www.tiscali.co.uk/telectroscope/home.php

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