George M. Phelps
Master Telegraph Instrument Maker and Inventor
During his long and impressive career, George M. Phelps invented and improved printing telegraph systems; established design standards for many telegraph instruments; invented stock tickers and telephone instruments; and built the patent models for many of Thomas Edison’s early inventions. He also became the Superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company’s largest factory and machine shop, located in New York City. His work as a telegraph inventor in Troy during the 1850s earned him a place in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Born in Watervliet, New York, Phelps began his career as an apprentice machinist making mathematical instruments for his uncle, Jonas H. Phelps, in Troy. At the age of 30, he partnered with William Gurley to form Phelps & Gurley, a precision instrument shop, on the corner of First and Adams in Troy.
Phelps manufactured printing telegraph systems for Royal Earl House, which possessed the best printing telegraph of the day. He also contributed to paper making machinery, bank locks, time regulators and electric motors. Phelps’ Troy factory was purchased by the American Telegraph Company in 1856. When American Telegraph was acquired by Western Union, Phelps went to New York City to head the manufacturing plant, where he remained until his retirement in 1884.