Quite often we Mainer’s plug on with our lives giving scant remembrance to those who went before us, but while here were, in their own ways, great men, aiding and increasing the comfort and ability of the rest of us to make our own way in the world. Communicating with one another is just one of the many things that we have come to take for granted, and is one of the main conduits for transferring the information we use to make life better, in every way. Without the telephone, where would we be today?
But before the telephone, we had the telegraph as our main method of communication. However, there was a problem with using these methods of communication, as messages could only travel down a wire one at a time. If you wanted to send two messages at the same time, you needed two wires. Fortunately, The little village of Weld Maine gave us one of these men that we never hear much of, if anything at all today, that provided a solution to this problem. Joseph B. Stearns worked out, and patented a way in which multiple electrical signals could be communicated along both directions of a wire at the same time, thus revolutionizing the still young industry of telegraphy.
It also turns out that Mr. Stearns also played a small part in the War for Southern Independence by intercepting some information and providing it to President Lincoln in time to avert a disaster for our capitol city. Reul Robinson has the following to say about Stearns in his History of Camden and Rockport, Maine:
Joseph B. Stearns of Camden died July 4 . Mr. Stearns was born in 1831, was a native of Weld, Maine, and the son of poor parents. When fourteen years of age his father moved to Searsmont and three years later Mr. Stearns went to Newburyport, Mass., where he worked for a time in a cotton mill. In 1850 being 18 years of age, he began the study of telegraphy at Newburyport and remained there and along the line to Portland for four years. In 1854 he went into the fire telegraph office at Boston and in a few months was appointed superintendent. While in that position he went to Charleston, S. C, during the war of the rebellion to put in a fire alarm system and was able to perform an important service to his country by gathering information on his way home, which he gave to President Lincoln, thereby preventing the rebel army from occupying Arlington Heights and saving Washington from falling into their hands.
In 1867 Mr. Stearns was elected President of the Franklin Telegraph Co., which office he held between two and three years. It was at about this time that Mr. Stearns’ genius gave to the world one of the most important inventions of the century, namely, the duplex system of telegraphy, by which two messages can be sent over the wire at the same time. The invention brought him great wealth and will make his name forever famous. It was patented in 1868 and about three years later, he sold the right of the United States and Canada to the Western Union.
In 1872 he went to England to introduce his system there and after two years of effort Parliament gave him a royalty for the use of his invention. He also received royalties in France and Italy. In 1880 Mr. Stearns engineered the Mexican cable, putting 750 miles of cable into operation and in 1881 he engineered a line in Central and South America.
In 1882 Mr. Stearns went to Short Hills, N. J., where he lived until 1885 when he came to Camden to visit the family of James B. Swan, who were his relatives, and was so enchanted with the natural beauty of the place that he purchased a tract of land on the Belfast Road, with the object of making Camden his future home. He said that he had travelled the world over, and considered Camden the most beautiful place he ever visited.
The following year (1886) he erected the magnificent stone residence “Norumbega” where he passed the remainder of his life. Afterwards he bought large tracts of land farther up the Belfast Road, where he operated the large fancy stock farm known as “Sagamore Farm” and did much for the development and prosperity of the town. Mr. Stearns was twice married. His first wife was Lois M. Brooks by whom he had three children all of whom died young. His second wife was Amanda Edmonds of Portsmouth, N. H. The children of this union were two sons, Edward S., now of Thomaston, Maine, and Harry W., of Camden.