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<   No. 1911   2008-04-20   >

Comic #1911

1 Ginny: You can't just take the Palladium from the Louvre now! There's not enough time!
1 Haken: Time for what? {opening the case to remove the Palladium}
2 Ginny: Er... for Erwin to perform the plan.
3 Haken: You do not even know what die plan is. {starts walking away with the Palladium}
4 Ginny: Well it can't be as fast and easy as this...

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I don't think they had fancy electronic alarm systems in the 1930s. At least I hope not.


2018-12-12 Rerun commentary: Well, I did some research. The electromagnetically triggered alarm system was patented by one Reverend Augustus Pope of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1853, for which he was awarded US Patent number 9802 (PDF scan, or badly mangled OCR at Google Patents). The Reverend Pope did not commercialise his invention, but sold the patent rights to Edwin Holmes in 1857 for US$150.

Edwin Holmes did commercialise the invention, setting up a business in Boston making and selling electric burglar alarm systems. There was initial resistance[1] to the idea of using this newfangled electricity for burglar alarms, and his business floundered until he moved it to New York City in 1859, the biggest hive of scum and villainy in the United States. There he found success, selling his alarm system to rich clients who wanted to keep the riff-raff from looting their houses. By 1866, Holmes had installed over 1200 electric alarm systems, and started selling them to businesses such as jewellers and banks as well.

Holmes then had another great idea. He could add value to his business - and collect more profits - by setting up a central monitoring station, where someone would sit watching gauges connected to all of the alarms. When an alarm went off, the monitor would dispatch a security guard to the property to check out what was happening, and chase off or perhaps catch the burglar red-handed. To enable this system, the alarms needed to be connected to the station by wires. So Holmes had workers lay wires across New York City, connecting houses and businesses to his central station. At this time there was no regulation of such things, and the workers simply ran the wires across rooftops, or strung up over window frames and whatever else was available, without bothering to ask permission from the intermediate building owners.

This business became so successful, that Holmes wanted to set up a similar system back in his home town of Boston. He sent his son, Edwin Thomas Holmes, to go check out the local market. Edwin Thomas Holmes set up a business meeting with one Thomas Watson, an engineer working for one Alexander Graham Bell. Yes, that Bell and that Watson. They'd been setting up a fledgling telephone business in Boston. And coincidentally, they had been stringing up wires across buildings all over Boston to support it. Holmes and Watson[2] had a scathingly brilliant idea...

They could use Bell and Watson's telephone wires to set up a monitored alarm system in Boston. And they could use Thomas Holmes's wires to set up a telephone system in New York City. Reusing the same wires, so avoiding the expense of having to lay new ones!

Holmes and Watson joined forces, founding the Bell Telephone Company, of which Thomas Holmes became the first president. And the rest, one may say, is history. The Smithsonian has a short (4 minute) but fascinating video documentary about all of this, which I recommend.

So, yes, they definitely had electrical alarms systems by the 1930s, if not "fancy electronic" ones. I guess The Louvre was too cheap to install any by this time, at least for individual display cases.

[1] Quiz: Intentional or not? You tell me.

[2] Yes, I know. Cool, right?

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