The city that I live in (Cambridge, Ontario) was formed as an amalgamation of three smaller towns (Hespeler, Preston and Galt) in 1973. Hespeler gets its name from Jacob Hespeler, who built an impressive industrial empire in the town in 1845. Through his widespread influence, he secured railway access, as well as attracted engineering talent from as far away as Europe. By the start of World War I, Hespeler housed the largest textile mill in the British Empire, and had an electric passenger railway (Grand River Railway) that allowed easy transit to the rest of the region.
Industrialism was in full swing during the late 1800s, and with it came tremendous wealth and innovation throughout the region. In the 1870s, carbon arc street lights (shown right) were installed on the streets throughout the town of Hespeler, powered by a dynamo in a building near Forbes Park.
Unfortunately, a patent dispute quickly shut it down for several years. While this dispute was being argued in a Simcoe court, people in the town tapped into the dead wires and installed telegraph keys. Being an industrialist town, there was no shortage of people who were savvy with the technology of the time.
Suddenly, people all over Hespeler were able to communicate with each other using Morse code. It was social messaging, industrialist-style. And it was insanely popular.
Thus, Hespeler had a thriving digital communication network and conferencing platform nearly 150 years ago!
For more information on the history of Hespeler, watch this video created by the City of Cambridge Archives: https://youtu.be/lhMECkUfxJA