Big data in the age of the telegraph

In 1854, Daniel McCallum took charge of the operations of the New York and Erie Railroad. With nearly 500 miles of track, it was one of the world’s longest systems, but not one of the most efficient. In fact, McCallum found that far from rendering operations more efficient, the scale of the railroad exponentially increased its complexity.

The problem was not a lack of information: the growing use of the telegraph gave the company an unprecedented supply of nearly real-time data, including reports of accidents and train delays. Rather, the difficulty was putting that data to use, and it led McCallum to develop one of the era’s great low-tech management innovations: the organization chart. CONT.

Caitlin Rosenthal (Harvard Business School), McKinsey Quarterly