Inventors scramble to electrify America

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(This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Read Part 2, "Why isn't U.S. electrical system underground?") Sight down pretty much any old boulevard in America and what do you see? Aside from the usual tangle of traffic signals, signs, sidewalks and storefronts, there's something we've become uncannily good at overlooking: power poles. The United States, having been the first nation to electrify, is now ironically the last to be saddled with an antiquated infrastructure of power distribution. So it is that European or Asian visitors stop and stare with disbelief at the almost comically disheveled phalanx of old wooden poles that march helter skelter down American streets even today. Here, in the most technically advanced nation on earth, the network of power distribution looks like some last remnant of the Wild West. In fact, that's precisely what it is. The astonishing modern-day clutter of "telephone poles" dates back to a fateful moment in 1844 when Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, ...