03 February 2006

Please Please Stop

I don't know why it matters, but it does: As of 27 January 2006, Western Union stopped sending telegrams after more than 150 years.

Who knows from telegrams today anyway with our privacy constantly bombarded with messages from cellular telephones, computers, 24-hour satellite television. It is hard to fathom that, not very long ago, there was a world where news was broadcast over one of only four radio networks, most of the people who were literate got their news from newspapers, and the fastest way to communicate something urgent was via a telegram.

Ah, the telegram. Whether it began with the words "Congratulations!" or "Arriving Santa Fe RR Sunday Noon," or "The Secretary of War expresses his deep regret," the telegram was a thing to be eagerly anticipated or gloomily dreaded.

Entire episodes of radio programs revolved around not wanting to open a telegram lest it convey bad news; Jack Benny's radio show included weeks-long running gags about his being too cheap to pay for the 11th word (the first ten words were included in the price of the telegram).
"Congratulations on tenth anniversary stop Wish you would please stop" (punctuation marks cost extra, which is why sentences ended with "stop").

So too, like many other wonderful parts of our history, goes the telegram. Soon, there will be no living man whose first job was as a bicycle messenger; the signature peach-colored paper fading in so many scrap books hidden away in attics. There are times when progress isn't.

This site has a nice, brief history of the telegram.

You will find an interesting NPR report here .

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