You've Got...A Telegram - Decoding the Past [Part 4]

Published on October 16th, 2015

1908 – AT&T gained control over the Western Union and was able to share lines when needed and made it possible to order telegrams by telephone.

 

1913 – The two companies separated to prevent the government from invoking antitrust laws. The Western Union prospered and served the U.S. armed forces during both WWI and WWII.

 

1914 – The teletypewriter was invented and allowed the incoming electric signal to be decoded automatically and typed onto a strip of ticker tape (and eventually directly to a blank form) for delivery. A person wanting send a telegram would call a telegraph office and dictate their message to an operator. The cost of this service would be charged to the caller’s phone bill.

 

Or, a customer could go to a telegraph office and write their message on a form that would further be rendered into Morse code. Business customers would be supplied with pads of blank forms which messenger boys would carry to the telegraph office throughout the day.

 

1917 – Beyond financial purposes, some codes were created for confidentiality reasons such as the Zimmermann telegram between political figures.

 

1920’s – Telegram rates depended on the distance the message had to travel, the speed with which it needed to be delivered, and the word length of the message. For instance, a ten-word telegram sent within a city only cost 20 cents as opposed to one sent from Chicago to New York City would cost 60 cents. Most people preferred to keep their messages as brief and concise as possible to keep down on the cost.

 

The first line of telegrams, or the “check”, included highly abbreviated information of where the telegram had come from, what class of service it was, how many words it contained, etc. The name and address of the recipient followed. The telegram was folded and placed into a window envelope showing the name and address of the recipient.

 

P.S. If you happened to miss last week’s history on the telegram, you can catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!

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