Gaffs of Truth


from One Who Creates with Alphabets

02 February 2006

Western Union has stopped sending telegrams!

Waaaaay back in my day...
Come to think of it, I've always been too young or too old so when exactly was my day?

Anyhoo, I can remember the Western Union telegram guy (always guys around here but the singers were almost always girls. Floosies who would do nasty things according to my great granny Min) delivering a telegram to my great-grandmother and her son/my grandfather about their oldest son/older brother's arrival in California. Back when a long-distance call for that far a distance was literally dollars a minute.
I even remember finding it in a trunk of my great-grandmother's after she died. He was her favorite and he never came back to see her again. I still think if my mom hadn't told her he died (he really had), she would have kept hanging on. Interesting that she died within hours after that conversation.

Ahem.

After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams.

On the company's web site, if you click on "Telegrams" in the left-side navigation bar, you're taken to a page that ends a technological era with about as little fanfare as possible:

"Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative."

The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn't help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin.

Western Union has not failed. It long ago refocused its main business to make money transfers for consumers and businesses. Revenues are now $3 billion annually. It's now called Western Union Financial Services, Inc. and is a subsidiary of First Data Corp.

The world's first telegram was sent on May 24, 1844 by inventor Samuel Morse. The message, "What hath God wrought," was transmitted from Washington to Baltimore. In a crude way, the telegraph was a precursor to the Internet in that it allowed rapid communication, for the first time, across great distances.

Western Union goes back to 1851 as the Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. In 1856 it became the Western Union Telegraph Company after acquisition of competing telegraph systems. By 1861, during the Civil War, it had created a coast-to-coast network of lines.

Other company highlights:

* 1866: Introduced the first stock ticker.
* 1871: Introduced money transfers.
* 1884: Became one of the original 11 stocks tracked by the Dow Jones Average.
* 1914: Introduced the first consumer charge card.
* 1964: Began using a transcontinental microwave beam to replace land lines.
* 1974: Launched Westar I, the first U.S. dedicated communications satellite.

On Jan. 26, the last day you could send a telegram, First Data announced it would spin Western Union off as an independent, publicly traded company.

5 Comments:

At 2/2/06 10:36, Blogger M. G. Tarquini added...

Um...I thought they stopped sending them a couple of decades ago. I don't know why I think that, but I did. Maybe they just stopped hand delivering them? Maybe they called on the phone and sent a hard copy by mail?

 
At 2/2/06 10:42, Blogger Alphabeter added...

Maybe because they stopped delivering?

Last I remember (a lot of people sent them around 9/11), you were called and had to go down there to pick them up. Which kind of defeated the purpose. If you had a phone, why wouldn't people just call?

I figured the service was kept for rural areas where phones are still expensive to run lines (even cell towers) for and where people are more likely to be in the WU office to receive money.

I'm not trying to stereo-type, I was thinking of less-developed countries or even disaster-hit areas in and out of the USA.

 
At 2/2/06 10:49, Blogger Erik Ivan James added...

Good post. Interesting and educational. Sad,though, another cornerpost of great accomplishments and contributions falls to the ground.

 
At 2/2/06 18:49, Blogger M. G. Tarquini added...

even disaster-hit areas in and out of the USA.

Amateur radio enthusiasts are usually eager to help in those instances.

 
At 2/2/06 19:54, Blogger R.J. Baker added...

Ah, progress. The buggy whip, hand written letters, and now telegrams pass into eternity.

I would wax nostalgic, but alas, I never sent a telegram, though I have used WU to send money, back in the day.

I guess the singing telegram goes the same place. I wonder if strip-o-grams will ever go out of style?

 

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