Feb 2, 2006


Western Union ditches the telegram.
The cost of a telegraph was computed by the word, and frequent users learned to speak in a cryptic idiom. There was typically no punctuation, because it cost more; the end of a sentence was marked, only if necessary, by STOP.

Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line dispatched a telegram to the New York office from the SS Carpathia, which had picked up some survivors of the most famous sea disaster in April 1912, and it was delivered by Western Union: "Deeply regret advise your Titanic sunk this morning fifteenth after collision iceberg resulting serious loss life further particulars later. Bruce Ismay"

When director Cecil B. DeMille traveled to California in 1913, he sent a Western Union telegram back to New York with the cryptic message: "Want authority to rent barn in place called Hollywood $75 a month."

Telegrams were once promptly delivered by messengers, usually boys on bicycles. Singing telegrams cost extra: The boy would sing "Happy Birthday" for 50 cents. But after World War II, Western Union began delivering telegrams by telephone, offering to mail a copy if necessary, and as the cost of a telephone call fell, the demand for telegrams fell, too.

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