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The Last Telegram

Old 02-02-06, 06:21 PM
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The Last Telegram

I thought Western Union had abandoned telegrams years ago, but apparently just last week. Can't say as I have ever sent or received a telegram.


STOP — Telegram era over, Western Union says

Updated: 2:30 p.m. ET Feb. 2, 2006
DENVER - For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand-delivered by a courier. Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past.

The company formed in April 1856 to exploit the hot technology of the telegraph to send cross-country messages in less than a day. It is now focusing its attention on money transfers and other financial services, and delivered its final telegram on Friday.

“The decision was a hard decision because we’re fully aware of our heritage,” said Victor Chayet, a spokesman for the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based company. “But it’s the final transition from a communications company to a financial services company.”

Several telegraph companies that eventually combined to become Western Union were founded in 1851. Western Union built its first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861.

“At the time it was as incredible and astonishing as the computer when it first came out,” said Tom Noel, a history professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “For people who could barely understand it, here you had the magic of the electric force traveling by wire across the country.”

In 1994, Western Union Financial Services was acquired by First Financial Management Corp. which First Data Corp. bought for $7 billion the following year. Last week, First Data said it would spin Western Union off as a separate company.

Telegrams reached their peak popularity in the 1920s and 1930s when it was cheaper to send a telegram than to place a long-distance telephone call. People would save money by using the word “stop” instead of periods to end sentences because punctuation was extra while the four character word was free.

Telegrams were used to announce the first flight in 1903 and the start of World War I. During World War II, the sight of a Western Union courier was feared because the War Department, the precursor to the Department of Defense, used the company to notify families of the death of their loved ones serving in the military, Chayet said.

With long-distance rates dropping and different technologies for communicating evolving — including the Internet — Western Union phased out couriers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

By last year, only 20,000 telegrams were sent at about $10 a message, mostly from companies using the service for formal notifications, Chayet said.

Last week, the last 10 telegrams included birthday wishes, condolences on the death of a loved one, notification of an emergency, and several people trying to be the last to send a telegram.

“Recent generations didn’t receive telegrams and didn’t know you could send them,” Chayet said.

Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, sent the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore on May 26, 1844, to his partner Alfred Vail to usher in the telegram era that displaced the Pony Express. It read “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?”

“If he only knew,” Chayet said of the myriad of choices today, which includes text message on cell phones, the Internet and virtually free long-distance calling rates.

“It definitely was an anachronism,” Noel said. “It’s amazing it survived this long.”
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Old 02-02-06, 06:25 PM
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Definitely the end of an era.
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Old 02-02-06, 06:48 PM
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F$%&, why wasn't I notified? I definitely would have sent one if I knew my time was running out.
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Old 02-02-06, 10:57 PM
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I have a few that were sent to me awhile back. Pieces of history.
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Old 02-03-06, 09:03 AM
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I had a Western Union clock - one that was used to set the time for all the regional WUs in the 50s and earlier... I also had a safe from the office that was supposedly used during the gold rush days. Sold em both to my cousin last year. :/ Wonder if they just increased in value at all.
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Old 02-03-06, 09:11 AM
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The final telegram should have said 'HE HATH WROUGHT E-MAIL'
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Old 02-03-06, 09:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Tommy Ceez
The final telegram should have said 'HE HATH WROUGHT E-MAIL'
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Old 02-03-06, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by BigPete
F$%&, why wasn't I notified? I definitely would have sent one if I knew my time was running out.
Same here. I think Western Union missed out on a golden marketing idea. "An era is ending, be part of history! Only 30 days left!" Hey, it works for Di$ney.
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Old 02-03-06, 10:12 AM
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A guy on Chicago radio yesterday said that he recently sent a telegram from Western Union to inform his parents of expecting a child, and all Western Union did was FAX the message to the hotel.
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Old 02-03-06, 10:13 AM
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that guy is an idiot

send an email or make a phone call
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Old 02-03-06, 12:31 PM
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No more telegrams? Someone tell President Coolidge!
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Old 02-03-06, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Charlie Goose
No more telegrams? Someone tell President Coolidge!
You can't. He's dead, although when Dorothy Parker was informed of this, she asked, "How could they tell?"
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