Due to the loss of his wife in 1825 when he was away and there was no quick method of informing Samuel Morse of his wife’s death, he vowed to develop a means of communication that was faster than a letter. He would on the concept and developed the telegraph between 1830s to 1840s. Beside a better means of communication, there was a whole new occupation was created, the telegraph operator.

By 1858 the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean floor allowing virtually instantaneous communications between the UK and USA. The news services were major customers for the telegraph along with businesses that traded in international markets plus transportation companies (railways and shipping). The telegraph also became a critical element of international relations, allowing news and directions to be sent in real time back-and-forth.

In 1860, for example, a ten-word telegram sent from New York to New Orleans cost $2.70 (about $65 in 2012 currency). When the transcontinental (across the US) telegraph opened, the cost was $7.40 for ten words (about $210), while a ten-word transatlantic message to England cost $100 (about $2,600). The greatest part, it only took approximately took 4 minutes to reach its distinction.

The telegraph was the equipment and the telegram was the message.

Telegrams to just about anywhere in the world was mostly complete by the late 1860s. By 1872 the last major location – Australia was now connect via the telegraph. Having this type of communication changed the world.

The telephone comes between 1850-1876, but as wide spread until the 1920s and 1930s.

There were telegram delivery boys to bring the message to your home, there were special singing telegrams – the message was sung by the delivery boy or girl and the military sent a telegram to a family of a deceased or missing soldier.

By 1900 the cost of the average telegram was 30 cents.

Telegram delivery boys were phased out in 1968. Gone are singing telegrams, given up in 1972. The Army stopped sending telegrams to families of soldiers during the Vietnam War (late 1960s to early 1970s).

At the telegram’s peak in 1929, more than 200 million telegrams were sent. By 1985 it was 3 million.

What lasted so long is no longer in the 21st century. By the 1970s the telegram had largely disappeared from regular use. The telegraph service has been officially discontinued in some jurisdictions: the US on January 27, 2006; Australia on March 7, 2010; and in India on July 14, 2013.

Only today in 2019 does the state of Virginia in the United States can you send end a telegram, though not through Western Union, rather by iTelegram. To send a first-class priority (same-day) message from New York to Los Angeles now costs $25, plus 88 cents a word.

Your ancestors were truly impacted by the telegraph. It would be hard pressed to find an ancestor who did not receive a telegram sometime in their life between 1850s to 1960s. If any were saved, check with other relatives if they have them. What a wonderful item to add to the family history—those telegrams received.

Photos: 1930 West Union telegram from Mississippi State University and a telegraph machine.

Related Blogs:

Unlikely Occupations in the 21st Century

Communication by Writing

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