On May 24, 1844 Samuel Morse sent out his first message over a telegraph line. His four-word message, "What hath God wrought," was sent from Washington to Baltimore. The telegraph communicated by a binary code system of dots and dashes. Author Tom Standage called it the Victorian Internet.
Western Union began in Rochester, NY as the New York & Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Co., changing its name to Western Union in 1861. It created the first coast-to-coast telegraph service at the height of the Civil War. Western Union was one of the original eleven stocks in the Dow Jones back in 1884.
Western Union quietly ended its telegram service in the United States on January 27th. The company web site posted a simple announcment stating "Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services."
The company introduced a stock ticker, money transfers and international services. By the 1920s, it had 10 cables under the Atlantic Ocean with a fleet of ships designed to service them. In 1914 Western Union offered the first charge card for consumers; in 1923 it introduced teletypewriters to join its branches. Singing telegrams followed in 1933, intercity fax in 1935, and commercial intercity microwave communications in 1943.
In 1958 it began offering Telex to customers. In 1964, Western Union initiated a transcontinental microwave beam to replace land lines. Western Union became the first American telecommunications corporation to maintain its own fleet of geosynchronous communication satellites, starting in 1974.
Today, it is difficult to imagine the change that telegrams brought before the invention of the telephone. Some some respects, this would be similar to reading a news headline sometime in the future stating that Microsoft has just shipped its last copy of Windows.
Some of the basic principles of telegram does live on in the form of text messaging. Like telegrams, test messaging forces people to write messages that are brief and has spawned a new vocabulary of space-saving abbreviations, such as "c u l8r."
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