History of the Telegram

Old Telegram FormTelegrams have been around a long time – over a century before smart phones, tablets & household computers. Before the commonplace usage of contemporary technology, the only way to send a message, efficiently & effectively, was by telegram.

Sending Telegrams

In the 19th Century, sending a telegram could be a rather painful, expensive process. It usually involved going to your local Post Office and handing over a completed telegram form that was charged for by the word. And no plastic cards in those days either; yes, it was that long ago.

The Post Office employee would then wirelessly transmit your message to the Post Office nearest the recipient. A member of staff at the receiving branch would then write out the message again, before giving it to the delivery boy who, on his red bike, would deliver it.

It was traditional to give him a sixpence tip (2½ p in today's money). This was quite a reward for cycling what would usually be several miles, sometimes in the pouring rain and often along rather bumpy roads.

Telegraph Machine

Physicists & inventors William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone produced an early iteration of the electric telegraph system in 1837. The ‘needle telegraph’ was first put into usage on the London railway.

The Cooke-Wheatstone telegraph machine was largely disregarded a number of years later. Instead, American artist, Samuel Morse’s telegraph technology became the international standard.

Historical Significance

Samuel Morse sent the first recorded telegram message in 1844 - ‘What Hath God Wrought’. The message was telegraphed from a chamber of the Supreme Court, to an assistant in Baltimore & back again.

Since its invention, the telegram has been used to react to and report on a number of historically significant events the World over. From Mark Twain’s shock at the premature publishing of his obituary, to the launching of rescue efforts during the sinking of the Titanic, the telegraph machine has not only witnessed, but helped shape, history.

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