How to Write Telegrams Properly

While going through some stuff left behind by an elderly relative, I came across a booklet entitled How to Write Telegrams Properly by Nelson E. Ross. The author wrote: “The telegram will always command a peculiarly important place among methods of communication.”

He wasn’t alone in his thinking. The telegraph has been described as the Victorian Internet and, in many ways, that was true.  Not only did the telegraph allow for long-distance courtships, it also introduced Victorians to scams and junk mail.  Sound familiar?

Ross wrote that telegrams were expensive unless you were sending multiple copies, which you could do at no additional cost. This turned out to be a boon to marketers who didn’t want to pay the expense of sending advertisements by mail.

The business owner had only to provide one copy and a list of addresses and the telegraph operator would send the telegraphs.  Multiple copies were called books. The largest “book” sent by a single concern is said to have been more than 200,000 telegrams.  Needless to say, this required operators to be called in for emergency duty.

The telegraph even allowed people to send candy, flowers, cigars, books and other things across the country.  All a person had to do was notify the telegraph operator what they wanted purchased, pay the cost and nominal fee, and the job was done.

In the early 1900s, a man in San Francisco ordered a ride for his mother who lived in New York.  The gift was for Mother’s Day.  The telegraph company called up a taxi service and directed it to send a car to a certain address at a definite time and the lucky mother was treated to a three-hour taxi ride.

Some people took the idea of sending gifts across the wire, literally.  One man wishing to send his out-of-state son a pair of boots, took them to his local telegraph office.  The operator jokingly told the man to tie the boots together and fling them over the telegraph wire. The man did as he was told. During the night, someone stole the boots and the man assumed his son had received them. 

The telegraph also helped in the Western expansion as travelers were able to communicate long distances and make arrangements.  Ranch owners could finally keep track of their stock during cattle drives through telegraphs sent by trail bosses.

Business owners and travelers weren’t the only ones to benefit. Telegraph operators were the first to date and fall in love online. Male operators could pick out female operators by their touch.  Supposedly women didn’t press the keys as firmly as their male counterparts.  A bored male operator seeking companionship could easily reach out to a female operator, miles away.

Ross outlined ways to cut costs by eliminating unnecessary words such as “please” and “stop.”  He also explained that 1st was counted as two words, whereas first was counted as one. Some people took this to extremes. When questioning the sales of his new book, Mark Twain reportedly sent his publisher a telegram with a single “?”. His publisher responded in kind with an “!”.

Then as now, security was a concern.  Ross tells the story of the woman who sealed her message in an envelope and refused to let the telegraph operator see it.  Somehow, she had the notion that an operator could send a message sight unseen. 

Ross ended by telling readers if they had any questions, to check with their local telegraph office.  Good luck with that. Stop.

We have more ways to communicate today than at any other time in history, yet loneliness is at an all-time high.  What do you think are some of the reasons?


Look what Ruth, Mary and I cooked up!

In classic “Hallmark” style, three couples spend a magical Christmas

at the beautiful Star Inn.


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42 thoughts on “How to Write Telegrams Properly”

  1. People no longer communicate face to face. The first diversion I remember was voicemail at work. I witnessed folks not answering, but letting voice mail take the call. With each step away from face to face communication, misunderstandings and loss of facts, information, context changes, emotional meanings, etc. occured. The emogi tried to fill in for this.
    We need more rocking chairs on front porches with generational discussions.

    • Hi Jerri, it’s interesting that you mentioned front porches. I remember hearing a radio commentator say that the worse thing that happened to communication was air conditioning. Before AC, people sat on the front porch to cool off and, guess what? Talk to their neighbors.

  2. I agree. I see so many instances when I’m at restaurants and see couples texting on their phones throughout their dinner. Hardly talking. It’s as if everyone has isolated themselves from having to deal with anyone face to face. To me this has caused our youth to become socially inept. It’s sad.

  3. Good morning. It’s just this simple. No one communicates verbally anymore. They type out messages, memos, emails, and text messages without ever talking to anyone. So yeah the communication is there, but not in a personal “one on one” verbal exchange.

  4. I am blaming social media and phones for people becoming more lonely. People don’t talk to each other anymore. I was watching reruns of The Road Less Traveled the other day and Jonathan was visiting Japan and was talking about how no one communicates there anymore and how it could become the way of the future because people are all too concerned with there phones. He even showed how they have cyber girlfriends and the younger generations don’t even have sex very often. It made me sad thinking of these lonely people. He was talking about someone he knows who’s only outing used to be going to rent a video to watch at home. Now, he doesn’t even do that since streaming videos is the way to go and rental places are no longer in business. He orders everything online for delivery. People don’t need to leave their houses for anything anymore if they don’t want to.

  5. It is like everyone else said the world in not social anymore and no one talks anymore. I am not that way and I enjoy talking to people. I go out for a walk everyday and if someone is out I will stop and talk to them. I know so many people that just keeps their phone on them at all times and never puts them down.

  6. The art of communication has been lost due to technology. We live in a fast-paced world. We don’t take the time to REALLY communicate. We HEAR but do we LISTEN?

  7. yes little or no communication between people in person anymore – too much importance is put on the smart phones nowadays!

    • Funny you should say that, Teresa. I live in California and it’s windy. We’re likely to lose our electricity again and the first thing everyone seems to be worried about is how to charge their phones.

  8. the internet is our form of communication now and people are isolated in there apartments or homes because it can be very addicting to some. No one really talks face to face anymore it’s either text messaging or facebook messages.

  9. Welcome Margaret. This is a great post. I love the shoes and the taxi for the mom. Yes we have so many gadgets to communicate, but only so much can really be done on these. Real communication and friendship comes by staying in touch personally in person.

    • Hi Lori, glad you enjoyed. Years ago, my husband and I were on a cruise off the coast of Cuba. He got a business call which required him to send a FAX, which was new at the time. I remember marveling that he could send a document across the sea from the ship. I kind of felt like the man who thought the shoes traveled through the wires.

  10. Hi Kim, my granddaughter’s teacher challenged his students to give up social media for a week. My granddaughter did that and has never gone back. Everyone marvels at how much she gets done with her time. None of her friends can keep up with her. We need more teachers like that.

  11. What in interesting post. I had a friend years ago from church who had a collection of vintage postcards. She gave me several of them which I treasure. Another almost lost way to communicate. Of course now, especially since I am “of a certain age ;-)” I blame the internet and social media for a lot of the loneliness today. At least to send a telegram you had to leave the house to go to the telegraph office!

  12. Hi Sally, that’s a good point. You did have to leave the house to send a telegram. I’ve noticed that many of my neighbors are having their groceries delivered, so you don’t even have to leave the house for that. I shudder to think what’s next.

  13. I’m saddened by the loss of face to face friendliness and communications. We have no reason to talk to people anymore and the world is suffering for it. I refuse to get one of those grocery delivery subscriptions because I feel we still need to have face-to-face communication to be healthy. I shudder to think what is next, too!!

    • Hi Susan, I refuse to get grocery delivery, too. It’s interesting that the more labor-saving devices there are, the less time we have. Now people don’t have time to shop for groceries.

  14. It’s so sad that people don’t really “talk” anymore. Everyone is sending text messages and don’t really talk. They don’t call like they used to, either, or send letters. Now, they order their food online to be picked up and delivered by someone else, or brought out to their car, so they can save “time”. It’s so sad. You don’t really connect anymore.

  15. Great topic, Margaret! My daughter, a millennial, sends birthday cards, post cards and handwritten thank you notes. She loves it. My son took handwriting lessons in his late twenties as a way to center himself. I wonder if this will catch on? I hope so.

  16. I loved your post, Margaret! So true what everyone has said! I grew up talking to people and not even talking on the phone that much! We interacted with people face to face and wrote letters to people! Simpler times! Of coarse there are advantages to instant communications now but too bad there are negative impacts too! I wish we could “mesh” them together! So many people don’t know how to interact with others!

    • I agree that there’s advantages to instant communications. It does save time. But sometimes, a leisurely phone call or fact-to-face meeting is needed to maintain a close relationship.

  17. Great post, Margaret! I love the insights into people’s concept of communication by telegram. It’s sad that we do have so many means of communication today but so little real communication. I’m a texting granny which allows me to keep in touch with our children and grandchildren. It’s a modern day telegram that allows them to get back to me when it’s convenient for them. They still love an old fashioned card in the mail or a hand written note, the same as their grandparents do. 🙂

    • Hi Rosie, I noticed that the grandchildren enjoy receiving mail. It’s a novelty for them and makes them feel important. I’m a texting granny, too. I text them to tell them to call me and they do.

  18. With all the electronic ways to communicate, people are relying on those ways to communicate and socialize. They become isolated and don’t interact with people in face to face situations. They are forgetting how to socialize, talk with people, be in crowds, or even sit and visit one on one in person. The lack of personal contact leaves an emptiness and loneliness. Sadly, the longer this goes on and the more who are involved, society will become more dysfunctional in many ways.

  19. Hi, this is so interesting about the telegrams. Maybe now a days there is too much communication, anywhere and everywhere. It seems like some people are always on their phones no matter where they are at and instead of meeting people face to face instead of being on the phone there would be more communication. sometimes it seems like a lot of people don’t even know what is actually happening in front of their eyes because their eyes are constantly on their phones. People need to interact more with people around them and get to meet them in person.

  20. we use our devices to communicate instead of human interaction. this creates isolation, so while we can connect to people all over the world from the comfort from our own homes, we lack emotional contact with others.

  21. Hi Denise, so true. I noticed that if a child forgets his or her homework, lunch money–whatever-it calls for a text to mom and she immediately comes to the rescue. When my children were growing up, they had to deal with their own problems. This is how children learn.

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