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.