When I read this story I wasn’t all that surprised by the news but it did hit me as a big change. It is not that I received all that many telegrams but I am old enough to appreciate them. They have been a part of pop culture references in cartoons and movies and more.
But they are not going to be part of my children’s vernacular and that makes me feel a little bit older than I am.
“After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams.
On the company’s web site, if you click on “Telegrams” in the left-side navigation bar, you’re taken to a page that ends a technological era with about as little fanfare as possible:
“Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative.”
The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn’t help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin.
Western Union has not failed. It long ago refocused its main business to make money transfers for consumers and businesses. Revenues are now $3 billion annually. It’s now called Western Union Financial Services, Inc. and is a subsidiary of First Data Corp.
The world’s first telegram was sent on May 24, 1844 by inventor Samuel Morse. The message, “What hath God wrought,” was transmitted from Washington to Baltimore. In a crude way, the telegraph was a precursor to the Internet in that it allowed rapid communication, for the first time, across great distances.”