TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Western Union Public Telegram Offices

Re: Western Union Public Telegram Offices
Tue, 7 Feb 2006 20:26:28 EST

In a message dated 7 Feb 2006 08:17:02 -0800,

> In the above movie mention about an executive sending a telegram to
> his home office, I wonder when the switch to using long distance
> telephone would've taken place. The executive was in a distance city,
> heading home, and calling a special meeting of the Board. Had he
> telephoned, his secretary would've had the message immediately and
> would've started making arrangements, where via telegram there was a
> delay and it was a one-way conversation. (However, part of the
> movie's plot dealt with the Board speculating intensely on why the
> meeting was called, so the one-way concept was important to this
> particular movie.)

Sending a telegram, just like sending a fax, an e-mail or a letter,
has the advantage you don't have to wait around and engage in perhaps
a lengthy conversation when you have something else more pressing.
Also, the same telegram can be sent to multiple address (generally
paying for each one) and you don't have to engage in a colloquy with
every addresses. In addition, there may be, as in this case, a
specific desire not to engage in conversation.

In many cases there was also the desire to have a record of the sending
and receiving of the message on paper.

There was also the question of finding a telephone in a distant city
to call from. Many people would not let you use their phone for a
long distance call, particularly businesses, and the alternative would
be to find the telephone office in the town. Telephone credit cards
were becoming more common about that time, but certainly not the broad
coverage of the public they later became.

Note that rapid long distance connections generally were not
especially common until at least the 1950s, and you would be waiting
for the connection to come through. Manual connections were the rule,
with the call being passed from operator to operator to an inward
operator at the end office. The process speeded up quickly when
operator toll dialing was introduced, but that was about the time that
manual connections had also become more rapid.

> It's amazing in so many old movies that vital information is
> telegraphed to a person rather than telephoned, even from relatively
> short distances.

Can you clarify why distance would be a significant factor in the
decision to telephone or telegraph?

> Most large railroad stations had a Western Union desk or ticket
> agents doubled as telegraph agents. When business people travelled,
> they'd wire ahead their arrival plans or that they arrived safely.
> Everyday people sent a postcard.

Not just large stations; the smaller the town the more important the
railroad office would be for sending telegrams. In small towns that
would often be the only telegraph office there.

Wes Leatherock

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