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

Re: Western Union Public Telegram Offices
8 Feb 2006 13:36:16 -0800 wrote:

> 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.

In the example of this movie, it was the big boss, who has the advtg of
being able to cut short conversations. IIRC, the staff had unanswered
questions about his arrival, that is, if someone should pick him up at
the airport and on what flight. Also the staff were wondering what
they should do to prepare for the meeting. Admittedly this unknown was
a dramatic feature of the movie as it lead to speculation and scheming
among the board members.

> There was also the question of finding a telephone in a distant city
> to call from.

By the time of the movie, 1954, pay phones were a standard fixture
virtually everywhere in cities. The building he was visiting had a
Western Union office in the lobby and certainly would've had a bank of
pay telephone booths; all office buildings had them in the lobby.

Being the boss he could've called collect.

> 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.

That is true. The movie took place in 1954 and while there was
considerable operator toll dialing by that point, it was by no means
universal. While I would expect his toll call to take a minute or two
to put through, I don't think the delay would've been too cumbersome.
If the call originated in a rural area and went to another rural area,
additional relay points would've been required as the call moved from
primary toll centers to secondary and tertiary ones on both ends. On
the other hand, a call between two cities on a busy route (ie
St. Louis to Chicago or Washington to NYC), I suspect the call was
completed rather quickly.

It is an interesting question. I strongly suspect the Bell System
compiled completion-time statistics for toll calls and as the 1950s
wore on the times decreased. In the 1950s the Bell System was busy
upgrading its toll network with microwave and coax cables and No 4
crossbar switching. I wonder in 1954 what percentage of subscribers
had DDD and what percentage of subscribers had operators who had toll
dialing capability.

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

I don't know about telegraph rates, but long distance telephone rates
were based on distance. A call 1,000 miles away cost considerably more
than a call 100 miles away. If telegraph rates were flat by distance,
then telegrams would be more likely sent for longer distances than
short distances.

I wish I knew what telegraph rates were for 1954 compared to long
distance decreasing rates. All I know for sure is that telegraph rates
were increasing while long distance phone rates were. According to
some literature, WU executives recognized this as early as 1960, knew
their basic public message businsess would be soon obsolete because of
cost, and sought to get into other lines, such as data transmission and
military services.

Anyone know a source where old rates might be found?

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