Telegrams were sent to instantly convey messages of congratulations or bad news. In India the last telegram was sent this past July 14, 2013. Some telegram services live on, including an international telegram service that will continue to operate in India even as the state-run service is shutting down. In the US, the last telegram was sent on January, 2006.
These are telegrams that were received by Paul and by myself.
My telegram was sent to me in 1969, by my grandfather who lived in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I received the telegram in Paris, where I was living in a one room apartment, (our private toilet was down the hall), that I shared with an American friend, Mindy, who was a student at the American College. Being very sensible, I thought to myself, ‘I had better eat something first, I may not be able to eat later’. After eating, I walked to the post office, went to the teller window and said in my simple French that I would like to make a phone call to Amsterdam. I handed the teller the phone number. He told me which number phone booth to wait in. I sat there in the sound proof booth, waiting for the phone to ring. I answered the phone when it rang and I was connected to my grandfather. He told me the devastating news that my father had died and what arrangements had been made for me to fly to Amsterdam where my grandfather, uncle, aunt and cousins lived. From there I returned to the States.
Telegrams reached their peak popularity in the 1920s and 1930s when it was cheaper to send a telegram than to place a long distance telephone call. People would save money by using the word “stop” instead of periods to end sentences because punctuation was extra while the four character word was free.
February 2, 2006, the associated press reported – “Telegrams were used to announce the first flight in 1903 and the start of World War I. During World War II, the sight of a Western Union courier was feared because the War Department, the precursor to the Department of Defense, used the company to notify families of the death of their loved ones serving in the military, Chayet said.
With long distance rates dropping and different technologies for communicating evolving — including the internet — Western Union phased out couriers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
By last year, only 20,000 telegrams were sent at about $10 a message, mostly from companies using the service for formal notifications, Chayet said.
Last week, the last 10 telegrams included birthday wishes, condolences on the death of a loved one, notification of an emergency and several people trying to be the last to send a telegram.
“Recent generations didn’t receive telegrams and didn’t know you could send them,” Chayet said.
Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code, sent the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore on May 26, 1844, to his partner Alfred Vail to usher in the telegram era that displaced the Pony Express. It read “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?” “ – http://www.wired.com/science/discoverie