ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Dit dit dit hey wait —

With absolutely no fanfare or warning, Western Union ceased its telegram service on January 27, 2006. They notified employees internally in mid-January, and then abruptly closed off the service.

The full message for saying goodbye to 155 years of telegraph service was:

“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 first official message (that is, part of a demonstration for a built prototype line from Washington to Baltimore, was sent on May 24, 1844. It read, “What hath God Wrought?”

In fact, you can actually look at a photo of the actual tape that was sent. Badass, those historical archivists can be.

I am not a big fan of the standard weblog “this event happened, now I will comment off-the-cuff-with-no-research for the next 3 paragraphs and look at you dumbly” approach to journalism/event notification, but I do have to say, this was handled quite poorly.

Understand that Western Union has gone bankrupt and then been bought out a number of times, and that the vast vast vast vast majority of its funding comes from money transfers (started in 1871) and not telegrams. I’ll be willing to make a reasonable guess that the telegram revenues were almost in the range of a rounding error. But that’s more of that off-the-cuff stuff I was talking about.

Instead of giving you a massive rant and historical essay, may I instead recommend a book that I had recommended to me by the author/speaker Richard Thieme: “The Victorian Internet”, by Tom Standage. Were that I could compose a book so effective, so perfect in presenting its facts of history and event, and linking them to today.

Regardless, I left a foamer in their customer service box at the Western Union site, and I would send out this call: Send out one last telegram, this day or on the anniversary of the telegraph on May 24th, and give this incredible technology the sendoff it deserves.

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