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Telegraph :: 1887 :: The Progressive Era Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

The Progressive Era: Crash Course US History #27

The Dreyfus Affair and Anti-Semitism: AP Euro Bit by Bit #36
1897: Upon published reports of his death, Mark Twain sends a telegram from London stating "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

1887 :: The Progressive Era



50th Cong. Sess. II Chapt. 280: An act granting the right of way to the Fort Smith, Paris and Dardanelle Railway company to construct and operate a railroad, telegraph, and telephone line from Fort Smith, Arkansas, though the Indian Territory, to or near Baxter Springs, in the State of Kansas.

1890 :: Sherman Act passed

Sen. John Sherman, author of the Post Roads Act, rectifies its fatal flaw by introducing the Sherman Act and creating the first anti-trust authority. Sherman created the remedy which his Post Roads Act lacked. This will lead to the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911, which will in turn lead to AT&T agreeing to the Kingsbury Commitment, divesting itself of Western Union, and becoming a government regulated monopoly.

Source: Wikicommons.

"[T]his is a great agricultural country and that the farmers and the artisans have no occasion to use the telegraph. Their communications are few and far between. They prefer the mail because it is private and confidential. They have no business to communicate except in case of death. There is not one farmer, one blacksmith, one carpenter, one brick-layer, one stone-mason in a thousand who would use the telegraph once a year if it were five cents a message. They have no occasion to use it. The telegraph is essentially an adjunct to commerce and speculation. That is the nature of it." - Testimony of Norvin Green, March 1, 1890 at 30

"Moreover, ours is a constitutional government, with legislative powers absolutely limited to the specific grants in the Constitution. We have had enough of what has been termed the Constitution with modern improvements. Every amendment made necessary by the civil war, which ended more than twenty - five years ago, has been agreed to by all the States; and if we do not want the Government overloaded with all sorts of business that can be better done by the people, we had better go back to the legitimate objects of its creation, and keep close within the letter of the Constitution." – Testimony of Western Union President Norvin Green, June 9, 1890.

1892 :: Jay Gould Died

1893 :: Norvin Green Died :: Telegraph Peak Demand


1896 Telegraph Around the World

As part of the National Electrical Exposition May 16th, a telegraph was sent around the world, composed by Chauncey M. Depew to Edward D. Adams, over the Western Union Telegraph Company, the Postal Telegraph Company, and the Commercial Cable Company - and many other telegraph companies around the world. The message was received by Thomas Edison. Starting in New York and involving repeaters in Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Galverston, Buenos Aires, Lisbon, Canso, Novia Scotia, Bangor, ME, London. The messages read:

New York May 16th

To Edward D. Adams

God created, nature treasures, and science utilizes electrical power for the grandeur of nations and the power of the world.

(signed) Chauncey M. Depew

To Chauncey M. Depew

Mighty Niagara, nature's wonder, serving man through the world's electric circuit, proclaims to all peoples science triumphant and benevolent Creator.

(signed) Edward D. Adams

[Reports of the Telegraph and Cable Companies on the Long Distance Messages - The Golden Telegraph Key, Electrical Review, Vol. 23, No. 4 July 22, 1896] [Echoes of the Electrical Exposition, Western Electrician, p. 34 July 18, 1896]

1899: Marconi experiments with radio telegraph service.


WU Telegraph message traffic peaked in 1893 at 67m messages for the year. Telegraph messages would continue to stagger forward and grow, but its market share clearly had begun to feel the competitive effects of telephone service. As general demand for communications services grew, so would demand for telegraph service (a rising tide raises all boats). But telegraph service was, at this point, giving up market share to telephone service, then to airmail service, and finally to the Internet. In 1909, WU had lost so much ground that it was briefly acquired by AT&T (AT&T divested itself of WU as an antitrust settlement - but leaving WU to fend for itself was not necessarily the strongest position for the company). [Wolff at 287 ("As the telephone giant ascended, Western Union declined... After a brief period of prosperity following its separation from AT&T, Western Union performed poorly during the Great Depression and never truly recovered.")] In 1918, the Post Office introduced Airmail service, an affordable and efficient substitute service to telegraph service. WWI and WWII would drive demand for telegraph service, as telegrams were the preferred means of delivering unfortunate news. When WWII was over, WU attempted to make up for revenue short-falls by increasing prices - and predictably saw demand go into a free-fall. In the 1960s, WU was well positioned to offer a data network service (AT&T was restrained by the Modified Final Judgement) but failed to take advantage of the situation. In 1970, WU partnered with the Post Office for Mailgram service (ironically, operating essentially as telegraph service did in when first introduced, with the telegraph network transmitting the message from one city to another, and then dropping the telegram into the local mail for delivery) only to see the Post Office steal the idea and offer its own ECOM service, and see the whole thing overshadowed by the Internet and email service. Postal Telegraph, the only suggestion of competition to Western Union, staggered into the century, was acquired by ITT in 1928, went into receivership in 1935 and again in 1940, and finally was acquired by Western Union in 1943 at the request of the USG. [Census Historical Statistics Colonial Times to 1970, Chapter R (data of both telegraph and telephone business)] [Government Ownership Report 1914 at 9 (presenting data from the turn of the century, concluding "The use of the telephone in all walks of life is steadily increasing, while the use of the telegraph is relatively stationary, and therefore decreasing... The telegraph companies have already lost for the most part the short-distance business owing to the development of the toll-telephone service, and they probably will lose much of the long-distance business when the toll rates become adjusted on a cost basis.")] [Egan at 118 ("The telegraph company competes directly with the long - distance and teletypewriter services of the telephone companies, and also with the air mail.")].





"The system operated directly by the [Western Union] consists of over 192,000 miles of poles and cables, and over 900,000 miles of wire" [PA RR I, 195 U.S. at 542]

1908: Singularity: Private Electronic Communications Companies Owned by One Company


Federal Telegraph Company founded in Palo Alto. In 1928, acquired by the MacKay Companies. [The Perham Collection of Early Electronics at History San Jos�]

1910: Mann Elkins Act


1913 :: Kingsbury Accord :: Government Regulated Communications Monopolies


Office of the Postmaster General, Government Ownership of Electrical Means of Communication, S. DOC. NO. 399, 63d Cong., 2d Sess. 19 (1914)

"The original Morse telegraph printed code on tape. However, in the United States the operation developed into sending by key and receiving by ear. A trained Morse operator could transmit 40 to 50 words per minute. Automatic transmission, introduced in 1914, handled more than twice that number.

1917: World War I: USG Nationalizes Communications

Group of Western Union Messengers in Norfolk, Va.Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer, June 1911.National Child Labor Committee Collection. Prints & Photographs Division.

"Direct postal telegraph wire at a truck service station on U.S. 1 (New York Avenue), Washington, D.C." Call Number: LC-USF33- 020650-M1 [P&P]. June, 1940. Public Domain

Telegraph History: Telegram for America
Public domain film from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive
Black and White, maybe 1950s

Telex Machine. ajmexico: Flicker (cc)

1919 June 28: Treaty of Versailles signed


1925: Western Union Teleprinter machines came into use.

1927: Western Union acquires Mexican Telegraph Company. [History of Atlantic Cable]


ITT acquires Postal Telegraph (along with the Commercial Cable Company), rebrands it Postal Telegraph & Cable.

1929 Great Depression begins


AT&T introduces teletypewriter exchange service [EHA ("In 1938, AT&T had 18%, Postal 15% and Western Union 64% of telegraph traffic.")] [1934 Com. Study at 8 ("Recently [AT&T] has introduced over its wires a rented " teletype " service which the telegraph companies feel is an invasion of the field of telegraphy.")] [Field 251]



Market: Two wire telegraph carriers offer nation-wide domestic public-message telegraph service: Western Union Telegraph Co and the Postal Telegraph Cable Corporation. Other carriers - which offerings include teletrype exchange service - Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co, West Coast Telephone Co., Bell System, others. [FCC Report 1935 at 42-44 ]

[FCC Report 1935 at 42-44 ] Telegraph Channel Miles Investment Year 1934 Gross Revenue Net Income Tax Accruals
Bell System 1,910,725
Postal Telegraph 678,255 $82,247,420 $21,016,334 $2,521,381 $490.000
Western Union 2,159,286 $328,663,661 $87,230,228 $2,243,084 $3,401,600
Other 22,467

1936: Varioplex enabled a single wire to carry 72 transmissions at the same time (36 in each direction). Two years later Western Union introduced the first of its automatic facsimile devices.

1938: Joseph Egan promoted to Vice President, Western Union. [NYTimes]


Western Union merges with Postal Telegraph Company. [Smithsonian] [Smithsonian Guide 1986] [TELEGRAPH MERGER BY OCT. 1 ARRANGED; Heads of Western Union and Postal Agree on the Terms, NYT May 14, 1943] A condition of the merger as approved was that WU would divest itself of its undersea cables. [Western Union Telegraph Co. v. United States of America and FCC, Case. No. 231 (2nd Cir. 1959) (affirming merger condition of divestment of international cable operations)] [FCC Report 1959 at 30] [Field at 252 ("Postal Telegraph, went into receivership between 1935 and 1940, and survived the Depression only with the infusion of $13.5 million of taxpayer funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The FCC would subsequently encourage and bless the absorption by Western Union of Postal Telegraph in 1943.")] [Egan at 131 (stating that WU paid nothing for Postal Telegraph, obtained $20m a year in additional revenue, assumed Postal Telegraph's debt of $12.5m which it paid off.)]


1947: Post Roads Act repealed.

1948: WU Pres. Joseph Egan dies. Walter Marshal, former Executive VP of Postal Telegraph, is named President WU [NYTimes]

Data Network Services

Western Union's network services evolve into financial services, Telex (an early email like service), and data networks. Western Union, which was not restrained from entering the Information Services market as AT&T was, was well positioned to be a first mover in the coming data network revolution. However, consistent with the "innovator's dilemma" and the fact that Western Union was at this point a struggling corporation, Western Unions incumbent incentives led to slow movement and poor decisions - leaving the data network market to other to capture.

1958: WU Gross Landline revenue: $240,729,000, a decline of $4.8m from 1957. Total net income $12,660,000 in 1958, a decrease from $14,194,000 for 1957. Private line telegraph services revenue $40.7m, an increase of $4.5m from 1957. Installed total of 2000 private wire systems, equalling 3 million circuit miles; largest is 25,000 mile system for Air Force. 4.5m miles telegraph circuits; 21,200 telegraph offices. [FCC Report 1959 at 7]


1966 Data Networks

Western Union and Computer Inquiries :: Western Union wanted to enter data processing market - and refused to lease circuits to other companies building data services.

In 1966, Western Union was offering a data processing service [U.Penn.L.R. 343 1969 (citing Western Union Telegraph Co. Prospectus, December 5, 1966, at 5, 6, 8-9)][Irwin 1301 1967 ("Western Union already provides customized business information systems; it has established data processing service centers and computerized its switch- ing net. In the near future, besides its present job-finding services, the company will offer computerized credit and securities ratings, library bibliographies, and medical data.")]


AT&T sells TWX to Western Union. [Field 253 ("AT&T's timing could not have been better. The Internet was born in 1969, with the first e-mail messages sent in 1971. With the growth of these systems, and the ubiquity of facsimile transmission over telephone lines, the demand for teletypewriter services withered.")]

1970: Mailgram

"Initially proposed in 1968 and offered to the public in 1970, Mailgram is a joint offering by the Postal Service and Western Union. Although Western Union manages, markets, and controls Mailgram service, it contracts with the Service to provide nationwide delivery services.

"The customer inputs his message by either telephoning Western Union, supplying it with magnetic tapes or discs, or by using his own Telex/TWX equipment. The cost is $1 to $2.80 for a message of 50 words or less. Western Union processes and transmits the message to a postal installation for next business day delivery. Western Union is responsible for accepting, processing, and transmitting the message while the Service is responsible for printing, enveloping, and delivering the output." [Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the US Postal Service, p. 2 August 1982 NTIS Order # PB83-265017]

The USPS will quickly replace this with ECOM, an email servicem of the same design - and email is sent to a destination post office where it is printed and delivered by mail.

Mailgram service was discontinued in 2006 [Mailgram Service Discontinued, USPS]

1971: Network email invented


1979 FCC Ends Western Union's Telegraph Monopoly

Ernest Holsendolph, Western Union's Monopoly Challenged, NYT March 19, 1978, Section F, Page 2 (�The public decided the telegram issue for us,� said Mr. McFall in an interview in the company's Saddle River, N.J., headquarters. �Volume just declined steadily. We modernized offices -- didn't make any difference. We cut the price 25 percent � no improvement, we advertised in 13 cities and didn't generate a single telegram.�)


1982: BT terminates telegraph service. [The Telegraph 2017]

1988: Western Union reorganized; sells off international lines; sells Westar to GM Hughes; sells teletypewriters back to AT&T. Money orders would now be the focus of its business. [Field 253] [Elizabeth Neuffer, Telegrams Are on the Wane NYTimes August 7, 1987, Section A, Page 20 ("About 200 million telegrams were sent in 1929, but only 3 million in 1985, according to the Western Union Corporation. Telegrams are being replaced by the swifter telex, facsimile or telephone." "telegrams now make up only 5 percent of the company's business. ")] [AT&T to Acquire Some Western Union Assets, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1990 ("AT&T;, trying to build up its non-telephone businesses, said it would pay $180 million for Western Union’s electronic mail and Telex businesses, which accounted for 40% of its revenue last year.")]

1997: June 30th KPH - goes offline

1999: July 12th KFS, half moon bay, goes offline ("KFS was the last American ship-to-shore station to transmit in Morse, or "CW" as it was commonly called. Replaced by satellite technology, the era of the marine radio-telegrapher ended. ")

2006: Last Western Union Telegram sent.

2013: India terminates telegraph service [The Telegraph 2017]

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