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Telegraph :: 1901 :: Common Carriage Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY




"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]



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

1910: Mann Elkins Act



1914 Office of the Postmaster General, Government Ownership of Electrical Means of Communication, S. DOC. NO. 399, 63d Cong., 2d Sess. 19 (1914) ("Much of the telegraph lines are constructed along railway ROW. There is a strong symbiotic relationship. The telegraph operators gain access of long rights of way, that connect major population centers. The railroads gain use of the communications network, helping them coordinate train traffic and take advantage of single track lines - instead of two tracks, one for each direction - saving in capital costs. As a result, telegraph companies indirectly benefited from the land grants that the federal government gave to the railroads. ")

"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.

World War I


1917: Jan. 19th: Zimmerman Telegram. Telegram between Foreign Secretary for the German Empire Arthur Zimmerman and German Ambassador to Mexico Heinrich von Eckardts proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico if the USA were to enter WWI. Mexico would be given Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

"We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

1917: April 6, US enters World War I

Dec. 28: USG nationalizes railroads.

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)


  • telephone, telegraph, radio service and submarine cables nationalized. [NYTimes Dec. 21, 1913] [USPS History 2015 ("Telegraph service was under the direction of Postmaster General Albert Burleson from August 1, 1918, to July 31, 1919. To ensure continuity of service, Burleson ordered telegraph companies to operate as usual.")] [Chris Matthews, AT&T and the Government have been 'Friends' for a really long time, Fortune Aug. 18, 2015 ("During the short time the government ran AT&T, it approved dozens of consolidations of competing services")]
  • Communications workers threaten to go on strike several times.

    Federal Control of Systems of Communication: Hearings on H.J. Res. 309 Before the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 65th Cong., 2d Sess. (July 2, 1918).

    July 9:: President of Western Union testifies before Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce against the proposed government takeover of telephone and telegraph service.

    Woodrow Wilson, Proclamation (July 22, 1918), 40 Stat. 1807. [See also 2009 Review]

    By the President of the United States of America

    A Proclamation
    July 22, 1918

    Whereas, the Congress of the United States, in the exercise of the constitutional authority vested in them, by joint resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives, bearing date July 16, 1918, resolved:

    That the President, during the continuance of the present war, is authorized and empowered, whenever he shall deem it necessary for the national security or defense, to supervise or to take possession and assume control of any telegraph, telephone, marine cable, or radio system or systems, or any part thereof, and to operate the same in such manner as may be needful or desirable for the duration of the war, which supervision, possession, control, or operation shall not extend beyond the date of the proclamation by the President of the exchange of ratifications of the treaty of peace: Provided, that just compensation shall be made for such supervision, possession, control, or operation, to be determined by the President: and if the amount thereof, so determined by the President, is unsatisfactory to the person entitled to receive the same, such person shall be paid 75 per centum of the amount so determined by the President and shall be entitled to sue the United States to recover such further sum as, added to said 75 per centum, will make up such amount as will be just compensation therefor, in the manner provided for by Section 24, Paragraph 20, and Section 145 of the Judicial Code: Provided, further, that nothing in this Act shall be construed to amend, repeal, impair, or affect existing laws or powers of the States in relation to taxation or the lawful police regulations of the several States except wherein such laws, powers or regulations may affect the transmission of Government communications or the issue of stocks and bonds by such system or systems.

    And, whereas, It is deemed necessary for the national security and defense to supervise and to take possession and assume control of all telegraph and telephone systems and to operate the same in such manner as may be needful or desirable:

    Now, therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, under and by virtue of the powers vested in me by the foregoing resolution, and by virtue of all other powers thereto me enabling, do hereby take possession and assume control and supervision of each and every telegraph and telephone system, and every part thereof, within the Jurisdiction of the United States, including all equipment thereof and appurtenances thereto whatsoever and all materials and supplies.

    It is hereby directed that the supervision, possession, and control and operation of such telegraph and telephone systems hereby by me undertaken shall be exercised by and through the Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson. Said Postmaster General may perform the duties hereby and hereunder imposed upon him, so long and to such extent and in such manner as he shall determine, through the owners, managers, board of directors, receivers, officers, and employees of said telegraph and telephone systems.

    Until and except so far as said Postmaster General shall from time to time by general or special orders otherwise provide, the owners, managers, board of directors, receivers, officers and employees of the various telegraph and telephone systems shall continue the operation thereof in the usual and ordinary course of business of said systems, in the names of their respective companies, associations, organizations, owners, or managers, as the case may be.

    Regular dividends hitherto declared, and maturing interest upon bonds, debentures, and other obligations may be paid in due course; and such regular dividends and interest may continue to be paid until and unless the said Postmaster General shall, from time to time, otherwise by general or special orders determine, and subject to the approval of said Postmaster General, the various telegraph and telephone systems may determine upon and arrange for the renewal and extension of maturing obligations.

    By subsequent order of said Postmaster General supervision, possession, control or operation, may be relinquished in whole or in part to the owners thereof of any telegraph or telephone system or any part thereof supervision, possession, control or operation of which is hereby assumed or which may be subsequently assumed in whole or in part hereunder.

    From and after 12 o'clock midnight on the 31st day of July 1918, all telegraph and telephone systems included in this order and proclamation shall conclusively be deemed within the possession and control and under the supervision of said Postmaster General without further act or notice.

    In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

    Done by the President, in the District of Columbia, this 22d day of July, in the year of our Lord 1918, and of the independence of the United States the 143d.

    Woodrow Wilson

    The rational for nationalization has been attributed to the departure of men to the war and the resulting deterioration of service, the threats of strikes by communications unions, and the need to protect against spies and other threats. [Reference for Business ("Cincinnati Bell lost employees to the military effort, and the company suffered from high inflation and shortages of materials. In 1918 the federal government assumed operation of all telephone companies until the signing of a peace treaty in November of that year.")]

    USPS assumed management of the communications companies. USG assumed AT&T obligations and guaranteed to continue to pay the AT&T dividend. However, AT&T maintained operational control of the network.

    Postmaster General increased telephone rates $3.50 and other rate increases that AT&T had previously seeking [Horowitz p. 101] [Dakota Central Telephone Co. v. State of South Dakota ex rel. Payne, Attorney General, __ US __ affirming power of USPO to set telephone rates]

    Nov. 2: Pres. Wilson nationalizes submarine cables. [Woodrow Wilson, Proclamation (Nov. 2, 1918), 40 Stat. 1872]

    Nov. 11: Hostilities cease (Veterans Day).


    Nationalization went poorly. Network services were quickly returned to the control over private owners.

    June 28: Treaty of Versailles signed.

    Return of the Wire Systems: Hearings on H.R. 421 Before the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, pt. _, 66th Cong., 1st sess. _ (1919)

    August 1: Telephone service returned to private commercial control


    USA intelligence establishes "The Black Chamber," a secret organization with the mission of decrypting communications traffic.

    1919: Government Control of the Telegraph and Telephone System, Hearings on HJ Res. 368, Before the Committee on The Post Office and Post Roads, Jan. 14, 1919 (400 pages) (resolution did not pass)

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That as an auxiliary to the Postal Systems the Government control and possession of the telegraph and telephone systems of the United States now existing by virtue of the joint resolution of Congress dated July sixteenth, nineteen undred and eighteen, and the proclamation of the President, be, and the same is hereby, continued until otherwise ordered by Congress.

    The Postmaster General shall cause to be fixed the appraised value of all the telegraph lines, property, and effects of any or all of the telegraph companies as provided in section three of the act of July twenty-fourth, eighteen hundred and sixty six, and report the result thereof to Congress for its consideration.

    The Postmaster General is also directed to negotiate contracts for the purchase of any or all telephone lines, together with their property and effects, subject to the approval of Congress.

    That the Postmaster General shall report to Congress within a reasonable period some plan of organization which will combine all the advantages and authority of the Government with such plan of operation as the experience of the best operation in our industrial world has shown to be advantageous.


    WU's share of communications market is now declining, giving way to long distance telephone service and air mail service. [Bolter 77] [Field 252 ("Government subsidies to the fledgling air transport industry in the form of contracts for airmail carriage cut deeply into Western Union's overnight letter traffic")]

    International Telephone & Telegraph established, the owners previously acquiring Puerto Rico Telephone Company in 1914 and the Cuban-American Telephone and Telegraph Company. [ITT History] [ITT Corp History] [ITT Virt. History]

    1925: Western Union Teleprinter machines came into use.

    1928: ITT acquires Postal Telegraph (along with the Commercial Cable Company), rebrands it Postal Telegraph & Cable.

    1931: 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.


    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.")]

    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," 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: 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.")]

    1970 AT&T sells TWX toWestern 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.")]

    1971: Network email invented



    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. [Field 253]. Money orders would now be the focus of its business.

    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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