The History :
Telegraphy systems operated in Europe from as early as 1792 in the form of semaphore lines, or optical telegraphs, that sent messages to a distant observer through line-of-sight signals.
In 1837, American artist-turned inventor Samuel F. B. Morse conducted the first successful experiment with an electrical recording telegraph. A telegraph message sent by an electrical telegraph operator or telegrapher using Morse code (or a printing telegraph operator using plain text) was known as a telegram. Before long distance telephone services were readily available or affordable, telegram services were very popular and the only way to convey information speedily over very long distances. Telegrams were often used to confirm business dealings and were commonly used to create binding legal documents for business dealings.
An electrical telegraph was independently developed and patented in the United States in 1837 by Samuel Morse. His assistant, Alfred Vail, developed the Morse code signalling alphabet with Morse. The first telegram in the United States was sent by Morse on 11 January 1838, across two miles (3 km) of wire at Speedwell Ironworks near Morristown, New Jersey. On 24 May 1844, he sent the message “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT”.
The Journey :
Telegraphy dominated communications for most of the rest of the 19th century and remained significant in the 20th. Telegrams disappeared in the UK in 1982 and Western Union abandoned its telegram service in the US in 2006; and this weekend India, bastion of the last great telegraphy service thanks to the government’s traditional devotion to sending telegrams, follows suit. According to The Telegraph, the 1980s were the golden years for the service in India: more than 100,000 telegrams were sent and received per day – in just the Delhi main office. Today, it’s barely 100,000 a day – across all of India. It is not quite the end – heritage services continue in many places and telegrams are still used for specific purposes in some countries (in Argentina, you are supposed to resign from your job by telegram) – but the final STOP is looming.
The Final telegram. STOP.
The last telegram which one can send in India is today (11th July 2013) as all services associated with the telegram come to a a standstill on 15th July 2013.
With mobile phone penetration in India in excess of 900 million and growing, the telegram today is going the same way as the pigeon post or the bush telegraph system of an earlier time.
But no tears need be shed for the telegram, whose imminent demise in India, following up on similar winding down of the service overseas, represents the inevitable effects of creative destruction triggered by the march of communication technology.
The only thing that’s unstoppable, though, is the advance of communication technology that renders relics obsolete.
P.S. – Those given to nostalgia (and who still use old-world Nokia phones) could change their settings for incoming text messages as a tribute to the old: the classic setting – with three short beeps, two long ones and three short ones – represents the Morse code for SMS.