For 160 years, the telegram served us well. Now it’s time to say goodbye.

In this age of instant communication it would be difficult to envisage a time when the fastest form of contacting someone was the telegram. On July 15. 2013 we bid goodbye to this unique way of sending a message.

The service began in 1850, six years after Samuel Morse sent his first message in the U.S. The first experimental electric telegraph line was between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour. The distance was approximately 50km. The service was initally for the British East India Company.

Knock, knock

By November 1853, 6,400km of lines connected Calcutta and Peshawar, Agra, Bombay and Madras and even Ootacamund and Bangalore. Who was the mastermind who pioneered this system in India? William O’Shaughnessy, a surgeon by profession was commissioned to do the job. In 1854 a separate department was opened and it was thrown open to the public to use.

For a long time, the telegram was the fastest form of communication and was the harbinger of news, both good and bad. When the postman knocked and handed over a telegram a fear ran through the house because only important information was thus conveyed.

If you were unable to attend a wedding it was appropriate to dash off a telegram. There was no need to think too hard about the message as some messages had a number against them. So write out number 4 and your Diwali Greetings would be off. However, like every method this too lent itself to some hilarious and not-so-hilarious consequences. The number could be congratulatory when in actual fact you wanted to send a condolence message!

The message was short, crisp and in capital letters not lend itself to any niceties.

Now, for its role in History. According to historians, the telegram played a crucial role during the First War of Independence. It was the telegram that relayed information so quickly that the British forces were able to regain control.

In 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru sent a telegram to Clement Atlee in London. It was for help as Kashmir had been invaded by Pakistan.

Some interesting telegrams

Samuel Morse in what is thought to be the first telegram on May 24, 1844 to Alfred Vail. “What has God wrought?”

Oscar Wilde, was living in Paris and he cabled his publisher in Britain to find out how his book was doing.“?”

The publisher answered: “!”

It is believed to be one of the last wireless messages that was sent from the Titanic, early on April 15, 1912: “SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic.”

Mark Twain’s obituary had been published in the U.S. in 1897. He sent a telegram from London: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The Wright Brothers announced their first successful flight in 1903: “Successful four flights Thursday morning”.

How it began

The very first form of communication could be the use of smoke signals.

Then came Semaphore – or flag language that was employed by ships or buildings that were far apart.

Later, Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail invented a system of short and electrical pulses that represented letters. The message was then translated into a string of dots and dashes, sent on a cable and translated back at the other end. This is the telegram.

Now we have Instant Messaging, SMS and oh! so much more…

If you would like to be the one to send out the last telegrams then make sure you do so before 7 p.m. on July 12. The last date announced is July 15 but July 13 and 14 are government holidays.

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