How Are Telegrams Sent Today?

How Are Telegrams Sent Today?

Post by Jeremy Buhle » Sun, 25 Aug 1996 04:00:00



This morning, I sent a Western Union telegram to my grandparents, who
are on vacation for their 50th anniversary.  Never having sent a
telegram before, I was astounded how much it cost -- nearly $40 for
only 20 words, plus the cost of tracking and receipt confirmation!

This experience has left me with a couple of questions:

1. Has the cost of a WU telegram (in real dollars) always been this high?
   If not, when did the cost attain the present level?

2. How are telegrams transmitted today? Western Union's Commercial
   Services web site (http://www.veryComputer.com/) gave me the impression
   that the company now uses the telcos for data transport and
   adds value through data-processing and assured rapid-delivery
   services.

3. I found various materials in the Telecom Archives describing WU's
   history through the early 60's.  What's happened to the company
   since then?

Jeremy

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: What has happened to the company since
then is that they have gone through bankruptcy; they have gone through
being picked apart by numerous other firms which took the most profitable
parts of the company away; and they have been *ed by a lot of
new technology they have been unable to keep up with. That, in a nutshell
is what happened to Western Union. In the 1960's the cost of a telegram
of perhaps a dozen words or so was about two dollars, *and that included
delivery of a printed copy to you by a messenger.* You were free to
give the messenger a small additional tip if you wanted to do do, and
most people did. When WUTCO operated their public offices -- where you
could walk in off the street to send a telegram or wait for one to
arrive in your name -- the same dozen or so words was about a dollar
provided they did not have to deliver it (you were there waiting for
it or you went to their office in response to their phone call that
a telegram was waiting.) Telegrams sent 'collect' instead of paid had
a surcharge just like phone calls, or if you used your Western Union
credit card to pay for messages you called in on the phone there was
a surcharge. There was no surcharge for billing a telegram to your
phone bill and there was no surcharge if you were at a pay phone and
dropped coins in the box when they asked you to pay for it.

They were happy to read the telegram to you over the phone and send
you a copy in the mail for the same rate as if you called for it in
person at their office. (Remember, in those days the US Mail was
delivered in many places *twice per day* and typically a letter sent
several hundred miles got delivered the next day, so it was not like
getting a telegram mailed to you would take a week or so as the
regular mail does now.) The local agent would drop a copy in the mail
on your request and you would receive it from your postman usually
the next morning anyway.

There were certain types of telegrams which were considered
non-deliverable by telephone and these included messages stating that
someone had died, or that some tragedy of a personal nature had
occurred of direct relevance to the recipient.  During the Second
World War and the Korean 'police action' for instance, messages
pertaining to the deaths of military personnel were required to be
delivered by messenger in writing.

Larger customers of WUTCO were given charge accounts (as opposed to
the little card anyone could carry around which was the same as a
phone company calling card, but for telegram purposes) and they
usually had 'commercial rates' which were better than those given
the general public. Anyone could have (but usually only the larger
commercial accounts had) a 'cable address'. A 'cable address' was
what would these days be referred to on your computer network as
an 'alias' for delivery purposes. Instead of the sender needing to
know your complete name and address for the purposes of delivery,
all he needed to know was your 'cable address'.

For example, the cable address 'Housereps' was for the House of
Representatives.  Here in Chicago I recall that 'Symphony' was tbe
cable address for the Orchestral Association, the management side of
the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Cable addresses were almost invariably
cutesey little words and short phrases. A couple others I remember
seeing a lot were 'Largest Store' for Sears, Roebuck and 'Beacon Hill'
but I do not remember who that was. Certain cable addresses were
automatic reverse charge addresses, much like 800 phone service where
the recipient always agreed to accept collect telegrams.  If you went
to their office or called on the phone and said you wanted to send a
message to a cable address, the clerk would just refer to a flip-chart
and see what that 'aliased out' to be.

Larger customers quite often had a teletype machine on their premises
which was used to send/receive messages through the local Western
Union office eliminating the need for a messenger, but these were
customers getting fifty or sixty or even a hundred telegrams daily and
quite often sending that many out as well or perhaps they had a 'telex
machine' hooked directly into the network bypassing the local
telegraph office completely.

I do not know what a dozen words for two dollars including delivery
in 1960's money would be in 1996 money. And a rate that high was
only for casual users; anyone who was a regular user of WUTCO had
lower rates, I am sure. At the time WUTCO clock service was dropped
in the middle 1960's they charged sometime like a dollar per month
per clock for the hourly pulse.  

Have some fun! Call and tell them now you want to send a message
to a 'cable address' ... probably most of them never heard of such
a thing. A lot of them probably do not know telegrapms printed on
little yellow sheets of paper could be sent 'restricted delivery to
addressee only' (basically like a person-to-person phone call, if
anyone still makes calls that way) and in that event, the messenger
would not just leave it with whoever answered the door at your
house. He would insist on seeing the specified person and putting
the telegram in his hands only.    PAT]

 
 
 

How Are Telegrams Sent Today?

Post by kEN Colbu » Fri, 30 Aug 1996 04:00:00


Wow $40?!?

Thrifty * has fax machines; You could have faxed your parents and
had them pick up the fax there for $2. Just a thought.

My Mom's Net rules:

No running on the Net with scissors!
Don't read email from strangers.
Let your sister get online for awhile, dammit!
Shut up, I'm on the modem!


http://www.veryComputer.com/~writer/poster/Poster.html

 
 
 

How Are Telegrams Sent Today?

Post by Wes Leathero » Fri, 30 Aug 1996 04:00:00


In connection with Pat's comments on this subject:

Quote:> ... Anyone could have (but usually only the larger
> commercial accounts had) a 'cable address'. A 'cable address' was
> what would these days be referred to on your computer network as
> an 'alias' for delivery purposes. Instead of the sender needing to
> know your complete name and address for the purposes of delivery,
> all he needed to know was your 'cable address'.
> For example, the cable address 'Housereps' was for the House of
> Representatives.  Here in Chicago I recall that 'Symphony' was tbe
> cable address for the Orchestral Association, the management side of
> the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Cable addresses were almost invariably
> cutesey little words and short phrases. A couple others I remember
> seeing a lot were 'Largest Store' for Sears, Roebuck and 'Beacon Hill'
> but I do not remember who that was.

Pat,

     I sent and received a lot of telegrams in an earlier day, and I
don't recall a "cable address" ever being used for a domestic message,
and it would seem to be pointless.  The name and address of the
addressee are (or were) free on domestic messages ... not like on
overseas messages ("cablegrams") where there is a charge for every
word including every word in the name and address.

     Surely the cable address for Sears must have been LARGESTSTORE,
not Largest Store, which would have been two words.  A cablegram
would be addressed, for example, LARGESTSTORE CHICAGO (USA).  (No
charge was made for the "USA".)

     I believe there was a charge (monthly, perhaps?) for a cable
address.  And it was valid only for the carrier you registered it
with.  Many overseas carriers had offices in major cities like
Chicago, and a message sent from overseas via RCA Communications or
one of the Mackay/Cable and Wireless companies (and many others) would
have been handled directly with the Chicago addressee by the carrier's
Chicago office.  (To points not served by the overseas carrier, they
would interchange with Western Union, deliver by telephone or TWX, or
whatever.  And, of course, even to points at which they had no office
some of the overseas carriers had tielines to a teletypewriter in some
major companies' message centers.)

     Also, in some cases, there might be different cable addresses
registered for different departments.  Remember, in overseas telegrams
the address is chargeable, so "Attn: Purchasing Department" or "Attn:
Machinery Sales" would have been additional words.  But would have
been free as part of the address on domestic telegrams.

           [ ... text deleted ... ]

Quote:> Larger customers quite often had a teletype machine on their premises
> which was used to send/receive messages through the local Western
> Union office eliminating the need for a messenger, but these were
> customers getting fifty or sixty or even a hundred telegrams daily and
> quite often sending that many out as well or perhaps they had a 'telex
> machine' hooked directly into the network bypassing the local
> telegraph office completely.

      The teletypewriter (isn't Teletype still a registered
trademark?)  on the customers' premises were called "WUX," and that
plus the company name was sufficient address.  For example, Johnson
Company WUX CGO (or was it CHGO? larger places had standard
abbreviations to eliminate the need for sending the full city and
state on every telegram) would have been sufficient for Johnson
Company if they had such a tieline.

      (Some of the abbreviated addresses were not entirely obvious,
but many of them were.)

      I don't believe there was any network to hook into, at least not
when Western Union was a common way to communicate.  Telegrams were
sent from telegraph office to telegraph office.  Telex service was
different, where you connected directly with the distant Telex
machine, like TWX service.  (I assume you could also probably use your
Telex to send a telegram to the Western Union office for transmission
in the usual way.  After all, you could only connect by Telex to
customers who had Telexes [and of the same carrier].)

      Western Union did have company offices on the premises of large
customers.  When the place I was working was the Western Union agent
in a town in Oklahoma, we were on a single line (from the Oklahoma
City Western Union office) which was shared with the Western
Union-operated office at a large oil company 40 miles away.  (Yes,
Western Union had a lot of agency offices in smaller towns, in
addition to the railroad offices at almost every railroad station
which had an agent/telegrapher, which was practically everywhere in
those days.)

Wes Leatherock                                                            


 
 
 

How Are Telegrams Sent Today?

Post by Lisa/Je » Sat, 31 Aug 1996 04:00:00


A nice book describing the history of Western Union is "The Story of
Telecommunications" by George P. Oslin.  (Mercer University Press,
1992.)  Mr. Oslin served as public relations director for Western
Union for 35 years.

Until the 1960s, it was cheaper to send a message by telegram than by
long distance telephone.  But new technology allowed AT&T to continue
to lower long distance rates.  Labor costs eat away at Western Union.

By the late 1970s the bulk of WU's business was wiring money.  News
articles in the last few years about WU said they wanted to provide
financial services for low-income people, such as wiring money, money
orders, and the like.  How much they got into is unknown.

Western Union isn't the official name of the company anymore.  To
protect the name's public perception, the parent company gave itself a
new name.

 
 
 

1. How Are Telegrams Sent Today?


Judging by the Spanish-language advertisements I see around LA, I
would say "a lot".  Between them and American Express, there's
probably a couple billion dollars or so shipped annually to Mexico,
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and so on.  Some of it's
probably drug money, but by far the bulk is Juan sending money home to
his family.  (There was an article on this subject a couple years ago
in {Forbes}.)

More recently, I've seen indications that Western Union is acting as a
payment agent for the local utilities.  The Gas Co. in particular has
been closing up payment offices at a furious clip over the last few
years, and I suspect it's their poorer customers who would be
suffering if it wasn't for the Western Union offices.


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