Farewell, telegrams: The last one is coming soon

Somebody, somewhere in India will send the final message in July, ending a technology that connected people for more than 160 years.

By Jonathan Berr Jun 20, 2013 7:00AM
Telegraph key (© Ryerson Clark/E+/Getty Images)In 1844, Samuel Morse started the modern era of communications with a dramatic flourish when he transmitted the Bible verse "What hath God wrought" over a line between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. More than 160 years later, the technology is finally exiting the world stage.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the last telegram ever is expected to be sent next month in India. Baharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, the country's state-owned telecom company, still sends about 5,000 telegrams a day, but it can no longer afford to offer the service. 

"We were incurring losses of over $23 million a year because SMS and smartphones have rendered this service redundant," Shamim Akhtar, the general manager of Baharat's telegraph services, told the publication.

Telegrams are still valued in India by some people, such as those who run away to get married over family objections when a partner is of the wrong caste. Mobile penetration in India is only 26%, but the Monitor noted that "even in the remotest village, at least someone has a phone."

Western Union
(WU), whose name was synonymous with telegrams from the start, stopped offering the service in 2006, saying it was no longer cost-effective. In 2005, Western Union had sent about 4,000 telegrams, according to The Associated Press.

Telegrams were the closest thing people could get to instant communications for generations. The Wright Brothers sent their father one after their first successful flight in 1903.

Telegrams reached the height of their popularity during the 1920s and '30s when they were far cheaper than long-distance phone calls. People came to dread getting telegrams during World War II because they often were used to tell families that their loved ones had been killed in battle overseas.

As phone calls got cheaper, though, demand for telegrams withered. Now many younger people probably have never heard of them. Experts estimate that the world now has 1.5 billion smartphones, any of which can easily send and receive messages much faster than Morse and his contemporaries could possibly imagine.

It's amazing that telegrams lasted as long as they did. 

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jun 20, 2013 2:41PM

i want to know what the last message wil be...

if this is going to be last telegrams ever to send out. i think i should be cool message. history always remember first and last message...

Jun 20, 2013 2:31PM
Hmmmm...if telegrams still exist in this modern technology can dinosaurs still be roaming the Earth someplace that is undiscovered??
Jun 20, 2013 12:37PM
Curious why texting is so popular when it is essentially a step backward.  I've told all my friends and relatives not to text me.  Why would you send a text by typing a bunch of buttons when you can call and do it in half the time and effort?    What's next?  Semiphor?  Carrier pidgeons?  Telegraph? :)
Jun 20, 2013 6:20PM
Jun 20, 2013 2:38PM
Texting allows emotionless comms. Much easier to hide what we do not want seen. Allows person to person contact with no emotional skills needed. One would think Skype would be best but then ever taken a call or a text were you would rather not be seen?  
Jun 21, 2013 1:32AM
That is sad - I received a couple of telegrams, long ago.  I did not know they were still around. Funny how we still often say we "dial" a number on the phone, at lease us nearly old people.
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