Saturday, May 06, 2006

Pen pal. Who me?

I have never been a prolific letter writer. I never had even a single pen pal, for instance. (I enjoy reading famous people’s letters, though. The Collected Letters of So-and-So kind of stuff, you know.) For that matter, I’ve never been much of a telegram sender, either. In my whole life, I must have sent no more than a dozen and a half telegrams, I reckon. That too is probably an overestimate. Come to think of it, I belong to the letter-and-telegram era fair and square, though. So Western Union stopping telegrams on 26 January 2006 after 145 years in the business caught my eye. WU started its career in 1851 under the non-glam name, Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. It took its present moniker only five years later after taking over the competing telegraph systems. During the Civil War, by 1861, it had already built its coast-to-coast network of telegraph lines. Noteworthy Western Union ‘feats’ include the world’s first stock ticker (1866); launch of money transfers (1871); joining the original 11 stocks tracked by Dow Jones (1884); the first consumer charge card introduction (1914); using a transcontinental microwave beam to replace land lines (1964); and the launch of Westar I, the very first U.S. dedicated communications satellite (1974). Impressive!

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