Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Original "Digital" ~ Morse Code

It was the telegraph that really opened up long distance communications in this country, and Western Union was the telegraph company. It existed long before telephones came along. You'd have to go to the Western Union office to send it, and it wasn't cheap. People dreaded getting one because unless you knew that Cousin Emma was expecting a baby the fear was that it would likely say that Uncle Joe had died.

The telegram was delivered directly to you,and in many areas it was by a bicycle riding delivery man. The information was sent from office to office using Morse Code, a series of short and long clicks (actually it was the pause between clicks that varied) called dots and dashes made on a little one key device. Every letter had its unique series of dots and dashes. Every boy in the country learned Morse Code so he could get his Boy Scout Merit Badge. At the other end somebody would hear the clicks and and then get the words on paper. When I was a kid the paper was actually a long strip of tape which would be cut up and afixed to a yellow sheet of paper for delivery.

Eventually Western Union would just call you and give you the message. If you actually wanted the telegram itself you could pick it up or they'd mail it to you. They gradually changed more into a money transfer company. You'd go to the office in your town with a wad of cash and "wire" the money to the other person in some other town. They'd pick it up at their local office.

Now it seems that their chief function is supplying comfortable backs for bus benches, like the one ready to be installed here. People need a comfortable place to sit while they chat on their cell phones.


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