The 'world's last telegram'? Don't believe it

While some media outlets report that the world's last telegram will be sent next month, telegraph operations remain alive and well all over the world.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse laid the ground work for the first electromechanical telegraph system, sending a message from the U.S. Supreme Court chamber in Washington, D.C., to his colleague Alfred Vail in Baltimore.

"What hath God wrought!" Morse famously quipped in the telegram.

More than 169 years later, telegrams, for many years the most efficient form of long-distance communication, are reportedly set to cease worldwide, with news outlets reporting that the "world's last" telegram would be sent by a state-run Indian telecomm company in mid-July.

The corporation, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., India's largest and oldest communication service provider, has good reasons for wanting to get out of the struggling telegram business. According to Shamim Akhtar, general manager of BSNL's telegraph services, the company loses $23 million annually as smartphones, text messaging and email render its telegraph operations outmoded and inefficient, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

But just because India's largest telegram service is stepping away from the technology doesn't mean it's disappearing altogether. Calling BSNL's July missive the "world's last" would be a gross exaggeration.

One Toronto-based telegram service, Telegrams Canada, says it has absolutely no plans to close its doors. In fact, owner Colin Stone told the Toronto Star that his company is actually growing.

"There are people who want and need to send telegrams and continue sending them,” Stone told the Star. Those people, Stone said, are mostly Europeans sending messages to Canada or Canadians sending messages to the U.S. He said courts in Canada also still prefer to send summonses via telegram because it allows officials to track a message's arrival.

Stone said his company sends around 20,000 messages per year and remains profitable. When Western Union shuttered its telegraph operations in 2006, Stone said he was quick to woo abandoned customers.

In India, he believes a similar trend will take shape, with small, boutique telegram companies like his vying with major telecomm providers for control of whatever's left of the market.

"It’s a more competitive business than most people think,” he told the Star. “There are a few big players in this industry and a bunch of smaller players, and everybody’s looking at the world map saying, 'Where can we go next?'"

Overall, Stone said telegraphs are still used in about 40 countries.

The "world's last telegram?" It probably won't be transmitted in July.

Full stop.

 

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