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This telegram contained a dreadful message from World War II: It informed a Florida mother that the Germans had captured her son as a prisoner of war. The telegram dates from November 1944, seven months before Germany surrendered. The mother lived in the Panhandle town of Crawfordville.
These somber-faced messenger boys served Jacksonville for Western Union. They were probably kept busy, delivering & picking up telegrams. The photo was taken in March 1913. If you descend from a long-time First Coast family, these youngsters may very well have met your forebears during the course of their daily runs.
Western Union used to control a fair amount of Jacksonville's communications with the outside world. This photo shows the telegraph company's local headquarters not long after the structure opened in July 1931. Western Union transferred its operations from its former headquarters at Bay & Laura streets, which the company had occupied since 1895. The building in the picture still stands. It's situated at the southeast corner of Laura and Duval streets, next to Hemming Park and cattycorner from the St. James Building (City Hall). Would the Western Union officials have ever dreamed that their building would someday house the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art? In the near future, the old structure will be surrounded on two sides by the new Main Library. Scheduled to open in December 2004, the library will take up most of the block. The top of the old Rhodes Furniture building can be seen toward the upper right-hand corner. The structure was imploded in 2002 to make way for the new Main Library.

Telegrams

DOTS & DASHES — A quick explanation for those who may not know: A telegram is a message transmitted over a wire by using a system of clicks, which sound like dots & dashes. A telegrapher reads a message that is to be sent, and he then translates it into the system of clicks. He taps these clicks on his sending device. The message travels electronically over a wire to another place, where a telegrapher translates the sounds back into English.

During the early 1900s, Jacksonville was served by two telegraph companies, according to First Coast native, Jack McGiffin, in the fascinating book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, and It Never Was. Mr. McGiffin’s family operated a freight company, and its main office contained a communications box from Western Union and another from the Postal telegraph company. If you had an outgoing telegram message, turning a knob on these boxes summoned a uniformed boy to pick it up. The same messenger also delivered incoming communications. Mr. McGiffin believed that this proved a fast procedure for its time. Given just an hour or two, you could move a message from a person’s typewriter to a recipient in another city.

The cost of a telegram depended on its destination, as well as on its number of words. As with personal ads in newspapers, brevity with telegrams saved money. Extra charges accrued for every word over ten.

Some people may fondly remember telegrams due to nostalgic reasons, but the old system usually can’t beat email, faxes, or the phone for convenience.

~written by Glenn Emery

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