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