1945 Western Union telegram found in Woodhaven, N.Y., estate cleanout
In an estate cleanout in Woodhaven, NY, I found an original telegram from 1945 that was addressed to a woman named Mary Cole.
As you can see in the photograph, the telegram was sent to NY Orthopedic Hospital at 59th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan but sent from Woodhaven. It says: “I DID NOT FORGET AM COMING TOMORROW= JACK.”
What fascinates me about this item is that it’s really the equivalent of reading someone’s email, or even a text message, today. It’s short, to the point, and I could easily picture it written in SMS form on the iPhone 4.
This particular telegram was produced by Western Union, which is a communications company that was founded in 1851 and is still around today. Now, the company specializes in money orders and wire transfers, but back in the 20th century, Western Union had become the biggest telecommunications company in the United States. It had bought out 500 smaller competitors and eventually acquired Postal Telegraph, its biggest rival, in 1943. Telegrams were often used in World War II as a means for the military to communicate to soldiers’ families that they were either missing or had been killed.
In 2006, Western Union posted this message on its Web site: “Effective 2006-01-27, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative.” And that was the end of that. For Western Union, at least.
Telegrams are still around today, but they’re obviously not used as much as other means of communication. For now, I’m going to stick to my cell phone.