Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Hey, Western Union Man"

Back in the year 1967, soul singer Jerry Butler did one of my favorite songs, "Hey, Western Union Man." The opening lyrics went like this:
Oh western union man
Send a telegram to my baby
Send a telegram, send a telegram
Who, send a telegram to my baby
This is what I want you to do
I want you to tell her that I'm all alone
I tried to call her on the phone
Tell her I'm in misery
And think she's avoiding me
And if the telegram don't do
Send a box of candy too
And maybe some flowers
Tell her that I missed her for hours and hours
Send a telegram, send a telegram
Send a telegram man

Well, unfortunately, you can't send a telegram anymore:
For more than 150 years, messages of joy, sorrow and success came in signature yellow envelopes hand delivered by a courier. Now the Western Union telegram is officially a thing of the past.

The company formed in April 1856 to exploit the hot technology of the telegraph to send cross-country messages in less than a day. It is now focusing its attention on money transfers and other financial services, and delivered its final telegram on Friday.

"The decision was a hard decision because we're fully aware of our heritage," Victor Chayet, a spokesman for the Greenwood Village-based company, said Wednesday. "But it's the final transition from a communications company to a financial services company."

...By last year, only 20,000 telegrams were sent at about $10 a message, mostly from companies using the service for formal notifications, Chayet said.

Last week, the last 10 telegrams included birthday wishes, condolences on the death of a loved one, notification of an emergency, and several people trying to be the last to send a telegram.

"Recent generations didn't receive telegrams and didn't know you could send them," Chayet said.

Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, sent the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore on May 26, 1844, to his partner Alfred Vail to usher in the telegram era that displaced the Pony Express. It read "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?"

"If he only knew," Chayet said of the myriad of choices today, which includes text message on cell phones, the Internet and virtually free long-distance calling rates.

"It definitely was an anachronism," Noel said. "It's amazing it survived this long."

It may be progress, but somehow, I'm a little sad.

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