Are Telegraphs Still in Use?

Key Takeaways:

  • Telegraphs are still used today, but their usage has declined substantially since the advent of newer technologies like email and text messaging.
  • According to Atlas Obscura, about 20 million telegrams are still delivered every year worldwide. However, this pales in comparison to the billions of digital messages sent daily.
  • A few companies like International Telegram Company still offer telegram services by operating legacy telegraph networks inherited from Western Union.
  • Some countries like Italy, Japan, and Switzerland have kept telegram services active but many others have discontinued them.
  • The United States still offers a telegram service, but it is primarily used for sending public opinion messages to elected officials rather than for personal communication.

Introduction

The telegraph, the first form of electronic communication, revolutionized long distance messaging when it was invented in the 1830s and 1840s. For over a century, the telegraph remained the fastest means of communication, enabling people to send urgent messages quickly across great distances. Families relied on telegrams to announce births, deaths, and other major life events. Businesses used them to conduct trade and commerce rapidly.

However, with the advent of new technologies like the telephone, fax machine, email and text messaging, the prominence of the telegraph faded over time. Today, while telegraphy is considered obsolete, some telegraph services still operate on a limited scale around the world. This article will comprehensively evaluate whether telegraphs remain in use today and to what extent. It will analyze the current providers of telegram services globally, the purposes telegrams are used for in modern times, and why telegraphy endures despite advanced new forms of digital communication.

The information presented will highlight the ongoing, albeit niche, role of the telegraph more than 170 years after its invention. The content will interest history and technology enthusiasts curious about the status of telegraphy in the 21st century. Readers will discover that while vastly diminished, the telegram lives on and still possesses some unique capabilities that continue to make it relevant for certain applications.

Are Any Telegram Services Still Active Today?

Although telegram usage has declined drastically, telegraph services still function in some parts of the world. According to an article published by Atlas Obscura in 2016, around 20 million telegrams are delivered annually worldwide as of the early 21st century. However, this volume is relatively minuscule compared to the over 100 trillion digital messages estimated to be sent each year when considering email, text messages, WhatsApp exchanges and other digital communication.

Which Companies Still Offer Telegram Services?

Very few companies still provide active telegram services in modern times. One notable example is a company called International Telegram, based in Toronto, Canada. After Western Union discontinued its telegram service in 2006 due to lack of commercial viability, International Telegram inherited and still operates its former telex and cablegram network. The company transmits telegrams domestically and internationally via its teleprinter telex network.

In Which Countries Are Telegrams Still Used?

Certain countries still have telegram services administered by state-owned postal systems or private companies. Examples include:

  • Italy: Telegrams can be sent within the country or internationally via the “Postal and Telegraph Service.” Around 300,000 telegrams are exchanged annually.
  • Switzerland: Swiss Post still offers a telegram service called Urgent. Messages are delivered on paper and cost 20 Swiss Francs domestically.
  • Japan: Telegrams can be sent through Nippon Telegraph and Telephone services in Japan, mainly used for special occasions like funerals, weddings or condolence messages. Prices range from 3,000 to 6,000 Yen.
  • India: The state-run telecom company BSNL still provides telegram services in India, though the volume has dropped substantially from over 60 million telegrams annually in the 1980s to about 5,000 in 2017 before being discontinued in July 2022.

Many other countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and Canada have discontinued their telegram services as faster and more affordable digital options have rendered the telegraph obsolete for personal and commercial communication.

What Are the Main Uses of Telegrams Today?

In today’s digital age, telegrams are not relied upon for day-to-day communication by the general public. But they still offer capabilities that make them useful for certain applications:

Sending Legally Valid Notifications

One of the primary modern uses of telegrams is providing proof of communication for legal or official purposes. For instance, telegrams can be used to provide valid notice of cancellation or termination of contracts and services. Their receipt can be verified unlike digital communication.

Formal Invitations

The ceremonial nature of telegrams makes them well-suited for special occasions. Individuals or companies may use telegrams for formal invitations to events like weddings, anniversaries or lavish parties.

Emergency Communication

In some remote regions lacking digital infrastructure, telegrams can enable urgent long-distance communication during emergencies when other means like phones or internet are unavailable.

Nostalgic Messages

Telegrams are still used to send sentimental or nostalgic greetings on occasions like birthdays, graduations or retirements as decorative memorabilia.

Public Opinion Messages

Some government telegram services allow citizens to send their opinions or concerns on public policy issues to elected officials.

Why Do Telegrams Endure Despite Newer Technologies?

The continued niche usage of telegrams raises the question – why does this outdated mode of communication still persist despite advanced new options? There are a few key reasons:

Nostalgia and Novelty

For some people, the antique nature of telegrams makes them more meaningful, intimate or memorable than digital messages. The novelty retains their appeal for personal greetings.

Legal Reliability

The permanent physical record of a telegram provides credible legal evidence of sending an important notice, verified by documented transmission receipts. Emails and texts lack this.

Operational Resilience

Telegraph networks function through simple electrical signals in telegraph wires. This makes them resilient in cases of power failure, internet outages or other disruptions that can affect digital communications.

Accessibility Limitations

In locations where illiteracy or lack of digital access is still common, telegrams may bridge an important communication gap through standardized templates.

Cultural Significance

In countries like India or Japan, telegrams have strong cultural affiliations with ceremony or tradition around occasions like deaths, weddings, etc. This sustains their ongoing use for sending condolences or congratulations.

While technologically antiquated, telegraphs offer distinct advantages that continue to make them beneficial for certain applications, despite a generally obsolete status.

Which Communication Methods Have Displaced Telegraphs?

Beginning in the late 19th century, a series of newer communication technologies emerged and eventually supplanted telegraphy as the dominant modes of long-distance messaging:

Telephone

The invention of the telephone in 1876 revolutionized verbal communication and started replacing telegraphs for personal and business use by the early 20th century.

Radio and Television

The transmission of audio and video signals through radio waves, pioneered in the 1890s, could deliver news and entertainment wirelessly over long distances in real-time, unlike the basic text capability of telegraphs.

Telex Machine

The telex machine, developed in the 1920s, enabled typed messages to be sent directly to other telex terminals over the telegraph network, improving speed and convenience.

Fax Machine

The facsimile machine, or fax, became a popular office device in the 1970s and 1980s for sending printed documents over telephone lines.

Internet and Email

Email, enabled by the internet starting in the 1960s and made broadly accessible by the 1990s, allowed instant text, image and file sharing worldwide at very low cost.

Mobile Text Messaging

The explosion of mobile phones in the 1990s made text messaging ( Short Message Service or SMS) a cheap, real-time alternative to telegrams.

While the telegraph pioneered electrically-transmitted text communications, it suffered shortcomings of speed, convenience and cost. Later technologies greatly improved upon telegraphy – culminating in the digital connectivity of the internet era. This progression made telegrams obsolete for the average user.

Will Telegrams Continue to Exist in the Future?

Telegrams have already entered the realm of niche vintage technology kept alive by a small but dedicated base of traditional users and hobbyists. Ongoing trends suggest telegrams will likely continue fading further as newer generations opt for purely digital communication channels.

However, telegrams may retain some limited utility for specific legal, ceremonial or nostalgic purposes. Telegraphy companies still in operation may also preserve their networks for posterity and history. While its heyday has long passed, the telegram’s future seems likely to persist as a largely ceremonial relic kept functioning in limited form by those with a passion for preserving historic technology.

Key Considerations When Sending Modern Telegrams

For those interested in experiencing telegraphy, a few useful considerations when sending telegrams today include:

  • Availability: Confirm telegraph services still operate in your location or the recipient’s location. In the U.S., only postal telegrams exist currently.
  • Cost: Prices vary by provider and location. International telegrams tend to cost more than domestic. Expect to pay $12 and up for standard messages.
  • Message Style: Stick to no more than 15 words due to charged-by-the-word pricing. Use clear, concise language. Avoid slang and abbreviations.
  • Processing Time: Telegrams are not instant. Domestic delivery takes 1-3 days on average. International delivery may take over 5 days.
  • Legibility: Typed telegrams are recommended for legibility over handwritten ones.
  • Templates: Many providers offer pre-formatted telegram templates for occasions like birthdays, funerals, etc.

By understanding availability, pricing, delivery timing and message style considerations, those interested can craft and send a proper modern telegram.

Conclusion

While they have been rendered archaic by advanced digital messaging, telegrams still hold a limited but meaningful role in modern society over 170 years after the first telegraph line opened. They offer a sense of nostalgia, formal dignity, legal verification and operational resilience that remain valued by some individuals and institutions. Approximately 20 million telegrams are still delivered annually – a small fraction compared to trillion-scale digital traffic, yet a testament to the persistent appeal of this vintage technology. For those seeking to convey congratulations, condolences, invitations or legal notices with a sense of history and tradition, the telegram remains a special option


Meghan

The Editorial Team at AnswerCatch.com brings you insightful and accurate content on a wide range of topics. Our diverse team of talented writers is passionate about providing you with the best possible reading experience.