The Origin of 73 . . .

Western Union Telegraphers were asked to abbreviate their messages. Customers would write regular messages using their normal “prose”, and because the telegraph lines (at first) could only be used one message at a time, speed was important. Also – while customers were charged by the word, Western Union’s profit soared when telegraphers could shorten the messages by 50% using abbreviations – many that we still use in Ham Radio today. Some do sound “old fashioned”, i.e. “Fine Business – FB”.

73 is a palindrome Morse Code wise. It meant back in the 1800’s what it doesn’t today – Best Regards.

I’m finishing this book, but its a bit of a slog because its mostly about the politics and business issues that happened along the way. For most of the 1800’s, Telegrams were usually sent by business people – and the majority was for stock ticker and betting.

By the turn of the century, when there was a slump in business, Western Union opened up a much more reasonable over night service that the common person could use. It was also a PR push – common people usually only received a telegram if it was bad news – and Western Union wanted to open up its potential market.

Its a good read, but it very much reads like my “History of the American Labor Movement” class I took in college. You plow to get through – but it offers insight you wouldn’t get otherwise.

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