Revisiting a Bygone Era

AT&T’s demise evokes thoughts of a more civilized age of communication. “AT&T,” after all, stands for the once awe-inspiring American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

Ah, telegrams, on which were pasted the big news: births, deaths, marriages, promotions – demands for cash, arrivals in strange cities. Many wedding receptions featured a leering best man reading congratulatory wires to inebriated guests.

Family scrapbooks bulged with telegrams, with their stripped-down but weirdly romantic telegraphese (saving money; you paid by the word): “ARRIVE ST. PAUL 5 PM STOP STILL HATE YOU STOP” “ONLY SLIGHTLY WOUNDED STOP HOPE RETURN TO STATES SOON STOP” Brevity was the soul of their wit. Consider Robert Benchley’s cable from Venice: “STREETS FULL OF WATER STOP PLEASE ADVISE STOP”

Sometimes with exotic addresses and logos (“Raffles Hotel, Singapore”), telegrams gave you all you needed to know – and sometimes a bit of poetry, too.

Robert Whitcomb is The Providence Journal’s editorial-page editor.