“What hath God wrought?” telegraphed Samuel Morse in 1844 from the Capitol in Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, opening a new era of communications in the United States.
Morse first developed and patented his system in 1837, independent of and slightly after two British inventors created a system based on needles pointing to letters. However, Morse’s system used a code he developed with his assistant, Alfred Vail, and that language of dots and dashes dominated speedy communications around the world for nearly a century.
Later improvements in technology eliminated the need for operators who knew how to tap out and decipher code, replacing them with typewriter keyboards and teleprinters.
In movies, messengers carrying telegrams often signal bad news, but telegrams played many other roles in everyday life. Their appeal was in their speed, transmitting information over long distances far faster than a letter and more reliably (and cheaply) than early telephone services.
Businesses sent crucial updates, families announced births and weddings, and journalists relayed important stories to their newspapers. The one common element was a sense of urgency, of news that could not wait to travel by ship, train or postal van.
When I discovered a Western Union telegram in my parents’ papers, I wondered what important news it contained. Well…see for yoursef.
Of course, the advent of the Internet and email, not to mention fax machines, obviated the need for telegrams to conduct business or impart breaking news. However, to mark formal events like births and weddings — or as a retro means of communications — telegrams are still sent in several countries, including Belgium, Canada, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
In 1999, officials sent a telegram from the World War II era liberty ship, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, to President Clinton as the last commercial ship-to-shore US telegraph message by Globe Wireless. Its final leg of transmission to the White House was by email.
What did the message say? The same words Morse sent more than a century and a half earlier: “What hath God wrought?”
.– …. .- – / …. .- – …. / –. — -.. / .– .-. — ..- –. …. – ..–..
If you would like to translate your own message into Morse code, try this handy website.
I gave her critter cards for her birthday to take with her to college. ONE (coincidentally, a fox) has made its way back to me so far…
Still, I had years of receiving letters in our pre-email era. In today’s electronically-linked world, this may be her only chance of mail on a regular basis.
This deliciously nostalgic scene is of our family Christmas tree when I was two years old. Did you spot the worm in the apple toy? I bet that was for me! And look at all the cards crowding the mantel piece.
My crackling yule log will be on a computer screen, and the cards lined up on the bookcase are not jockeying for space, but our tree is decorated, and the lights twinkle merrily.
From Christmas past to Christmas present — and Christmas presents — may all your holiday memories be bright.
We met in the San Francisco airport when I borrowed a pen from her to fill out some paperwork. Both of us were bound for teaching jobs in Australia, and Caroline and I ended up sharing a flat together in a suburb of Melbourne. We’ve been friends ever since.
If you celebrate Christmas, may you enjoy a warm and merry one wherever you are.
Hip suburbanites put up shining aluminum trees in the 50s and hung astronaut-shaped ornaments on them in the 60s, so why not a card of festive drones delivering gifts in 2014?
Robotic drones appear frequently in headlines today, from citizen groups expressing outrage over their use to the need for laws governing their flights over our cities. I spotted this holiday card in my work break room along with a box of Belgian chocolates from USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies — a slew of candy-cane striped drones bearing gifts for the inhabitants of planet Earth.
Whatever regulations may be needed for the drones of the future, I’ll welcome any method that delivers chocolate to me!
We’ve all seen them, maybe even sent them — the awkward holiday portrait greeting cards. That’s why I love the antlered duo on this card sent by Mike and Irena. I think it perfectly captures the “You’ve got to be kidding” feelings of the headdress-wearing cat and dog.
Of course, I’m guilty of taking a few awkward pet portraits myself.
Like this one of cats Mickey and Piwacket with a festive garland. I had to snap the shutter fast before Pi started eating the tinsel strands.
Or this one of Mickey in a baby bonnet. I can offer no excuse…
My mom sent the Christmas cards from herself and my dad, just as she usually wrote the letters and postcards over the years. Normally she chose something traditional, a Currier and Ives styled winter scene or perhaps a religious theme.
That’s why I was both surprised and delighted to receive this silly card from her in 2009. She wrote, “Just thought you would get a kick out of this.”
I did, and I still do.
Study those deer for a moment. I think the eye patch might be my favorite touch. And doesn’t the front left reindeer have a red nose — Rudolph with his hoof in a sling?
A silly card in years past stood out among the depictions of decorated trees, smiling Santas and snow-swathed English villages. Now, a hand-addressed envelope arriving in the mailbox is distinction enough.
But I’m glad Mom chose to make me laugh when she sent this scene from extreme reindeer games because it reminds me how much she enjoyed a good chuckle. Here’s Mom opening her presents on Christmas morning in 2009, the same year she sent me the card.
Christmas in Connecticut, a 1945 comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck, is one of my favorite holiday films. And since the action is precipitated by a letter, it’s the perfect choice for the last Film Friday before Christmas.
Made in 1945 during World War II, the movie opens with two sailors stranded on a raft after their ship is torpedoed. One sailor, played by Dennis Morgan, dreams of all the delicious meals he’d like to be eating.
After he’s rescued, his nurse writes a letter to a publisher, explaining that the sailor has no family. She requests that the magazine’s famous cooking columnist, Elizabeth Lane, invite him to spend Christmas on her farm with her and her husband and child.
There’s only one problem with this plan: Elizabeth, played by Stanwyk, has neither farm nor husband nor baby, and she won’t have a job either if her publisher finds out that she and the editor have made up her entire lifestyle. Elizabeth doesn’t even know how to cook!
The ensuing romp includes baby mix-ups, sleigh rides, walking a cow and flipping pancakes to the ceiling. It’s frothy, old-fashioned Hollywood fun. And where else will you hear the line, “He’s sending me a sailor for Christmas”?
Film Friday: Do you give Christmas in Connecticut your stamp of approval?
Visit Film Friday’s Pinterest pinboard, Lights, Letters, Action!
In a snowy landscape we have Santa AND Mrs. Claus flying overhead behind six reindeer, dropping decorations like wreaths and candy canes from the sky. Meanwhile multiple Santas are leaping from one of Japan’s famed shinkansen, or bullet trains, but I’m not sure why. Maybe to pick up the falling decorations? In the background, Mt. Fuji rises in winter splendor. I love this card!
Gumnut (or bush) babies decorate a card from Audree, who lives in Melbourne. Children’s author May Gibbs wrote a series of stories — well known Down Under — about fairies called gumnuts that live in spicy-scented gum (eucalyptus) trees.
And finally, we come to France where “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” And of course the smallest one was Madeline. This Madeline card didn’t actually come from France, but it was sent by my former high school French teacher. I think that counts.