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A message from history; Telegrams were once the fastest means on the planet to send a message. MARION MCMULLEN looks at famous examples.


THE first telegram ever transmitted was a Bible quotation... What hath God wrought? The famous message was sent by American inventor Samuel Morse, who also developed the Morse code, and was delivered 175 years ago at a demonstration before members of Congress.

His telegraph could transmit 30 characters a minute and was at the cutting edge of technology. More than 50 telegraph companies had spread across America by 1851 and the military used the telegraph for the first time during the Crimean war.

Britain's royal family were also quick to take advantage of the new-mode of communication. The first press telegram in Britain was sent on August 6, 1844, to The Times announcing the birth of Queen Victoria's fourth child Prince Albert.

King George also sent a telegram to the Daily Mirror in 1904, congratulating the paper on reaching a million circulation record.

The new system also proved to have some unforseen advantages. Dr Hawley Crippen became the world's first murderer to be caught by telegram.

The infamous American was fleeing to Canada with his lover Ethel Le Neve after killing his second wife and hiding her remains in the cellar of their London home.

Ethel dressed as a boy as they fled across the Atlantic aboard the SS Montrose posing as a father and son called Mr and Master Robinson, but the sharp-eyed ship's captain Henry Kendall recognised him and alerted Scotland Yard by telegram.

It read: "Have strong suspicions that Crippen London. Cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Moustache taken off growing beard. Accomplice dressed as a boy."

Crippen was promptly arrested by Chief Inspector Walter Drew as soon as the Montrose arrived in Canada. Drew made a dramatic trans-Atlantic dash in a faster liner to arrest him.

Crippen was eventually found guilty and hanged in Pentonville Prison in London in 1910. He was 48 years old.

The final tragic telegram from the maiden voyage of the doomed Titanic liner read: "SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. We are sinking fast.

Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic."

It was the last communication from the "unsinkable" White Star liner after it hit an iceberg in 1912 travelling from Southampton to New York. The disaster led to the loss of more than 1,500 lives, including American millionaire John Astor, Titanic architect Thomas Andrews, Macy's shop co-owner Isidor Strauss and mining magnate Benjamin Guggenheim.

The delivery of a telegram also came to mean tragedy during the two world wars as it informed families that their loved one were dead or missing in action.

A telegram also led to America joining the First World War. The Zimmermann telegram was a coded message sent from Berlin to Mexico, urging the United States' neighbour become their ally. It caused an outrage when it was intercepted and decoded by American authorities.

But the message that arguably decided the course of the Second World War by spurring on America to get involved, was the telegram announcing the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, warning: "Air Raid on Pearl Harbor - This is not a drill."

Physicist Edward Teller sent a telegram to his colleagues in 1952 announcing: "It's a boy." Far from being a celebration of a new family member, the coded message heralded the first successful test of a terrifying new weapon. Teller had become the father of the hydrogen bomb. Queen Elizabeth's grandfather King George V sent out the first telegrams to mark a 100th birthday and a 60th wedding anniversary in 1917 and the tradition continued until 1982 when the Post Office replaced the royal telegrams with more modern telemessages.

American writer Mark Twain, author of classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, sent a telegram from London in 1897 to set the facts straight after he heard his obituary had been published. He simply said: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

American journalist Robert Benchley was an equally witty user of the technology. His message to his New York editor when he visited Venice fitted his literary persona as a bumbling fool. He wrote: "Streets full of water. Please advise."

Western Union delivered the last telegram in America in 2006, but the charm of the short message endures.

Hollywood star Cary Grant also reputedly sent the perfect reply when he received a telegram from a journalist asking "How old Cary Grant." He sent back the message: "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?" Author Mark Twain's telegram response after his obituary was published in London "It's a boy": The first H Bomb Below: The notorious murderer Dr Crippen tries to hide his face in his collar as he's walked into custody. A telegraph from the captain of a trans-Atlantic liner led to his arrest Above: The desperate final telegraph sent from the stricken Titanic. Left, an artist's impression of the sinking vessel

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated


Above, left to right: A telegram from Germany asking Mexico for an alliance and another heralding the attack on Pearl Harbour, pictured, helped spur America into WWII. Far right, Cary Grant used the telegraph for a more light-hearted message
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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