At the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India‘s state-owned telecom company, a message emerges from a dot matrix printer addressing a soldier’s Army unit in Delhi. “GRANDMOTHER SERIOUS. 15 DAYS LEAVE EXTENSION,” it reads. It’s one of about 5,000 such missives still being sent every day by telegram – a format favored for its “sense of urgency and authenticity,” explains a BSNL official.
But the days of such communication are numbered: The world’s last telegram message will be sent somewhere in India on July 14.
That missive will come 144 years after Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in Washington, and seven years after Western Union shuttered its services in the United States. In India, telegraph services were introduced by William O’Shaughnessy, a British doctor and inventor who used a different code for the first time in 1850 to send a message.
The BSNL board, after dilly-dallying for two years, decided to shut down the service as it was no longer commercially viable.
“We were incurring losses of over $23 million a year because SMS and smartphones have rendered this service redundant,” Shamim Akhtar, general manager of BSNL’s telegraph services, told the Monitor.
And for a little bit of history:
At their peak in 1985, 60 million telegrams were being sent and received a year in India from 45,000 offices. Today, only 75 offices exist, though they are located in each of India’s 671 districts through franchises. And an industry that once employed 12,500 people, today has only 998 workers.
By the way:
Sixty-five percent of daily telegrams are sent by the government.