India to send the world’s last telegram on July 14th

by on June 18, 2013 at 1:26 am in History, Web/Tech | Permalink

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.

The full story is here, and the pointer is from Michael Clemens.

Kevin June 18, 2013 at 1:48 am

And/but: markets in everything, telegrams version. http://www.itelegram.com/telegram/BSNL_Telegrams_India.asp

So Much For Subtlety June 18, 2013 at 2:13 am

It’s one of about 5,000 such missives still being sent every day by telegram … And an industry that once employed 12,500 people, today has only 998 workers.

So that is roughly five messages per worker per day? Not hugely efficient is it? I am not sure that a lack of commerical viability is the problem here.

“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

Still, to lose about $23,0000 per worker per year is impressive in a country as poor as India.

gwern June 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I wonder how much of that $23k is due to infrastructure spending? Buying new telegraph poles, custom wire and receivers, property tax, buildings… I could see that all costing vastly more than anything the workers are actually paid.

Stephen June 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Article says they use the internet to send the messages now anyway

Rahul June 18, 2013 at 2:21 am

In somewhat related news, Godrej&Boyce rolled out the last manual Typewriter a year ago.

Another end of an era in India. Drab clicketyclack government offices will never be the same again.

Sabah ilan Servisi June 18, 2013 at 2:23 am

There are also many kinds of ways to communicate with coconut.

bjk June 18, 2013 at 2:27 am

The 19th century is unevenly distributed, but mostly in India.

Steve Sailer June 18, 2013 at 2:31 am

Bertie Wooster and Jeeves are alive and well in India.

Rahul June 18, 2013 at 2:36 am

Dittto for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Archie, Enid Blyton & Mein Kampf.

shrikanthk June 18, 2013 at 11:24 pm

That Mein Kampf bit is odd. Never cease to be surprised by its popularity in India – which is such a temperamentally timid and stoic country.

shrikanthk June 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Wooster and Jeeves represent early 20th century Edwardian England.

But yes, immensely popular in Southern India, atleast upto some 10 years ago. Not sure about the scene now.

Jim June 18, 2013 at 2:53 am

It looks as though Telecomm Mexico still has a telegram service, of sorts.

http://www.telecomm.net.mx/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88&Itemid=2

Axa June 18, 2013 at 5:04 am

Same idea as the iTelegram for India. Google translate says: “Written message delivery, which is transmitted by satellite and computer network via telegraph offices. Operating modes: normal, urgent, acknowledgment telegrams and telegrams with paid reply. The telegram also has value judgments. The message takes the confidentiality of data (Secrecy).”

I guess this service is still necessary due to the 74% literacy rate in India and 86% for Mexico. If people can not write and read, the service got clients.

Ps. I wonder if Apple has already registered the iTelegram brand around the world.

BC June 18, 2013 at 4:17 am

“SMS and smartphones have rendered this service redundant….And an industry that once employed 12,500 people, today has only 998 workers.”

Clearly, the Indian government needs to do something to stop foreign engineers from taking all of these Indian jobs away.

dearieme June 18, 2013 at 5:10 am

Why does anyone care about who sent the first telegram in Washington? I’d rather know about the first telegrams in London, NYC, Paris or Rome.
(Dreadful thought: you don’t imagine that Morse invented the telegraph, do you?)

RPLong June 18, 2013 at 8:43 am

First the hand loom, now this!

Careless June 18, 2013 at 11:16 am

I guess I’m most astonished by the fact that there were still a thousand people employed in it.

Carlos Carmona June 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Totally true…. +1

Barkley Rosser June 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

So, supposedly Morse sent the first telegram in Washington 144 years ago, but Shaughnessy set up the first Indian telegraph system in 1850, a mere 163 years ago. Time machines involved? Actually, Morse sent the first electronic telegram in 1837, 176 years ago, although semaphore telegraph systems had existed in Europe since 1792.

Clay B July 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm

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