144 years after Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in Washington, the world’s final telegram will be sent in India on July 14, 2013.
Telegraph services ended in the United States seven years ago, but in India, the century-and-a-half old communication medium is still widely used to send messages. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India’s state-owned telecom company, recently printed a message reads, “GRANDMOTHER SERIOUS. 15 DAYS LEAVE EXTENSION,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.
'We were incurring losses of over $23 million a year because SMS and smartphones have rendered it redundant.'
- Shamim Akhtar, general manager of BSNL's telegraph services
Approximately 5,000 messages are sent every day by telegram in India, a service favored for its “sense of urgency and authenticity,” a BSNL official told the Monitor.
Once the world’s fastest form of communication, telegrams can no longer compete with text messaging and smartphones, however.
"We were incurring losses of over $23 million a year because SMS and smartphones have rendered this service redundant," said Shamim Akhtar, general manager of BSNL's telegraph services. The agency did not say what the contents of the final message would be.
The telegram industry was not always so bleak; at its peak in 1985, 60 million telegrams were exchanged across 45,000 offices. Today, only 75 offices exist, employing 998 people, down from 12,500 telegram employees in better years.
The telegram has also played a large cultural role in India, where they were first introduced by British doctor William O'Shaughnessy in 1850.
Referred to as “taar” or wire, telegrams are used as plot twists in many Bollywood films, often bringing news of a death in the family.
Telegrams were also key in aiding the British to defeat a revolt in 1857 and were used by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to inform England of Pakistan’s invasion of Kashmir.
The Indian government is the primary user of telegrams, making up 65 percent of the market. However, the remaining 35 percent of users are the general public who sometimes use the service to send secret messages between eloping couples trying to escape their parents disapproval of their union.
One man was so upset over the telegrams' expiration date that he threatened a Gandhian fast. "I am a regular user of the telegram and it is an important tool for activists," he explained.
Despite this man's protests, the final telegram will be sent somewhere in India this summer.