Seagull, New York? Is that on Long Island?
September 17, 2010 12:18 AM   Subscribe

TELEPHONE: (212) 354-5500 TOLL FREE FAX: 1-800-458-6515 TELEX: 220014 CABLES: "Seagull" New York . . . What?

I recently ordered a book straight from the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company. The invoice has the usual contact information -- telephone numbers, fax number, address. It also has their SAN number and their Telex number (which seems to be still used by some publishers, at least in 2006).

But I've never seen a company include their contact information for telegrams, nor have I ever even heard of that sort of callsign ("Seagull") before. I assumed one would use simply the name of the company or their address. So I have a few questions:

-Was this common practice? Did most companies have this sort of callsign?
-If so, was there a central registry, or was the maintenance of callsigns dependent on region? (I'm assuming it's the latter, otherwise they could have simply listed "Seagull" instead of "'Seagull' New York")
-About Telexes: Is the system still used in 2010? What would be the advantages over using fax?

And, of course, I'd love any links to resources about this -- it's maddeningly difficult to search for. (The telegram stuff, that is. "Telex" is pretty unambiguous.)
posted by clorox to Technology (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Having a good alias on on Telex was sort of the steam-era equivalent of having a good generic or easy to remember URL in the Internet era.

I.E. The (hypothetical) law firm "Mugabe, Lynch, Perrier, Fancypants & Smithereens, Inc" Might have grabbed "LAWYERS, NY" as an alias. Note that that would leave "Lawyers, PHILA" and "LAWYERS, DC" available. Telex offices had guides (Actually, phone books of Telex numbers) that listed registered aliases for companies and individuals.

Individuals of note might have aliases registered so that when they traveled, telegrams and TWX's might find them wherever they were, by the simple expedient of having their "Home office" forward the messages.

I am pretty sure Telex is dead now, although when I worked for Teletype corporation in 1981, I did occasionally visit the Telex offices in Miami for service.
posted by pjern at 12:48 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


W.W. Norton & Co. published "The Seagull Readers" (example) so maybe that's why they had the cable address of "Seagull."
posted by amyms at 12:52 AM on September 17, 2010


A cable address was a form of the company's name (less than 10 letters long) that was used for sending cablegrams. The cable address (i.e. SEAGULLS New York) had to be registered annually with the Central Bureau of Registered Addresses. Western Union charged the sender by the character in cablegrams and telegrams, so it was cheaper to send a cable simply to SEAGULLS New York than to "W.W. Norton 123 Avenue of the Americas New York NY."

Western Union ceased their domestic telex service sometime in 1991. For a while after that they offered a sort of email service called EasyLink. The only benefit of Telex over a fax machine was that, at one time, it was cheaper than an overseas phone call. However, Telex was text-only (no pictures) and that text was restricted to all capital letters and very few symbols, as a lot of characters triggered an action with WU's main computer (for example, using five periods in a row was the automatic disconnect signal).
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:00 AM on September 17, 2010


Telex also allowed two-way conversations. When I was working in the London newsroom of a major US TV network in the 1980s, phone-calls to our Moscow bureau had to be booked several hours in advance, and the quality was lousy and the calls were likely to drop out unexpectedly. We used telex as a sort of "written phone-call", because you could get a connection immediately (if anyone was in the bureau at the time). The transmission was instantaneous, and the two "voices" were printed in contrasting colours (red and black). The Moscow correspondent was an aggressive sombitch who would bitch about anything and everything. When he became too obstreperous, I would tear off the paper and pin it up on the board next to the telex for co-workers to read. When he found out about that, he went ballistic. (Probably within his rights - I guess it was a little like circulating a surreptitious recording made of a phone-call without letting the caller know you were recording. Except that when using a telex you know it's going down on paper.) And he once held what must have been a world record for pressing the key for the "attention please" bell - ten lines of uninterrupted "bell" symbols - it sounded like a fire alarm.

Wikipedia states that "[t]elex was superseded by fax in the 1980s", but my experience was that the ability to hold a two-way conversation by telex kept it alive into the 1990s, until phone links were more reliable.
posted by aqsakal at 1:36 AM on September 17, 2010 [39 favorites]


W.W. Norton & Co. published "The Seagull Readers" (example) so maybe that's why they had the cable address of "Seagull."

Or more likely it's because their logo is a seagull (hence a collection they publish being called The Seagull Reader).
posted by Ortho at 1:51 AM on September 17, 2010


Or more likely it's because their logo is a seagull (hence a collection they publish being called The Seagull Reader).

Ahh, there you go. I didn't even notice the logo; I was so focused on doing text-based searches for a connection between Norton and Seagull.
posted by amyms at 3:16 AM on September 17, 2010


I'm inescapably reminded of the example "Have gun, will travel. Wire 'Paladin,' San Francisco."
posted by tyllwin at 6:01 AM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Telex is not dead. It is still used in the shipping industry.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:50 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Carolina Biological Supply was SQUID.
posted by djb at 9:18 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to work at Norton—what's the book and when was it published? I can ask someone there and find out specifically why they included that information. (It's an employee owned company, so there are folks who've been there for decades, and, hence, copious institutional memory.)

And yes, the Norton logo is a seagull, which is referenced all over the place. (Seagulls frequently appear on the cover of the catalog, there's a wooden seagull—with wings you can flap!—in the main library, and so forth.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:40 PM on September 17, 2010


Oh, wait, it's on the invoice, not the book itself (well, that makes a heck of a lot more sense). Yeah, that information's there because it's still used by the warehouse with customers.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:43 PM on September 17, 2010


Thank you everyone! Now I just have to get my hands on a directory from the Central Bureau of Registered Addresses...

Any other interesting cable addresses? The examples so far are great!
posted by clorox at 6:37 PM on September 18, 2010


Wikipedia states that "[t]elex was superseded by fax in the 1980s", but my experience was that the ability to hold a two-way conversation by telex kept it alive into the 1990s, until phone links were more reliable.

Definitely in use into the 1990s. It was still popular in the Middle East then - the clients of a company I used to work for in 1995-1996 placed their orders by telex then (one client in Iran always started with 'IN THE NAME OF GOD...' ).

It was also still used for some foreign exchange transactions into the 2000s - a London bank I worked for had a telex machine as late as 2005.
posted by plep at 1:03 AM on September 29, 2010


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