What do all the Western Union telegram signs mean?
March 1, 2015 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Every time I've seen pictures of old Western Union telegrams, there are usually 4-6 Signs in the upper right hand corner, like DL=day letter and NL=night letter. Those I know (a night letter was cheaper than a day letter), but I'm wondering about the rest? Like how is "night letter" different from "night message", what were the different costs, etc.?

For example, the usual six signs I see are:

DL=day letter
NM=night message
NL=night letter
LC/LCO=deferred cable
NLT=cable night letter
WLT=weekend letter

I guess I'm just wondering what's the difference between all these and their relative costs (if anyone knows). For example, NM v NL v NLT?

My suspicions are that the order is in decreasing cost. A day letter is most expensive, while a weekend letter is cheapest (I can see saying I'd like to send a telegram, but it can wait until a slow time on the weekend or the like.)
posted by Fortran to Technology (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This booklet may be of interest: How to Write Telegrams Properly, from 1928. That first section of the telegram you are referring to/upper corner is apparently called the check. See: Description of a telegram, Extra words in the "check" and their meaning, and How to distinguish between various services. Lots of stuff at the main site where that booklet is hosted.
posted by gudrun at 10:38 AM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Only after the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) acquired control of Western Union in 1909 did its management embrace Lefferts's fifty-year-old idea of popularizing telegraphy by setting up tiered classes of service. The company had started a night-message service at two-thirds full-day rates in 1867, but for reasons that are unclear, it deliberately discouraged this class of business after 1882 by keeping night rates steady while continually reducing day rates. Only in 1910, with a more progressive management installed by AT&T, did Western Union inaugurate a Night Letter service, charging the same rate for a fifty-word telegram sent at night as it did for a regular ten-word telegram sent during business hours.
— David Hochfelder, The Telegraph in America: 1832–1920 (John Hopkins UP, 2012), p.33. Google books
The first suggestion was for a Deferred Telegram which would be at half full rates. It took almost ten years to get the agreement of the various cable companies and the members of the International Telegraph Union, but during 1911-12 the service was gradually introduced.
— Bill Glover, Cable Services, in the History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications website
BIG CUT IN RATES ON DEFERRED CABLES; Western Union Sends Night Letters at 7 1/2 Cents a Word; Week-End Letters at 5.
— a headline in the NY Times, 1911 Dec 6. Full article for subscribers.
Just a few examples of the results of google searches like {western union telegram deferred cable}.
posted by stebulus at 10:43 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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