Can You Still Send A Telegram, Old-fashioned telegrams, like the ones being composed here in a photograph from the early 1950s, are not dead after all. A Toronto-based company sends 20,000 telegram messages a year to customers worldwide. The technology has been revolutionized over the interceding decades, however.
Colin Stone is used to hearing his industry pronounced dead.
So he didn’t even bother getting upset when, late last week, a news report circulated saying India’s state-run telecom company would soon send the world’s last telegram.
Stone, the operations director at Toronto-based Telegrams Canada, could have fired off telegrams to anybody who would listen and inform them that his business was stable and profitable and still sending 20,000 messages a year to customers worldwide.
Instead, he sat back and enjoyed the attention.
Yes, the Christian Science Monitor report was a false alarm. While India’s state-run company will send its last message next month, Telegrams Canada and a handful of other companies will continue sending telegrams for the foreseeable future.
But at least the report got people thinking about telegrams again.
“There are people who want and need to send telegrams and continue sending them,” Stone said. “For the average person, it doesn’t even enter their mind . . . but because telegrams get rarer and rarer, when someone does send one it really stands out.”
Stone entered the telegram business 11 years ago precisely because so many established companies were discarding the technology as email and text messaging rendered short printed dispatches inconvenient for many users.
As a collector of antique telegraph machines, Stone grew intrigued when AT&T abandoned the telegram business, learned the CRTC requirements for setting up a telegram business, and in 2003 founded Telegrams Canada alongside his wife.
That first year they handled 3,000 messages.
Meanwhile, the telegram business at Western Union had bottomed out. From a peak of 200 million telegrams in 1929, the company sent just 20,000 in 2006, a figure low enough to push them out of the telegram business.
Stone pounced on the opportunity, expanding his business to the U.S. to scoop up Western Union’s telegram customers.
“We started the business as a hobby and it grew into a full-fledged company,” he said.
Stone’s company has four employees in Canada and an unspecified number in other companies, and he says the market for old-school telegrams is surprisingly stable.
He says 95 per cent of his company’s business comes from people in Europe who travel to a post office to send messages to people in Canada — usually congratulations or condolences.
Stone also says court services prefer to send summonses overseas via telegram because a telegram’s paper trail gives authorities an exact record of when messages are sent and received.
The remainder of his customers, Stone says, are Canadians sending telegrams to the U.S. Stone doesn’t see his core telegram customers switching to other media, since each person who sends a telegram has a specific reason for doing it.