Granted, Nellie Bly’s telegrams were not moving at tweet speed. Still, transmission was vastly improved from the time of the first message sent by Queen Victoria herself in 1858 to U.S. President James Buchanan. That one was only 100 words long, but it took nearly seventeen hours to transmit.
The development of efficient transatlantic cable networks and the electric telegraph allowed Nellie Bly to send short progress reports from the road. On a Sunday evening, November 24, 1889 for example, she sent a brief telegram to her editors at the New York World. She was roaring through Rimini, Italy on the Adriatic Coast, on her way to Brindisi. Her telegram said that she was in good health, although her journey was “tedious and tiresome.”
According to Brooke Kroeger, author of Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist Bly’s editors printed this “news” on November 26, 1889.
Nellie Bly had to send her longer stories via regular post. Her letters were at the mercy of storms and many other challenges that frequently delayed them up to several weeks.
Kroeger says It was not until December 8, 1889 that Nellie Bly’s editors finally received the full story she had written from the Augusta Victoria. She had filed it on November 20, 1889, a full twelve days earlier.
The World’s London correspondent had already scooped his New York office. By the time they filed news from the first leg of her trip, he had filed detailed stories about Nellie Bly’s trip in Paris and London.
Who in the world would send a telegram in this age of texts and tweets? According to International Telegram, the answer is astounding. An estimated 17 million telegrams were sent in 2014. It seems that people still love the urgent, hand delivered messages that arrive quickly and with absolute proof of delivery that’s kept for decades.
In an article printed in The Christian Science Monitor in July 2013 mistakenly concluded that when India’s state run telegram service closed, telegrams died everywhere. Apparently, the reports of the telegram’s death had been greatly exaggerated.
1844: Samuel Morse sent what is considered the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore. It said, “What hath God wrought?”
1897: When author Mark Twain heard that his obituary had been published, he sent a telegram from London: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.
1903: The Wright brothers first successful flight was announced by telegram from North Carolina. “Successful four flights Thursday morning.”
1912: Stories of Titanic survivors being charged $1 per word from their lifeboats are legion. One man supposedly had only $1.25, so he sent the word “Safe” to his mother.
You can read the account of Titanic survivor Elizabeth Dowdell in the Hudson Observer, April 20, 1912.
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