Victorian telegrams: the early development of the telegraphic despatch and its interplay with the letter post

The paper examines the early development of the Victorian inland telegraph, and more precisely the telegraphic despatches, or telegrams, as they became widely known. The first telegram service in Britain was launched by the Electric Telegraph Company two decades before nationalization of the telegraphs in 1870. It is argued that this service was not as innovative as the electric telegraph technology that underpinned it. Attention is drawn to the parallels between the telegram and mail services. To this end, the evolution of postal communication is first explored, with a focus on the nineteenth century, when innovations such as mail-trains and prepayment by stamp considerably accelerated the mail and increased the volume of letters from 67 million in 1839 to a staggering 741 million in 1865. It was in this context that the telegram service was introduced to the public. The operating model adopted by the Electric Telegraph Company to deliver this service is deconstructed to show the similarities with the mail service and to demonstrate that a telegram was not always faster than letter post.

Download paper at:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *