Hit & Run

A tradition of a century and a half comes to a stop STOP

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Yet another thing I never got to do in my life: send a telegram. Western Union, now booming as a financial services company, has left the telegraph business. Here's the company's own farewell to its original core competency.

What's surprising is that that such an obsolete medium survived for so long. Company spokesman Victor Chayet tells AP that Western Union still managed to move 20,000 telegrams in 2005, despite a cost of about $10 a message and a delivery structure in which your telegram was actually delivered by Airborne rather than by a spiffy Western Union courier. Most of that traffic came from companies using the service for formal notifications.

Last week, the last 10 telegrams included birthday wishes, condolences on the death of a loved one, notification of an emergency, and several people trying to be the last to send a telegram.

"Recent generations didn't receive telegrams and didn't know you could send them," Chayet said.

I sure didn't. So now there's only one question remaining: Was it Sam Goldwyn or Jack Warner who said to call Western Union if you want to deliver a message?