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A telegram is a communication sent over a telegraph. Typically, a telegraph operator receives the communication, and then writes it out for the recipient. Telegrams can also be transmitted over the phone. Before the widespread use of phones and the Internet for communication, telegrams were the best way to convey information in a hurry; today, telegrams are quite rare in most parts of the world, and people in the West can sometimes actually have trouble finding a company which can send and receive telegrams.
Telegrams started to be used in the 1800s, when inventors developed commercially successful telegraphy systems which could be used to relay messages. Originally, telegraphy could only be sent over wires, with wireless telegraphy debuting in 1895, making rapid communication even easier. However, telegraphy represented a very crude method of communication, with users utilizing a coded alphabet to communicate with each other.
Telegraphy involves the transmission of electrical signals, which can be entered with a telegraph key on one end of the line, and then read with a corresponding key, or with the use of headphones which can be worn by the operator. Most telegraph operators around the world used Morse Code, an alphabet consisting of series of dots and dashes, to send messages.
When someone arrives at a telegraph office to send a telegram, they write the message out as they wish it to be transmitted. Because the process can be time-consuming, most people use a very specific written style which relies heavily on abbreviations and skipped words, rather than writing out full messages. Punctuation must also be written out in a telegram, with the most famous example of written punctuation being "STOP" for a period, and details are usually kept to a minimum.
The telegraph operator transmits the message to the telegraph office closest to the recipient, and the receiving operator writes the message out so that it can be read by the recipient. Many telegraph companies offered delivery service historically, with a telegraph company employee dropping the telegram off at the home or business of the recipient, although people could also pick up messages in telegraph offices.
Since telegrams were historically used for critical information which needed to be conveyed quickly, the arrival of a telegram could signal an emergency. Many militaries used telegrams to notify families of deaths or wounds in combat, which made the telegraph boy a dreaded figure in wartime, but telegrams could also bring good news, like the birth of a baby.