End Of The Line For The Telegram

There was a time when the telegram was considered high-tech – they were the e-mail of their day. Back in 1929, Western Union handled 200 million telegrams. By last year, the number was down to just 20,000, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

Western Union has now gotten the message — and delivered its final telegram.

Amy Fischer keeps up with the past for Western Union as the company's historian.

"When people received a telegram it really was a big deal," says Fischer. "Really the Western Union Telegram shrunk the world in very real terms."

In the Second World War every family dreaded getting a telegram that started "The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret." It meant someone wasn't coming home.

But romances of the rich and famous were also carried on via Western Union. Howard Hughes once wrote to Katherine Hepburn — "Darling…miss you too damn much."

The end of the telegram really is the end of an era. Hollywood made the telegram almost an icon and an irresistible tool for a screenwriter in films such as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "It's a Wonderful Life".

Despite efforts to keep up with the electronic age, faxes and e-mails left Western Union in the dust. Telegrams were fast, but not instant. On the other hand, they didn't bring spam or viruses and forced the writer to think before sending a message. And says Schlesinger, you choose words more carefully when you're being charged by the line.