Thursday, June 9, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Texting in the 1930's

At some point in your life, you realize that the technology of your youth is sitting in a museum somewhere. 

I first published the following post in April of 2012.  To my delight, a quick Internet search revealed that this technology still exists.  But, finding this page about it made me chuckle, because it has such an old-school Internet look to it.  I wonder how old the page is.  It was last revised in 2005.

And am I the only one who remembers the following technology?

Texting in the 1930's

It wasn't that long ago that my (then) teenage son asked me how I had gone online in 1958. He was imaging my bedroom filled with a huge UNIVAC computer.  He just couldn't imagine a world without the Internet.

His generation probably can not imagine a world without texting, either. But, unlike the Internet, texting did exist in the 1950's.  But we didn't know it as texting.

More to the point - does anyone out there remember Telex?

I do.  In 1981, I (living in the United States) got a job with a company that did business with several companies in England.  We needed a way to communicate fairly quickly with them for confirmation of certain transactions.  Quickly, that is, for the early 1980's.

Keep in mind, there was no Internet, no email (well, there was email even as far back as the late 1960's, but it wasn't accessible for the majority of us).  We did have telephones but trans-Atlantic service was still expensive.  And fax?  This was just starting out.  We didn't have a fax machine.  What we did have was....


Our company had a Telex machine and a trained operator.  A Telex machine (and yes, they still exist) is basically a telephone that doesn't use speech.  It has a keyboard and a printer, and the owner subscribed to a Telex network.  You could "call" anyone who had a Telex machine (they each had a number assigned to them) and type out a message.  The recipient would print out the message, and could then respond back in kind.

The service was enabled across both sides of the Atlantic back in the 1930's and still exists today.

These operators didn't know it, but they were texting, 1930's style.

I never did have to learn to use the Telex. But I bet it would have been fun.  And you know what?  Nothing in those days was instantaneous, but I don't think we were any the worse off for it.

Am I the only one to remember this original form of texting?  And, does anyone else think things were just a little "saner" back before we could do things instantaneously?


  1. We stopped using Telex when we got fax machines- in the late 1970s. This was how we communicated quickly (let me remind you that it took 5 minutes with the given technology back then to send ONE page) with our clients. Because they did not have access to DARPANet, which used what we now call the Internet for eMail.

  2. I don't remember the Telex, but I do remember mimeograph machines. What a nightmare those were.

  3. Was Telex like a telegraph? That's a little too early for me, but I do remember the days before cell phones and the internet. I actually had a student say something about me using a cell phone when I was a student. I laughed. She was horrified to learn that we did not have cell phones when I was her age.

  4. When my office got it's first fax machine, we thought the technology was amazing. No one was allowed to touch the machine because it was so expensive. Now it is outdated technology.

  5. Didn't big police department use a machine something like that. To me texting sort of remind me of shorthand.

    Coffee is on

  6. Texting in 1930s? I had no idea. I've never heard of telex, but I sure wish I knew about it when I first moved abroad in 1980 and my in the pre internet days my only connection to home was an airmail letter that took 2 weeks to arrive.

  7. I knew of Telex, but never used it. I think it was better at 300 baud without pictures, personally. :) And even then, only a relative handful of us knew or cared about things like "CB Simulator" and there wasn't so much pressure to reply RIGHTTHISMINUTE... Some days, I have to turn off my phone and shut off IM and email to get real work done. Used to be, you had to phone someone at work - actually talk to them - articulate what you needed - or send a request through interoffice mail. You had to plan what you needed and couldn't just "bounce ideas off of" other people, then change your mind five seconds later. There IS something to be said for that - and for a little time for navel gazing.

  8. I don't remember telex. But I do remember Wang Word Processing. I supervised the clerical unit in my office when they were installed. We upgraded a couple years later to the Wang PC, which included interoffice messaging. That was HUGE! Messaging co-workers on screen was so much fun! Like passing notes in high school, with no fear of getting caught! Simpler times...

  9. I haven't heard of Telex but I remember there were pagers. I have seen the advent of emails and text msgs to the part of India I come from but not Telex. :)

  10. I have heard about the famous Telex, considered as technology break through during those days. Glad I stumble upon this lovely post.


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