History--convention communications sixty years ago [telecom]

Old Western Union employee newsletters* described the work involved in serving a national political convention and the 1950s and early 1960s.

Sixty years ago (1956), the press sent about ten million words of news stories for the Democratic National convention in Chicago; usually it was about five million words. A Western Union operator would type the news story into a teleprinter for transmission. They needed 200 operators to handle the load. One operator still dispatched articles via Morse.

The photographs showed teleprinter operators jammed into a small room, shoulder to shoulder, front to back. Operators could be men or women, in a time when most jobs were classified as to being for solely men or women.

After the convention, Western Union assigned four representatives to follow each candidate (president and vice-president of each party) to act as coordinators between the candidate, reporters, and Western Union.

The 1964 Democratic convention, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, required special preparations since Atlantic City was not on a main telegraph trunk line. They had to install 82 special circuits and add

250 people to the normal staff of 15. That convention required 25 supervisors and 134 teleprinter operators for press transmissions. To deliver telegrams, 75 boys were recruited from local high schools. They would have to track down an addressee out of 75,000 people in the convention halls and hotels.

The 1964 conventional also began the use of Telex, WU's switched teleprinter service. Not mentioned was whether AT&T's competing TWX service was used, too.

While the convention delegates got to enjoy strolls on the boardwalk and visits to the beach, Western Union personnel were busy in a cramped basement telegraph office sending and receiving a heavy flow of messages.

Western Union once offered a special service, Public Opinion Message, where someone could send a discounted telegram to a state capital or Washington, DC. The 1964 convention generated 65,000 POM messages. This service was easy to provide since Western Union had a receiving office in every state capitol building and Washington. Citizens used telegrams to express their political views well into the Nixon era.

The newsletter said serving a convention was financially a break-even effort at best but was done as a public service.

Western Union once provided temporary offices to serve various special events. When Princess Grace married Prince Rainer in Monaco, WU handled the 100,000 words the press sent. When the Boy Scouts held a national jamboree with thousands of boys camping out, Western Union set up a tent to send and receive messages from home and also money transfers for the Scouts.

Fast forward to today--how do modern print reporters submit their stories to their newspapers and receive email instructions? Presumably, reporters type up their story on a laptop, but how does it get uploaded and transmitted?

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