On Phones, Telegrams, and Colossal Blunders

I remember feeling somewhat melancholy when I read that Western Union had sent its final telegram. To me, it seemed to mark the end of an era; the passing of a simpler time. Technology, I thought, has just rendered another company obsolete. While this is certainly true, it turns out that human blunder was at the heart of the problem. I submit the following facts:

Did you know that it was on March 7, 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell received patent No. 174,465 for the telephone? He filed for his patent on the same day as a Chicago electrician named Elisha Gray filed for a patent on basically the same device. Bell only beat Gray by two hours.

“Interesting,” you say, “but so what?”

Bell later offered to sell his patent to Western Union for the (then) princely sum of $100,000. Citing that the telephone was nothing more than an electronic plaything, they turned him down.

Bell’s company went on to become AT&T. On January 26, 2006, Western Union sent their last telegram.

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