Telegraph, Private Investigators, Spies And Telegraph Eavesdropping
Pictured above, Telegraph Key And Sounder, 1850s, 1860s
The above photo is an
old telegraph key and sounder. A short push on the button was a dot
and a longer push on the button was a dash. A morse code was invented
that contained a series of dots and dashes for every letter and every
number which was known as the morse code. The telegraph has a rich history
connected with it that goes along with investigative communication and
Watch A Video On The Telegraph
Prior to telephones,
the telegraph was the only instant long distance communication device
there was. Letters could take months to get to someone. Travel often
took weeks. Allen Pinkerton used telegraph communication very successfully
in running his investigative agency. Before he passed on, the telephone
had been invented but he wouldn't really use it. The Actual message
that was sent with the telegraph was called a telegram. The first one
was sent on May 24, 1844 by inventor Samuel Morse. The message, "What
hath God wrought," was transmitted from Washington to Baltimore.
Telegraph lines quickly spread throughout the nation. Lines where often
placed next to the rapidly expanding railroad tracks. By the late 1850's
all major cities of the nation were wired for telegraph service. It
became a high tech method of communication.
To avoid rumors
of the attempted assassination of Lincoln, Pinkerton was put in charge
of getting him to Washington DC to get sworn in as President. Pinkerton
had telegraph lines cut going into Baltimore. Right before the civil
war, telegraph lines going into and coming out of Washington DC had
been cut. It was a Pinkerton detective Timothy Webster who first secretly
smuggled dispatches out of the White House in a hollow cane. He would
travel on horse back to get to another location and then dispatch important
Presidential telegraph messages to military personnel. One message from
Lincoln was sent to Allen Pinkerton who had traveled back to Chicago
to come at once to the White House. Without the telegraph, communication
could only be as fast as a horse could travel or a train could get somewhere
in those days.
conversion looks like:
PINKERTON COME TO THE WHITE HOUSE AT ONCE. A. LINCOLN
And Telegraph Ciphers
During the Civil War, telegraph bugging was quite common on both sides.
It was, of course done without a warrant as there was actually no laws
pertaining to that. It's important to remember that the telegraph, which
quickly spread from 1844 on and the telephone which was invented in
1876, required multiple operators to relay messages and patch calls
and dispatches through. There just was just no way to guarantee privacy.
At the telegraph office, there was a person who sent it and another
person who received and decoded it. It was Allen Pinkerton who developed
methods of encrypting telegraph messages using various ciphers that
would then be decoded on the other end.An interesting article on telegraph
ciphers can be found online by reading F. W. Chesson's article titled
Wires, Civil War Cryptology - Origins of Secret Messages on Open Wires
. Another good article you can find online is CPT Kevin Romano's
article titled The
Stager ciphers and the U.S. military's first cryptographic system.
old blank forms used to write out messages for sending a telegram.
The Above Link doesn't Work, Click
Here for Another One.
This is a web page where you can input a message and listen to
what the dispatch sounds like in morse code just like Allen Pinkerton
used. Input the words:
"Pinkerton come to Washington At Once, President Lincoln"
this page will translated that into morse code so you can hear
it and understand how many dots and dashes it took to send such
In order to
finish a sentence, telegrams would spell out the word "period."
Since telegraph services charged per letter, people started using the
word "STOP" at the end of each sentence to save money. Up
until the advent of the Internet, many successful investigative agencies
had their own cable address which was for sending cable or telegram
messages to them.
Two Old Telegraph Keys with Sounders. Note How Stuff Used To Be Built
To Last Forever.
1899 Insurance Badge To ID Me Telegraph this Number,
The Fraternal Protective Association came up with a unique use
of the telegraph. They kept ID files on people and gave them a
badge to use such as the one above. If they were hurt or injured
and could not speak, they would just hand over the badge. A special
telegraph was made and information would then be returned concerning
the identification of the person. Badge is 2 1/2" by 1 1/2"
and is dated 1899.
offices had delivery messengers. That is, when you sent a telegram to
someone, it was sent to the nearest telegraph office. The telegraph
office would then covert the morse code to a written message and hand
deliver the telegram to the person it was addressed to on foot.
Unknown to many, telegrams actually reached their peak in popularity
and use after the telephone had been invented and put in use. In the
1920's and 1930's it was much cheaper to send a telegram than to make
a long distance telephone call. After that period of time, telegrams
started to descend in their use. It's just been in the last few months
that Western Union
has stopped sending them. Here is the Western Union announcement on
January 27, 2006, Western
Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging
services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we
thank you for your loyal patronage."
Right before the advent of the Internet, Western
Union used it's existing telegraph lines offering a service for
computer users in which email could be sent and special groups created.
At one time, Leroy
Cook had a group of information brokers using the Western Union
Network and NAIS was a member of that for a short time.It was called
Network. Leroy Cook's old Western Union Network turned into a nationwide
investigative referral service called ION.
A highly rated service for investigators today.
It is reasoned
that email has caused the death of the telegraph and telegram system.
As an interesting side note, you can use various online services to
Cipher or encrypt an email and pick a code so the other party can decide
it. To see and use on on the NAIS web site, click
The Ralph D. Thomas PI Vintage Collection
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