Governor to decide if telegraph era over
Photo courtesy: Smithsonian

What hath God wrought?

The telegraph era in Florida, and elsewhere, is over. All that’s left is for the Governor to sign legislation repealing it in statute.

HB 6055, which passed both the House and the Senate unanimously, would close the book on the communications technology of a bygone era, repealing provisions in Chapter 363 of Florida Statute.

Among those provisions to be repealed: a $50 penalty for having “negligently failed” to deliver telegraph messages, and a $50 penalty for refusing messages for transmission.

As well, Florida Statute contemplated a mechanism for recovery “for mental anguish, distress or feeling, physical and mental pains and suffering resulting from the negligent failure to promptly transmit or promptly deliver such telegram, or because of the negligent failure to correctly transmit and deliver such telegram.”

While these may have been salient provisions in a bygone era, a bill analysis this Legislative Session spotlighted how outmoded the language was.

“On May 26, 1844, Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code, sent the first message by telegraph in the United States, ushering in the telegraph era that displaced the Pony Express. It read ‘WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?’”

The analysis further stipulates that “we now have a more modern answer to that question, as transmitting and receiving messages by telegraph has been replaced almost entirely by the speed and widespread availability of email, faxes, inexpensive long-distance telephone service, instant messaging, and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.”

Nonetheless, the analysis continued, “Florida law includes an entire chapter related to the provision of telegraph service.”

Noting that the Federal Communications Commission ruled that “telegraph service is obsolete,” legislative staff figured out that it had been well over a decade since the last telegram was sent.

“Western Union Telegraph Company, perhaps the most well-known telegram service provider, sent its last telegram on January 27, 2006. Based on an Internet search by staff, a handful of businesses still advertise telegram service, some claiming to utilize, at least in part, the telegraph system operated by Western Union.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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