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Telegraphy Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Since the invention of the telegraph, the world has come to be a smaller place. People separated by thousands of miles have been enabled to communicate with each other in a marvelously short time. One hemisphere no longer feels its isolation from the other; continents are linked to one another; countries which are separated from each other by thousands of miles of land and water can learn of the same important happenings at almost the same moment. Ships in midocean need never be out of communication with land; aviators far up in the clouds can report what they see to those miles below on the ground; a train hurrying to the Pacific Coast may be controlled from an Eastern office. All these things have been made possible through the agency of the telegraph and wireless telegraph and by the yet newer wonder, the wireless, or radio telephone.

The telegraph operator is the man through whom the speech of dots and dashes is carried on. His is the responsibility of conveying whatever messages he may be instructed to transmit or which he finds it necessary to send. A telegrapher employed by a commercial telegraph company sends only such messages as customers desire. The telegrapher on a ship, and sometimes the railroad telegrapher, sends not only such messages as he is ordered to, but also such as may be necessitated by the demands of his work, or by unexpected happenings.

The ship telegrapher is a vessel's main hope in case of accident. He sends out calls for help, making these calls very urgent or modifying them, according to the extent of the danger. Many a heroic telegrapher has saved a ship by sticking to his post in time of extreme peril, sending out calls, giving full directions as to the whereabouts of the ship and thus making it possible for other vessels to approach and render assistance. Train wrecks also have often been avoided by the quick wit and speedy action of telegraphers who have prevented the collison of trains or their passing over spots rendered dangerous by storms.

Commercial telegraph companies, ships, railroads, newspapers, mines, life-saving stations, private financial and commercial concerns, military organizations—all utilize the telegraph and, to an ever-increasing extent, the wireless telephone. Competent opera-tors are needed for both the telegraph and wireless telegraph, and to a lesser degree for the radio telephone.

No high degree of education is necessary for one to become a telegraph operator. A common school education is considered sufficient, though the young man who has gone through high school or college has often a better chance of advancing to a higher position. The prospective telegrapher must learn how to send and receive messages accurately and with the required speed, and should also know something of the fundamentals of the theory of electricity. He must also know how to handle and repair the apparatus with which he works. This is especially necessary for operators in isolated spots and on ships, where defects in the instruments must immediately be recognized and remedied, and where the operator himself must usually do the repairing.

The practical operation and handling of the apparatus, knowledge of the code used in telegraphy, skill in the manipulation of the key and general proficiency in telegraph or wireless practice can be obtained in several ways. One of these is through taking a course at a telegrapher's school, and another, through study at home. Probably the chief advantage of a school course is the fact that it forces the student to engage in systematic and continual practice in code interpretation and key manipulation. The person who makes up his mind to devote a certain amount of time daily to practice can, however, become an efficient operator without attending a school. The many "radio amateurs" in the United States, a very large number of whom are young boys, have practically all learned how to operate the wireless telegraph, repair it and even install it, without formal instruction.

A young man who has been trained at a school, or who has trained himself to operate the telegraph, can obtain a position with a commercial transmission company, with a railroad or with some concern operating private wires. His work consists of receiving and sending messages, of putting them into the proper shape for delivery, in some cases of repairing his apparatus and sometimes of special duties connected with his position. A railroad telegrapher, for instance, sometimes operates signals in addition to this other work. A commercial telegrapher must compute the fee on each message sent, and must know how to carry out the general office duties which may be allotted to him.

Railroad telegraphers have excellent opportunities for advancement. Operators at small stations have in many instances succeeded in working themselves up to the position of chief division operator, and finally of chief train dispatcher. The chief train dispatcher is a very important official. He directs the running of trains in the proper order, through messages to division, and thence to local, telegraph stations. Commercial operators also have good chances to attain higher positions. Many of the highest executives in the telegraph companies have risen to their responsible posts as a result of work well done while they were telegraph operators.

Alertness, carefulness, accuracy and a thorough knowledge of telegraphy are sufficient equipment for the operator employed by commercial telegraph companies, but the railroad telegrapher who desires to succeed should have certain further qualifications. He should be capable of meeting unexpected situations coolly and with good judgment, and of taking immediate action of a decisive and proper nature.

The greatest field for wireless operators lies in nautical work. Every passenger ship is compelled by law to carry at least two operators, and the majority of merchant ships also have a telegraph office. The ship telegraph operator receives messages and sends them from the ship to shore and to other vessels ; in some cases gets up a daily paper, with the aid of news items received from land stations; communicates with the ship's owners in case of delay, or when a change of route is considered necessary; and informs the owners of the ship's approach to land, so that docking facilities can be arranged for. As has been said, his work in time of danger is often invaluable, and at all times his presence means that the ship is never in absolute isolation. The mere fact that it is possible to communicate with other ships and with land, either directly or through relayed messages, gives to passengers on vessels a sense of security which they might other-wise not feel.

Wireless telegraph operators are all licensed by the government before being permitted to practice their profession. In order to obtain a license one must be able to pass examinations designed to test one's ability to send and receive messages at a specified speed, and to explain, operate and repair the apparatus employed. Unlike the wire telegraph operator, the wireless man must have a thorough knowledge of the construction and operation of his apparatus, in every detail. The license granted indicates the degree of professional knowledge and skill possessed by the operator.

Wireless telegraphy may be studied at a school, at home or in apprenticeship. Students may become apprenticed to licensed operators, and may learn wireless telegraphy by actual operation of the apparatus, under the supervision of an experienced man. Many professional wireless operators first became interested in the wireless telegraph as a pastime, and perfected themselves in its operation, alone, or with the help of friends or "wireless clubs." The amateur radio operator has a good chance of ascertaining whether or not he will make an efficient professional operator, and of testing his love for the work.

Radio operators on ships are paid from $100 to $125 a month, and receive the accommodations and maintenance accorded to a ship's officer. The life is quite a pleasant one—they visit foreign lands, travel in comfort and are under really serious strain only in times of danger to the ship. Then they are called upon to display their resourcefulness, loyalty, courage and their devotion to duty.

Wireless operators are employed in various other positions. There are the lonely telegraphers who man the isolated northern shore stations with which liners in midocean can communicate. These men must be as alert, accurate, courageous and as devoted to duty as are their fellows aboard a ship. Often they are obliged to live alone for many months, and practically their only recreation at such times is gossiping by wireless with friendly operators far away.

Newspapers make extensive use of the telegraph, and employ operators to send reports of conventions, sporting events and other such happenings to the home office. This work is, however, being done more and more frequently through the radio, or wireless telephone. The opportunities for professional work along the lines of wireless telephony differ from those in wireless telegraphy. No skilled operators are needed there is no code to learn and no keys to manipulate. But the work of installing and repairing wireless telephones does, however, offer a field for trained men.

The wireless telephone is coming to be used in a great number of new ways. Forest fire patrols make use of it in reporting blazes sighted at a great distance either from an aeroplane or from an observation station upon a mountain top. Fire chiefs issue orders to their subordinates by means of the radio phone. Reports of weather conditions are sent out to farmers from government meteorological stations by the same means. Railroads, too, are using the radio telephone in many cases where the telegraph was formerly the means of communication.

As the use of the radio phone increases, there will be a larger field for skilled men to install radio apparatus. For such men, mechanical ability, a practical knowledge of the principles of electricity, and the ability to do a workmanlike and thorough job are essential requisites. The work is well paid, and may lead to the larger field of telegraph engineering, which is open to the man of ability.

The telegrapher fulfils a very important function in whatever type of organization or endeavor he is employed. With his help, the world is indeed girdled by man. He may not win high financial reward from his work, nor may he, in most cases, gain special recognition for his particular services, but he can have the satisfaction of knowing that through his work, the machinery of our lives runs a little more smoothly and efficiently.


BERRY, RALPH E.: "The Work of Juniors in the Telegraph Service," University of California, Berkeley, Cal., 1922.

BOUCHERON, PIERRE H.: "Radio Operating as a Career," The Wireless Age, Mar., 1920, pp. 16-19.

COLLINS, FRANCIS A.: "The Wireless Man: His Work and Adventures on Land and Sea," The Century Co., New York, 1914.

DOWSETT, H. M.: "Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony," Wireless Press, Inc., New York, 1920.

GOLDSMITH, ALFRED N.: "Radio Telephony," Wireless Press, Inc., New York, 1918.

HAYWARD, CHARLES B.: "How to Become a Wireless Operator," American Technical Soc., Chicago, 1918.

HAUSMANN, ERICH : "Telegraph Engineering," D. Van Nostrand Co., New York, 1922.

MILLS, JOHN: "Radio Communication," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1917.



Commercial Telegraphers' Journal, Commercial Telegraphers' Union of America, Chicago.

Radio News, Experimenter Publishing Co., Inc., New York.

Railroad Telegrapher, Order of Railroad Telegraphers, St. Louis, Mo. Telegraph and Telephone Age, J. B. Taltavall, New York.

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