Life Before Skype – RIP: Last Remnants of Telex Disappear

220px-Telex_machine_ASR-32In the early part of my career the Telex machine and associated services played a major role in my business communications. When working with a company with operations in Germany and Switzerland, Telex was our “email” of-the-day. Sit down at a clunky QWERTY keyboard and “punch” the message onto a tape (error correction not allowed!). Then dial the number for the other party and run the tape back through the tape reader. Chunk-chunk, chunk-chunk … the whole office knew a telex message was either being sent or received.

But then my employer started using them as the “keyboard” to their mini-computers. The boot process actually came on a tape that you dare not lose. By the end of the 70’s they had been replaced by a somewhat quieter, and much lighter, typewriter-like keyboard.

They want their orders and messages to be more readable and less rude”.

But all activity with the Telex only had upper case letters. In today’s messaging activities that would mean you were shouting. But that’s all there was. And it seems like the U.S. Navy continued to send “ALL CAPS” messages via email or other text-based communications offerings right up to this year.

Today an article appeared announcing the U.S. Navy has decided they “will no longer communicate in all capital letters”.

“While this decision was made to save money and gain efficiencies, if an ancillary benefit is that soldiers no longer feel they’re being screamed at … that’s a good thing too,” said a Navy official.

The Globe and Mail turned on the CAPS LOCK key and gave this announcement an appropriate send off; here’s are screen captures of the actual print edition from Globe2Go:

USNavy.Rid.AllCap.13Jun12 USNavy.Rid.AllCap.FullArticle.13Jun12


Yes, normally the Globe and Mail does use both upper and lower case for both print and electronic media.

In some sense recalling this era reminds me of today’s Twitter or Instant Messaging. While working at Bruker’s German facility in the early 1970’s I recall following our U.S. subsidiary’s activities involving the sale of a new top-of-the-line Magnetic Resonance spectrometer, involving leading edge, very high field, superconducting magnets, to Stanford Univesity’s Biochemistry Department. Several times a day we would head back to the Telex messages to get an update on the progress of the sales negotiations. My employer won the contract over the other bidder, Varian Associates – a Stanford startup of the 1930’s era that was located across the street from the Stanford campus.

All that Twitter and Instant Messaging has changed is the speed at which we get our messages and the volume of messages possible. But human curiosity as to the content of the messages has been around forever, especially when they are time-sensitive.

Bottom line: Seems like the last remnants of the Telex area have finally been put to rest (or put to sea?). Now to get rid of the blisters on my fingers from punching that mechanical keyboard. Of course today those communications would have happened using Skype or similar offerings (will that be chat, voice or video?). Or using a smartphone –  it definitely lacked the predictive text smarts of my BlackBerry Z10 touch keyboard.


Now back to sending a text message prior to making a voice or video call.

Picture courtesy Arnold Rheinhold via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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