Mr. John Long Jr.
Mr. John and I had such wonderful conversations about the history of Jackson , the Pythian building and other events in Jackson.
Before I talk about the local Western Union Office that was once located on the first floor of 206 E. Main I will give you a brief history of Western Union.
The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, now Western Union, began as a financial services and communications company in 1851. The firm expanded by buying out a number of competitive companies. In 1856, the company changed its name to Western Union Telegraph Company in anticipation of its ability to send telegraphs from the east coast to the west coast. The company completed its first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, then went on to offer a variety of money- and time-related services to the public. In 1884, the company was one of the first 11 to list on the Dow Jones Transportation Average in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The Western Union company merged with the First Data Corporation in 1995, but the firm still uses the name Western Union for its financial assistance services. Recently it got involved with satellite communications and for a short time, cellular phones.
In the beginning
With the 1937 Samuel F.B. Morse invention of the telegraph already delivered to the world, a new company was on its way to transforming the world of communications forever.
When the new The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company began operation, it was one of 50 that crisscrossed the northeastern states. There was no interconnection of lines. Messages were transferred by hand from one company to another, and rates were as high as $20 for a telegram (big money in those days).
The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company set out to establish a unified, efficient service and carry it nationwide. During its first five years, the company acquired 11 other lines operating in five states north of the Ohio River and joined its eastern network with a telegraph line running as far west as St. Joseph, Missouri.
On April 8, 1856, the name of the company was changed to The Western Union Telegraph Company, signifying the union of “western” lines into onesystem. Spanning coast to coast
With the outbreak of the Civil War, swift communication with the far West became essential. The only rapid communication beyond the Missouri River was by the Pony Express, which took 10 days to carry telegrams and mail from St. Joseph to Sacramento, California. Although a telegraph line was needed, it seemed impossible to string a 2,000-mile line across the plains and over the rugged Rockies. Other telegraph companies refused to join in the undertaking, and even President Abraham Lincoln told Hiram Siley, Western Union’s president, “I think it is a wild scheme. It will be next to impossible to get your poles and materials distributed on the plains, and as fast as you complete the line, the Indians will cut it down.”
The first poles were set up on July 4, 1861, and day after day, following heavy supply wagons and herds of cattle, each team of builders stretched the line 10 or 12 miles farther across the nation.
The strands of iron wire, uniting the nation in rapid communication for the first time, were joined at Salt Lake City on October 24, 1861, only 112 days after the project was begun. Two days later, the U.S. government stopped using the Pony Express service and turned to the “lightning lines” to speed messages across the continent.
Gradually, Western Union absorbed more than 500 telegraph companies throughout the nation, growing so much by 1884 that it was included in the original 11 stocks tracked in the first Dow-Jones Average. As the company expanded, it developed ingenious new services to keep pace with the changing needs of the American public.*
In 1900 the Western Union Office was located on E. Baltimore. Then it moved to the ground floor of the Phythian (206 E. Main) where it was until the late 1960’s.
Mr. John worked for Western Union from 1940 -1943 until he went into the service. When he came back (1945) he went back to work as a messenger. At that time Mrs Ricketts was the manager of the office her sister Mrs. Black was the bookkeeper and unlike before the war all the Operators were women. The ladies were in charge of sending and receiving messages. Some of the other services offered were time keeping and call boxes.At 11AM everyday the clocks were checked automatically to make sure the were set to Greenwich Mean Time. The call boxes were in the individual businesses. When a Telegraph was ready to be sent they turned a knob on the call box to signal for a messenger to come pick it up. Mr. Truelove was in charge of the clocks, call boxes and the Telegraph lines.
Each day Mr. John would ride his Schwinn bike to the office( it was an unwritten rule all messengers had Schwinn bikes). When a messenger had to deliver a death telegraph the Mrs. Ricketts would find a neighbor or relative to accompany the messenger so the recipient would not be alone..
One of my favorite Mr. John stories was when he was asked to deliver a Telegraph to a lady who worked for Miss Ollie. He knocked on the door and Miss Ollie answered the door. After a discussion he convince Miss Ollie he had to deliver the Telegraph to the receiving lady and no one else. He waited on the porch and this beautiful lady came out assuring him she was the recipient. She read the Telegraph out loud. “ honey in jailstop send money stop” what she said I can not repeat . She asked for a pad and wrote a reply “ busy in bed stop sick stop no money for you stop” she paid for the return reply and tipped me a quarter. He told me he never forgot that day. He also on more than one occasion had to go get a fellow messenger out of the movie theater to finish his route or come get another messenger to deliver. “Of course never me” he just laughed..
There were many stories Mr. John shared with me about working at Western Union not only about the people who worked there but the thousand of messages they delivered . Can you just imagine the tears of joy or sorrow, the laughter and the many other emotions that resulted from that single sheet of paper delivered by a messenger in Jackson ,Tn .