Western Union - Broadband 1963 style.

When I pulled this ad from my inbox this morning, I had to stop reading, go get some coffee and read it again so I could do a spit take. Broadband in 1963. Double you, tee eff?
Sure, it probably cost a fortune, could only be justified by fairly rich businesses and the power of the local Western Union station was probably equivalent to the cable modem enjoyed by the average household today BUT... 1963?

I know, you're probably thinking that all computing in the sixties was accomplished by banging rocks together, and that transmitting data by wires was invented by Madonna in 1985. Actually sending data by wire was happening back in the 1800s. Doing it wirelessly was invented in 1924. When all of global trade happened by sea, there's a strong impetus to stay in touch with ships out in the middle of nowhere. So the biggest driver of wireless fax technology in the twenties was keeping track of the latest shipment of sock garters from London.

As we all know, and as we would all like to pretend isn't true, the one thing that forces advancements in data technology today is pornography. Here is a Western Union delivery boy circa 1911, ready to bring a basket of "frisky pictures" to the local preacher so that he could deny it belonged to him.

So, by 1963, business guys who were rich enough to have those little egg cups could transmit pictures, charts, stock data and stuff over the phone lines. Who knew? Well, the internet knew. It's just jarring to see the word "broadband" appearing in print as early as the sixties. I tried to find some numbers on what qualified as broadband back then, but couldn't find anything. Shazbot.

This ad also brags about WU's use of microwave transmission - probably via satellite. You know those news trucks you see driving around with the thing on top that looks like a gun turret? That's a microwave antenna. That's how your local news drone can report live from the scene of a fast-breaking newstragedy. The van transmits the video straight to an antenna on the roof of the TV studio, without the delays of shipping a video tape by a boy-powered bicycle network. The boy industry has never recovered.

This is all pretty impressive for 1963 - four years before George Harrison had the idea of singing through a leslie speaker. So what can we make fun of? Errr. The telephone looks like a styrofoam takeout container! And its yellow! What a bunch of jerks. Huh huh "Wups! My lunch is ringing! Take a message. I'm not hungry." Huh huh huh.


Tim Twelves said...

Wu Financial. Dollar dollar bill, y'all!

Anonymous said...

Love the RING button. :o)

Bathshieba said...

But darling, is it yellow? I would call it flesh tone, which ties in with the pornography element.

Craig F. said...

Why the hell would you put a telephone on a cake platter?

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Because your butler just carried it in and put it on the table next to your chair, you barbarian!


Anonymous said...

I lived near Durham NC in 1970 (yeah, really) and it was one of the "32 States" served by GTE, instead of the "Ma Bell" ATT. Our phones looked weird! Like that phone without the big buttons. Definitely an odd design compared to the ubiquitous Bell Systems phones we grew up with.

I'm just curious about what the "data" was. Is that phone hooked up to a fax machine? Does it spew out ticker tape?

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

I wish I had the answers. I spent literally TENS OF MINUTES trying to find any specs on the capabilities of the WU/GTE system. I got nothing, as the article states. I can't tell how they transmitted pictures or any of that other fancy stuff. I bet a picture sent by wire in 1963 looked like those old ASCII graphics from the eighties, or like an image from an early fax machine. I'm sure the service cost an arm and a leg at the time, though... something you'd have to run a huge company to justify.

Thanks for commenting, Anon!

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