In his Telegraphic Tales and Telegraphic History, W. J. Johnston offered several passages about message practice and, in particular, codes. A transcription of those passages appears below.

A scan of Telegraphic Tales and Telegraphic History: A popular account of the electric telegraph, its uses, extent and outgrowths. New York: W. J. Johnston (1880) is available here (254pp).

See also Johnston’s Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes: A Volume of Choice Telegraphic Literature, Humor, Fun, Wit & Wisdom. New York: W. J. Johnston, Publisher.

First (1877) edition here (141pp);
third (1882) edition here (160pp).

Table of contents of the volume can be found via the google scan (above); these topic headings are to my transcription, only.

cable operators
economy in sending messages
telegraphic bulls
bulls by operators
bulls by the public
maps by telegraph (in chapter Outgrowths of the Telegraph)
sharp work by operators (in chapter Sharp Practice by Telegraph)
The weather reports (storm signal system)


  • Cable Operators. [103]

    These persons form a class by themselves, requiring a special education and special adaptability to the service. Their life is anything but a cheerful or social one, for they usually are located in out of the way places on the sea coast, where neighbors are few and far between, and scarcely of a character calculated to constitute an interesting and pleasant social circle.

    When on duty they are closely occupied in watching [104] and translating the slender point of light whose vibrations convey to the eye with them, as sound does to the ear of the ordinary telegraph operator, the intelligence which it is necessary to communicate. When off duty their pleasures and recreations are few indeed, and taken altogether the occupation and its surroundings are not enticing to individuals of social and companionable proclivities.

    It may be said on the other hand, however, that the labor required is not excessive, and is well paid. If there is a lack of opportunity for social enjoyment, there is also not much temptation to spend money, so that the position of cable operator is one in which there is an opportunity for financial accumulation. Most if not all of the cable operators at this side of the Atlantic came from England, and after a certain term of service are entitled to a three months’ leave of absence to visit their native land, if they so desire. They receive from the company a liberal allowance to defray their expenses upon the trip.

  • Economy in sending messages

    The price per word being a consideration in transmitting messages over the Atlantic cable, the aim of merchants, news agencies, and others is to send as few words and convey as much information as possible. A great number of cipher codes are in use, composed generally of columns of words or figures answering to every possible emergency. The codes are kept profoundly secret, and to prevent the clerks [105] and employees in the offices interpreting and divulging the message, a secret understanding often exists between the principals to read the cipher backward or forward half a dozen words. The following sample of a message presents the most unintelligible aspect to an outsider:

    John Bolton & Co., Liverpool, to Preston, Banks & Co., New Orleans. - Kildare - Description - Sacred - Ecuador - Pot - Screamer - Shrimp - Betsy - Nameless - Bobby - Bellona - Obscure - Numantia - Rattletrap - Richard - Sackbut - Sally - Salmon - Penholder.

    Such a queer combination of words might lead one to the conclusion that the cotton merchants were given to divulge in an eccentric species of wit peculiar to themselves; but the words have a stern significance that means "business." They form a cipher telegram of the most unrelenting "business aspect," even the diminutive "shrimp" bearing a grim message of special intelligence, and the very unsentimental Christian names answering to the names of various firms, who are wont to be addressed by much more respectful titles. It is necessary to take notice that the cotton bought by cable is still in this country or on the sea; in fact, it is often bought, re-sold, and re-bought again perhaps half a dozen times before it ever touches the shores of England. The translation of the telegram above given is as follows:

    Kildare Description Sacred.
    We have sold to Kingston & Co., Preston, 506 bales (of cotton) at 7 3/4 (per pound), good quality, color and staple. Bills of lading to be sent through Messrs. Baring Brothers.

    [106] Ecuador Pot.
    Buy for John Smith & Co., 200 bales at 8 5/8, with fine, long, even staple; inferior bales will be rejected. Ship by steamer.

    Execute this order if possible; it may lead to a large business.

    Shrimp Betsy.
    Do not insure for Brown & Co.; they will attend to their own.

    Nameless Bobby.
    Bush & Wilson are not satisfied with their lot; it is not up to the mark. Use more care. Take special pains to ship no bales showing sticks or sand.

    Obscure Numantia.
    Your letter is not to hand; if important, cable particulars.

    Rattletrap Richard.
    The Numantia is making a long voyage; fears are entertained for her safety.

    Sackbut Sally
    Is James Rochdale good? and to what amount? Sharp is speculating. Be careful with him.

    Salmon Penholder
    The Manchester market is excited and rising rapidly.

    This cable telegram is a fair specimen of the kinds that are daily passing by hundreds over the Atlantic cable. The art of preparing these codes is one requiring considerable ingenuity.

  • Telegraphic Bulls. [123]

    This is a fruitful section, probably to many readers the most interesting of all, if not the most useful. We must, however, keep it within reasonable bounds, culling from the best "bulls" which have come within the writer’s knowledge, and telling these as concisely as possible, so as to include a goodly number.

    In so doing we find it the most convenient way to divide this section into two parts - telegraphic "bulls" by operators and by the public.

  • Bulls by Operators.

    Bulls are not all of a funny character. How big with fate to the last French empire was the telegraphic blunder which caused the defeat of Marshal McMahon, in the summer of 1870! Failly had been telegraphed to move on Limbach; but the dispatch, as received by him, read Kausbach, and he acted accordingly, by which move the plan of the campaign was fatally disarranged.

    Perhaps Fritz, in the following story, taken from the history of the Titanic struggle in the first year of the present decade, deserved, for his mercenary view of marriage, all the inconveniences and the disappointments which a telegraphic "bull" caused him.

    A young German lieutenant, wounded in the Franco-German war, went for his health’s sake to a quiet village in Vaud, where he found a sweetheart. By the [124] time he had regained his health the pair were engaged; then came a sudden order to report himself at Berlin, an order he, of course, obeyed. At first his disconsolate Marie was comforted by frequent letters full of protestations of love and constancy; but as time wore on the lieutenant plied his pen less often and moderated his outpourings. At last he suffered six weeks to go without a word. He was expecting a reproachful reminder, when a telegram arrived from the faithful girl, which may be thus translated: "Dear Fritz,- I have just received a letter informing me that my uncle, a millionaire in the East Indies, is dead, and that I am his sole heiress." Fritz felt his love revive as he read. He applied for leave of absence, and was soon exchanging greetings with the Swiss maiden. Though the coming of her lover filled her heart with joy, she could not refrain from gently upbraiding him for his silence. "Don’t let us speak of it, dearest," replied he. "There is no longer any obstacle to our union. The unexpected good fortune which Providence has sent us has removed the objections of my parents; a fortune so colossal--" "Fritz," interrupted Marie, "do not make fun of me." For answer the lieutenant drew her telegram out of his pocket, and showed her the words: "My uncle, a millionaire in the East Indies, is dead." The poor girl, dropping his hand, said, "Dear Fritz, I wrote: ’My uncle, a missionaire.’ He has left me all he had, which is just a hundred and ninety-six francs." Fritz went back to Berlin freed from his engagement.

    [125] A writer on the other side of the Atlantic charges operators with having amazed a husband on his travels by informing him that he was the father of a dolphin; with having extinguished (distinguished) a man in Paris with an enormous red cockade; made Italy pregnant with a lamb (alarm); sent a man a train filled with penny shovels (perishable goods); told one man that his onions (opinions) were not wanted; made travelers inform their employers that they could not leave London without their cabbage (luggage); asserted that sugar cans (canes) grew in Jamaica; that seraphs (serfs) were emancipated in Russia; that the Emperor of Austria gave the ambassadors a spree (soiree); made Captain Smith, of Her Majesty’s 33d, indignant by addressing him as Captain Smith, of Her Majesty’s dirty 3d; amazed a distinguished poet by consigning to him a cargo of codfish and salt pork, and amused a distinguished clergyman by asking him his lowest offer for steam coals; and nearly got a merchant into the "black list" by saying that he was nowhere (now here).

    Considering the many millions of messages sent and received every year - some operators in the larger offices handling as many as from three to five hundred a day - and the fearful and wonderful penmanship in which many of them are disguised by the senders, the wonder is not so much that mistakes occasionally happen, as that they do not occur far oftener, especially as the telegraphic symbols for many different letters and words are so nearly alike.

    [126] The most frequent cause of error on the part of operators is the running of two or more words together, on the one hand, or the unnecessary dividing of a word, on the other. For instance, the words "colored man’ have been transformed into "Col. Orman;" "Addie Pratt" into "Addie P. Rat,"[sic] and the signature "Theodore Rose" into the "odor of roses."

    "Subpoena witnesses and compel attendance" was made to read "subpoena witnesses and compel Alan to dance."

    Your son is dead. Be at depot. Will arrive tonight, was changed in transmission to Your son is dead beat. The depot will arrive tonight.

    A gentleman was once considerably surprised to receive the following: Do not hang about the hotel. Will write. The original message read: Do nothing about the hotel. Will write.

    A newspaper dispatch published some years ago gave an account of the doings of a number of troops under the leadership of A. N. Cushman. As printed in the papers, however, it stated that the troops were led by an Irishman.

    A story is told of a Kalamazoo, Michigan, judge who went to a neighboring town on business, and telegraphed back to his wife: "Have found Garland. Won’t be home for a week." When received, the message read: "Have found girl, and won’t be home for a week," which doubtless made an explanation necessary when he did get back.

    The following dispatch was recently sent by a lady [127] to her reverend husband, who was off on a visit: "Come home and marry M. E. Stuart Thursday morning." The worthy divine received the message in this shape, which considerably startled him: "Come home and marry me. Start Thursday morning."

    To properly appreciate many good "bulls’ it is necessary that one be acquainted with the Morse telegraphic alphabet. It is believed, however, that the following will be found interesting even to those who do not know anything of the business:

    There are two hotels in London much frequented by gentlemen of the bar. One is Thavies’ Inn, and the other Sergeant’s Inn. In a telegraph addressed to a disciple of Blackstone at the former house the name of the hotel was rendered Thieves’ Inn, and, curiously enough, about the same time another telegram called the other house Serpent’s Inn.

    A merchant in Boston recently received the following dispatch :
        "Chicago, July 24.
        "Jennie is good - now six dogs regularly."

    His surprise was great. What Jennie was good for he could not imagine, unless it referred to diet, and then it was monstrous and astounding. After some conjecture he telegraphed for an explanation, and was relieved by the following correction:
        "Chicago, July 24.
        "Time is good - now six days regularly."

    The subject in question was the time occupied in [128] shipment of goods to the West. Jennie was an irrelevant female introduced by the operator; and as for the dogs, they were a pure invention.

    An English lord, as proud and fond as a man should be of his beautiful young wife, was just about rising to speak in a debate in the House of Commons, in London, when a telegram was put into his hands. He read it, left the House, jumped into a cab, drove to Charing Cross, and took the train to Dover. Next day, he returned home, rushed into his wife’s room, and, finding her there, upbraided the astonished lady in no measured terms. She protested her ignorance of having done anything to offend him. "Then what did you mean by your telegram?" he asked. "Mean? What I said, of course. What are you talking about?" "Read it for yourself," said he. She read: "I flee with Mr. -- to Dover straight. Pray for me." For the moment words would not come; then, after a merry fit of laughter, the suspected wife quietly remarked: "Oh, those dreadful telegraph people! No wonder you are out of your mind, dear. I telegraphed simply: "I tea with Mrs. -- In Dover Street. Stay for me.’"

    Sometimes operators are called upon to pay for losses that may be occasioned by mistakes made in messages received by them, as in the following:

    They called him "Towser," and he was a making frantic efforts to get up a reputation for never breaking. One day as he was passing a certain desk he heard a call, and gracefully vaulted upon a high office stool to answer it. This is how he copied the message:
        [129] "To John Brown, wholesale druggist.- Please send per express one barrel bottled ale immediately. Seaton Bros."

    Bottled ale was not in Mr. Brown’s line of business, but Seaton Brothers were old customers of his, and so, willing to oblige them, he procured the ale and forwarded it without delay. Next day, in return for his kindness, they sent him the following message:
        "To Jon Brown. - What do you mean by sending us ale? We refuse it. Hurry up our oil.
        Seaton Bros."

    Surprised and indignant at their apparent ingratitude he hastened to the office and wrathfully exclaimed: "What in the thunder is the meaning of this? There’s been a lovely blunder made somewhere! Get that message repeated quick!"

    So they got it repeated, and it turned out that it was a barrel of boiled oil Seaton Brothers wanted, instead of bottled ale. When this was explained to Mr. Brown - they broke it to him as gently as possible - he did not fly into a rage with his long-suffering manager, as they expected him to do. He merely remarked: "That operator must be pretty fond of ale when he takes to dragging it into messages so promiscuous like. However," he added, grimly, "he shall have plenty of it for once, for he’s got to take that barrel and pay for it, too. Yes, sir, pay for it!" he repeated, with savage emphasis.

    Another instance of a little different nature: One evening the proprietor of the railroad eating-house at [130] Summit, California, received the following dispatch: "Have 100 gallons coffee for my men on arrival of No. 1. (Signed) Lieutenant Morgan, Commanding detachment Co. B."

    The operator promptly delivered the message. A happy smile overspread the landlord’s countenance, for he had had government contracts before. He grasped the dinner gong, and never before did that gong give forth sounds so loud and long. It quickly summoned to his side half a score of cooks, waiters and maids; the order of the night was read, and each assigned to a post of duty. All was bustle and confusion. Being only an eating place for train men and passengers, the stock of tinware and cooking utensils was not very extensive. The landlord skirmished around the premises for tinware, and in lieu of coffee pots, etc., clothes boiiles, dish pans, milk pans, dippers, and even oyster cans were filled with water and ground coffee, and placed upon any available spot where heat could be transmitted to their contents. Quantity not quality was desired, even the operator utilized his wash basins, and made three gallons over the office fire. What hurrying, shouting and swearing! Everybody got soaked with coffee; everything that would hold fluid contained coffee; even the china pitchers and wash basins in the rooms fitted up for the accommodation of guests had to be used.

    Fifteen minutes before the train was due the landlord found that he had the required quantity all made, and was proud of his success. The train arrived. [131] Lieutenant Morgan, accompanied by two men, each carrying a five gallon can, entered the hotel. The cans were quickly filled, and the men departed. "Bring on your other cans," shouted the landlord. "What other cans?" asked the lieutenant. "To hold this coffee you ordered," replied the landlord. "I ordered?" and the officer gazed about him in astonishment at the array of cans, crockery and waiters. "Yes," shouted the landlord, drawing forth his message and exhibiting it. "You ordered one hundred gallons of coffee." "I ordered but ten gallons, and here’s your money for it," replied the officer, throwing down a five dollar greenback. "All aboard," shouted the conductor, and the lieutenant rushed from the room. The landlord was now frantic; he quickly followed the officer out, but the train had started, and in a few moments was thundering down the mountain side a mile away.

    Then the landlord swore, and made for the telegraph office. A very emphatic, if not elegant, salutation fell on the operator’s ears. He was astounded. He immediately called up the office from which he had received the message, and had it repeated. Sure enough it read ten. The upshot was that the operator had to pay eighteen dollars for the ninety gallons of coffee.

    Occasionally, however, mistakes of this kind turn out to the advantage of the customer, and no complaints are made. A merchant once telegraphed to a wholesale produce firm in New York to buy him a quantity of cheese. The original message said a hun- [132] dred, but as delivered it read a thousand. Knowing the man to be perfectly responsible, the firm purchased for and sent him all the cheese it could get. The merchant thought that so much cheese would ruin him; but it so happened that the unusual demand had the effect of increasing the price to such an extent that he was able to sell it again at an almost fabulous profit.

    In the summer of 1864 a telegraphic order was sent from Washington by General McCallum, superintendent military railroads, to Major Wentz at Binghamton, N.Y., to forward one hundred and fifty railroad men to Washington at once. The dispatch, when it reached its destination, read "fifteen hundred men." Such a demand was considered extraordinary, but in those days of "military necessity" strange things were always expected, and the m en were soon collected and on their way South, wondering into what part of Dixie they were to clear a way for Uncle Sam’s iron horses. But the surprise of the superintendent was still greater when they arrived, and a search was immediately instituted for the operator who made the mistake. As it cost about thirteen thousand dollars to transport the men to Washington, and the expense of keeping them there was not less than two thousand dollars a day, it seemed likely to prove a serious affair for somebody. It was ascertained that the error occurred in transmission between New York and Binghamton; but before the investigation was concluded, an order came from General Sherman, then at Dalton, [133] Georgia, to send him one thousand railroad men immediately, and so the blunder resulted in good to the government, and the telegraph was saved from censure.

  • Bulls by the Public.

    All telegraphic "bulls" should not be fathered upon companies and their operators. The public are responsible for a large share of them. One principal cause of this is the miserable manuscripts furnished operators by customers. The following is a case in point:

    An eminent divine was to deliver a lecture in a neighboring city, and wishing to telegraph his subject ahead for advertisement, hastily penned a dispatch, handing it to a boy to deliver at the telegraph office, he himself leaving town. The operator, after sinking a shaft of close scrutiny into the Chinese-like hieroglyphics of the message, seemed suddenly to strike a vein of intelligence, and the message went quickly on its way, the subject of the lecture being duly announced in the next morning’s paper as "Our Constitutions, and Fresh Halibut." The sender of the message, who had come to lecture upon "Some Considerations on the Force of Habit," says if anybody will start a petition to suppress all telegraph companies, he will be the first to sign it.

    Correspondents of the press, when they use the telegraph, are in the habit, for economical reasons, of dispensing with articles, prepositions and conjunctions, while punctuation is perforce out of the question; and the "bulls" arising from this cause cannot fairly be blamed on operators.

    [134] Of such was that occasioned by a message sent from England to the editor of the Java Bode, which read: "Proposed to Brand Speaker," meaning that Mr. Brand had been nominated Speaker of the House of Commons. Printed as above, the meaning conveyed to the readers of the journal that it was proposed to brand the speaker of the august body indicated.

    "Bulls" in original messages might be given that are fully as amusing as any made by operators. For example, "My barn burned up last night, October 22. I want you to come and see it." Or the following, sent from Kingston, N.Y.: "To J. W. B., Honesdale, Pa. Your horse died this morning after writing you a letter."

    To show how difficult it is to make out some of the words in messages, and how easily mistakes may arise, we give the manner of spelling a number of common words, as found in the dispatches of many patrons of the telegraph.
    "Comerchel Worf," "Comerciol Warf," "Centrel Deapot," "Junktion," "Jursy Citty," "Nigra Falls," "Porkepsee," "Moris Weight Peches," "Pees," "Redash," "Turnups," "Cllamns," "Eells," "Ells," "Hadic," "Macril," "Ancer," "Ansewer," "Amediately," "Ameaditley," "Imegitlay," "Ameaditley," "Imegitlay," "Busnes," "Cittifacat," "Carridge," "Delade," "Dolors," "Evrey," "Garrentee," "Pararie," "Possable," "Pituculars," "Resons," "Speshall," "Spetial," "Seckend," "Two-day," "Two-night," "John ded will bey berred tomorrough," "I will gow met me at depow." An erudite Assemblyman says his "Comity is tring to do so."

    [135] Sometimes most entertaining "bulls" have arisen from sheer carelessness on the part of senders, as in the following instances:

    A merchant away from home received a telegram announcing that his wife had been safely delivered of a little girl. Simultaneously a message came from his partner stating that a draft had been presented to the firm with a doubtful signature, and inquiring if he knew anything about it. He at once replied to both messages, but somehow misdirected them. The amazement of the wife might be conceived when she was informed: "I know nothing about it: it’s a swindle;" and of the partner when he received hearty congratulations upon his safe delivery.

    An enterprising fish dealer in an eastern city indited a fish order to "Paine Brothers, Eastport, Maine," but his clerk inadvertently made the message read "Paine Bros., New York," a firm priding itself upon filling every order. Consequently the fish was sent from New York, arriving fresh and nice, but with a "C.O.D." attached, involving a bill of expense which the enterprising fish dealer declared the telegraph company should pay, or he would bankrupt the whole concern, if it took every dollar he was worth in the world.

    Operators could tell of meannesses on the part of the public, occasioning errors, wrongful blame, and sometimes more serious consequences, almost incredible in their degree of contemptibleness.

    "What means it," says a faithful manager of an [136] office, "that Mr. -- should come to us and demand that we refund the money he paid on that message you sent him? He says you paid for the message when you sent it." "I’ll tell you how it was," says the patron, confidentially; "I ought to have paid for it-didn’t want to look mean, you know, so I gave him to understand, in a roundabout way, that I did pay. Better be on the telegraph company than on me, you know; so you keep mum, it’s all right."

    Another example is that of a careless fellow who neglected till the last moment to answer an important telegram, and then, to cover his delinquency, replied by telegraph: "Did not receive your message till too late; train had left." "You see," he explained to a person accompanying him to the office, "I don’t want to go, and there’s no other way for me to get out of it." His friend, who had waited all day for the reply, vows eternal vengeance on the telegraph generally, and especially to that "contemptible apology for a manager who would let an important message lie around all day before delivering it!"
        A correspondent for The Operator, Mr. D. C. Shaw, relates effectively the sad results of an error on the part of the sender of a message, with which account we must conclude this chapter.

    "I was once at a small railway station," writes he, "and saw, on his way to the village hotel, a distinguished passenger whose leg had just been crushed by a moving train. All that skill and friendly services could do were instantly in operation. Sympathising [137] and zealous young persons, at the sufferer’s request, flew to the telegraph office to summon the wife. Full of excitement they write a message. A letter is omitted from the address, a single letter. The message is rushed to its destination, but - and you know the sequel. An hour passes; then comes an office message, ’Give better address.’ The same name is given, with the same fatal omission, but they add the words, ’Care of Messrs. - , No. -.’ Another pause. Then another office message: ’Messrs. -- have closed office and gone home to -- (a suburban town); shall we deliver by special messenger?’ meantime a train arrives - the train upon which the wife should have come. The sufferer rouses himself expectantly. How hard it is to tell him she hasn’t come! Then he fails rapidly, and they fear the result. Meantime the message is delivered; the wife is coming, but he is unconscious. An oh, the anathemas that pour in upon the telegraph and all connected with it! As the facts are known to but few outside the circle especially concerned, the circumstances are misconstrued and exaggerated, and the poor operator, who would willingly have run with the message through all the hours of the day and night to insure its safe delivery, is branded as ’cruel,’ ’barbarous,’ and remains thereafter under a certain weight of ignominy through many unjust accusations."

  • Maps by Telegraph.
    [141, in chapter "Outgrowths of the Telegraph"]

    A member of the Parisian Academy of Science has devised a method whereby exact maps and diagrams may be transmitted by telegraph. A numerally-graduated semi-circular plate of glass is laid by the telegrapher over the map to be transmitted, and a pencil of mica, attached to a pivoted strip of metal, also divided into numbers, allowed to move over the plate. Looking through a fixed eye-piece, the operator traces out his map on the glass with the adjustable mica pencil, and, noticing the numbers succes-[142]sively touched on the plate and on the moving metal arm, telegraphs them to his correspondent, who, by means of an exactly similar apparatus, is thereby enabled to trace out an exactly similar map.

  • Sharp Work by Operators.
    [151, in chapter Sharp Practice by Telegraph]

    The accounts we shall give under this head may not be thought, perhaps, to cast the same discredit or guilt upon the parties involved as in the foregoing; but the reader with the least moral sensibility cannot object to our use of the phrase "sharp work," although he might prefer the substitution of the adjective "smart" for the one employed. The first two tell the manner in which two poor operators became capitalists by the exercise of their abundant wit, to speak as gently as may be.

    A youth of nineteen, who was a telegraph operator in Virginia City, on a salary of a hundred dollars a month, and who, when he could not make out German names in the list of San Francisco steamer arrivals, used to ingeniously select and supply substitutes for them out of an old Berlin city directory, made himself rich by watching the mining telegrams that passed through his hands, and buying and selling stocks accordingly, through a friend in San Francisco. Once, when a private dispatch was sent from Virginia [sic], announcing a rich strike in a prominent mine, and advising that the matter be kept secret until a large amount of the stock could be secured, he bought forth "feet" of the stock at twenty dollars a foot, and afterward sold half of it at eight hundred dollars a foot, and the rest at double that figure. Within three months he [152] was worth $150,000 and had resigned his telegraphic position.

    Another operator, who had been discharged by his company for divulging the secrets of the office, agreed with a moneyed man in San Francisco to furnish him the result of a great Virginia mining lawsuit within an hour after its private reception by the parties to it in San Francisco. For this he was to have a large percentage of the profits on purchases and sales made on it by his fellow conspirator. So he went, disguised as a teamster, to a little wayside telegraph office in the mountains, got acquainted with the operator, and sat in the office day after day, smoking his pipe, complaining that his team was fagged out and unable to travel - and meantime listening to the dispatches as they passed over the wire from Virginia. Finally, the private dispatch announcing the result of the lawsuit sped along the wires, and as soon as he heard it he telegraphed his friend in San Francisco:

    "Am tired waiting. Shall see the team and go home."

    This was the signal agreed upon. The word "waiting" left out would have signified that the suit had gone the other way. The mock teamster’s friend picked up a large amount of the mining stock at low figures before the news became public, and a fortune was the result.

    Tampering with Cipher Messages and the Result.

    A San Francisco, California, newspaper gives the following interesting account of what came of tamper-[153]ing with cipher dispatches, in which it is shown that the operator and his friends did not in this instance fare quite so well as did the others above alluded to.

    "The business office of the Chollar Mining Company is in San Francisco, and its works in Virginia City, Nevada. Correspondence between the superintendent at the latter place and the business office is kept up by both letter and telegraph, and, to prevent any inquisitive person from obtaining the contents of the telegrams in advance of their receipt by the officers of the company, a cipher was used. It had become apparent that certain brokers of San Francisco were regularly in receipt of reliable information concerning the condition of the mine, even before such information was obtained at the company’s office. Just as soon as the superintendent in Virginia would send a cipher telegram stating that ore had been struck in any level or drift, these brokers would be on the street buying stock. Whenever he telegraphed bad news, they would appear as sellers at cash, or to deliver.

    "That the trick was somewhere in the telegraph offices was evident, and to confirm this a plan was arranged, to which the superintendent, the office in San Francisco and the telegraph company were parties. The superintendent presented a cipher telegram, which, when interpreted, read after this style: ’Have struck the ledge; very rich; buy 3,000 shares if you can.’

    "Although no one knew that this telegram was to be sent, and so far from the ledge having been struck the [154] workmen had not been at work in the drift, yet, before this cipher was received at the San Francisco office, another telegram, addressed to the suspected brokers, had been sent and received, which contained precisely the same information and advice. On the strength of this these brokers rushed frantically out of their offices and commenced buying up Chollar stock at any price. In the Board they pursued the same plan, and finally loaded themselves with the stock, which rose in value as they bought, and sank when they ceased buying, their loss being estimated at between $15,000 and $20,000.

    "A telegraph operator in the Virginia City office was immediately charged with having translated the cipher telegram, and upon the presentation of the evidence acknowledged his offence, and confessed the names of the brokers by whom he had been subsidized."

    The Biters Bit.

    The following shows how the best laid plans do not always bring the results that we desire:
        During General McClellan’s campaign in the Peninsula the gold and grain speculators of a certain city in a Northwestern State, organized an independent board or club, and had a wire run in from the Western Union Telegraph office.

    The manager of the Western Union office soon became satisfied that there was a leak somewhere; for certain persons who did not belong to the club received the daily news sent to this branch office as soon [155] as the parties to whom the dispatches were addressed, and speculated thereon. Investigation disclosed the fact that a meek looking young man, an operator in a country office, had been imported for the occasion; and, sauntering about the room with the other outsiders, absorbed the contents of the dispatches, and instantly hied forth and communicated them to his employers.

    Accordingly, having arranged a bogus dispatch, defeating McClellan with terrible slaughter, and sending gold up three or four per cent., the manager notified the bona fide subscribers not to act upon it, and sent it from the main office early in the morning.

    The gentlemen from the country swallowed it, and his friends bought gold ad libitum of the bona fide members, who chuckled at the trap they had caught the chaps in.

    Great was the glee of the members of the board. They had caught the miscreants at last - and wouldn’t they squeeze them!

    When the regular dispatches were received, however, it was found that McClellan had been whipped ! and gold had gone up, even higher than the bogus dispatch stated. Tableau !

    The country operator retired, with his friends, on his share of the earnings, and the bona fide board was many thousands of dollars poorer.

  • The Weather Reports. [168-178]

    The recent death of Brigadier-General Albert J. Meyer, chief signal officer of the army, gives painful interest to a subject with which his name was long identified, on e, moreover, of the greatest importance to the interests of our commercial marine and of agriculture.

    Storm Signal System.

    We are indebted to the pen of the deceased gentleman for the best account of this system, written with singular clearness, exactness and completeness. The following passage occurs in one of General Meyer’s annual reports, addressed to the secretary of war. He says:

    Synchronous observations are taken and forward three times daily, at about 8 a.m., 6 p.m. and 12 midnight, by careful observers, under military control, and supplied with the best instruments, namely, barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, anemometer and rain gauge. The observations are forwarded by telegraph, in the shape of a numeral cipher, the intelligence conveyed in sixty words being sent in a twenty-word report.

    The telegraphic transmission of the regular reports has presented a problem difficult of solution. The list of stations of observation and report exhibits a large number of stations, so located that if reports are to be both received from and sent to them two to three times a day without an organization of working especially designed for the purpose, the delays would be great, and the repetitions, each of which involves a chance of error, numerous.

    The extensive lines of the Western Union Telegraph Company and the co-operating companies, the International Ocean Cable Company and the Northwestern Telegraph Company, have been divided into circuits. These circuits reach in their course every station of observation and report. Each circuit thus provides for a certain group of stations. This being arranged, the working forms of circuits set form minutely the telegraphic labor needed for the movement of the messages of each group ; for the exchange of message reports between different groups - between different places in different groups ; and, finally, for the assembling of all the dispatches in Washington.

    [172] Both to save time and expense, as well as to insure accuracy, the telegraphic reports of the service are made in cipher. These ciphers are easily and quickly read by means of a book arranged for the purpose. Here, for example, is the cipher report of the observation taken at New York on a certain day: York, Monday, Dead, Fire, Grind, Himself, Ill, Ovation, View; which, translated, reads:

    York : New York (station)
    Monday : 30.07 (Barometer corrected).
    Dead : 29.90 (corrected barometer for temperature and instrumental error).
    Fire : 70° (thermometer).
    Grind : 75 per cent. (humidity).
    Himself : west, fair (wind and weather).
    Ill : 6 miles (velocity of wind).
    Ovation : 1/2 cirrus clouds, calm (upper clouds).
    View : 67° (minimum temperature during night).

see also

telegraphic codes and message practice, including a directory of
scans, transcriptions,
a collection of
specimen pages,
an introduction, and a neglected
resources page.

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