In 1912 the America telegraph company Western Union (WU) introduced a special Christmas holiday form for illustrated greeting-card telegrams. By 1939 a sender had a choice of a range of pre-written sentimental messages, which they could order by number, similar to ordering off a menu. WU promoted birthday greetings by saying “A simple greeting, short and snappy, to hope your birthday will be happy.” Honestly, are you going to do better than that? Or, “This cheery greeting by Western Union is the next best thing to a real reunion.”
Telegrams could also be sent with gifts such as sweets, books and flowers. These telegrams often came in decorative envelopes to allay the recipients’ fear of bad news.
WU also began offering Singing Telegrams in 1933. Their publicity manager, George P. Olin decided to create telegrams, which were previously associated with a death or other tragic news, with something more cheerful. He asked a telegram operator, Lucille Lipps to sing a telegram over the telephone to popular singer Rudy Vallee for his birthday, which was the very first Singing Telegram.
Singing Telegrams were sent over the telephone or delivered in person by singing telegram messengers who sang the messages to the music of well-loved tunes of the day.
Sales of telegrams at that time were made up of social messages such as invitations and birthday greetings. Business messages were perceived as carrying a very important message that demanded immediate attention, which helped it stand out from any other form of communication.
The greetings and Singing Telegrams helped to redefine the telegram as a greetings message and helped find a new market during a period when the plain yellow telegram was in decline due to the availability and popularity of the telephone.
By 1974 WU had suspended it’s Singing Telegram service but independent singing novelty telegram companies kept up the tradition with some offering performances by musicians and even themed performances by Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators.
Modifications of the Singing Telegram were developed with Kissograms (short for kissing telegram) and Stripograms (a telegram and a striptease combined).
A new digital service was launched by WU in 2011 called the Western Union Singing Telegram, which enables users to upload a photo and sing along with the artist reading from lyrics on the screen. The movie can then be saved and sent to friends and family.
More recently an app called Ditty was launched, which enables users to have their messages sung and included in videos using classic and current songs, which they can share instantly on social media.
The launch of the original Singing Telegram helped revive the telegram service.
Despite a slump in demand in the early 1970s the appeal and popularity of this unique form of greeting continues and has been adapted to digital versions.