How Far We’ve Come: Looking Back at Radiotelegraphy, 1939 Style

It’s often insightful to look to the past to fully appreciate the current technology we take for granted.

When we tap a favorite contact’s name in our mobile phone–even for someone on the other side of the world–we can be talking to them within seconds, with clarity that’s often the equal of visiting face-to-face. Perhaps Skype or FaceTime is more your style? Yawn… just another two-way, real-time video session. The fact that the other person is thousands of miles away no longer makes you pause at the wonder of it all. 

Radiotelegraphy room, New Zealand 1939

It’s good to reflect occasionally that it hasn’t always been this way. I was reminded of this fact when I came upon this fascinating short documentary produced in 1939 by the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department. This 11 minute film (posted to YouTube by Tomas Hood NW7US) takes the viewer on a journey from rural New Zealand and ultimately across the world to deliver birthday greetings via shortwave communications and CW (Morse code).

How many SWLing Post readers are old enough to remember when their messages Settingscircled the world with radiotelegraphy and relay stations? Hmmm…

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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6 thoughts on “How Far We’ve Come: Looking Back at Radiotelegraphy, 1939 Style


    I was a FCC licensed Radio Telegraph operator for the Buffalo NY Police Department -Located about 25 miles south of Niagara Falls, NY – in the early 1960’s up until the entire Police Radio Telegraph (79 stations in 25 USA States) was shut down in the mid 1970’s…. we handled CW traffic, lost missing persons, missing vehicles – the VIN was sent with each number spelled out 3 (Three) and the letters in the VIN were assigned phonetic words….

    1. Guy Atkins Post author

      Hi David, thanks for the interesting comment! I wasn’t aware of the Police Radio Telegraph Service. It evidently provided a valuable service of information exchange between police in various states, until upgraded technology took over the tasks.

  2. Thomas

    You’re right, Guy. On occasion, we need to think back and note the enormous strides we’ve made in telecommunications. Being a nostalgic fellow, I simply love videos like these. The 1930s-1940s are my favorite decades in wireless history.

    And you remind us that this change is still occurring.

    Makes me think of something I saw recently…
    While strolling past a café in Asheville, NC, I took interest in the message on their street board. It read:

    We do *not* have Wi-Fi.
    Talk to each other.
    Pretend it’s 1995!


  3. Timothy Johnson

    Thank you for posting this. Great movie of an older time. The size of the transmitters is amazing. All of that for one simple message of love sent around the world. Nice.


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