An Urban Legend Disproved

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by N2EY, Jan 1, 2015.

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  1. W3WN

    W3WN Ham Member QRZ Page


    Couldn't PM you, your mailbox is full.

    You should have received the newsletter direct from my home email last night. Please advise if you got it or not.


  2. N2EY

    N2EY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Got it! Thanks!

    email is better for me than PM anyway.

    Origin of 73? Anyone?
  3. W3WN

    W3WN Ham Member QRZ Page

    Good! Thanks!

    According to an article attributed to Louise Ramsey Moreau W3WRE, & Charles A. Wimer KC8EHA,

    So, my understanding was that 73 came over from landline telegraph, as did many other codes (most of which have long fallen into disuse) and over a half century evolved into the form we know it today.

    Or am I wrong?
  4. N2EY

    N2EY Ham Member QRZ Page

    No, you're absolutely right. Specifically, 73 (and 88) were two of the Western Union numeric code abbreviations.

    I knew Lou Moreau, btw, back in the 1970s. Her key collection is now at AWA. It is probably the largest and most comprehensive collection of telegraphic instruments in the world - or, at least, the largest and most comprehensive ever assembled by one private individual.

    And Lou didn't just collect 'em. She knew the story of each one, and documented them. Was also a really sharp operator, both codes. I still miss her.


    The expression "take five" came from telegraphy, too. It predates Dave Brubeck by many many years. It derives from the fact that, in American Morse (the code used on the wire), the letter P is five dits.
  5. W1GUH

    W1GUH Ham Member QRZ Page

    So now we know when "73" was first used and how its meaning changed, but why "73" Why not "64" or "82"

    And how did "P" get from "five dits" to "Take Five"? What did the expression, "Take Five", mean to telegraph operators?
  6. N2EY

    N2EY Ham Member QRZ Page

    In 1859, Western Union standardized on the "92 code" in which the numbers from 1 to 92 were assigned meanings. It was in this list that 73 got its present meaning. The 92 code was used in ways similar to the Q codes we use today.

    Later, more numbers were added. Here's a partial list:

    1 Wait a moment
    2 Important Business
    3 What time is it?
    4 Where shall I go ahead?
    5 Have you business for me?
    6 I am ready
    7 Are you ready?
    8 Close your key; circuit is busy
    9 Close your key for priority business (Wire chief, dispatcher, etc)
    10 Keep this circuit closed
    12 Do you understand?
    13 I understand
    14 What is the weather?
    15 For you and other to copy
    17 Lightning here
    18 What is the trouble?
    19 Form 19 train order
    21 Stop for a meal
    22 Wire test
    23 All copy
    24 Repeat this back
    25 Busy on another wire
    26 Put on ground wire
    27 Priority, very important
    28 Do you get my writing?
    29 Private, deliver in sealed envelope
    30 No more (end)
    31 Form 31 train order
    32 I understand that I am to ...
    33 Car report (Also, answer is paid for)
    34 Message for all officers
    35 You may use my signal to answer this
    37 Diversion (Also, inform all interested)
    39 Important, with priority on thru wire (Also, sleep-car report)
    44 Answer promptly by wire
    73 Best regards
    88 Love and kisses
    91 Superintendent's signal
    92 Deliver promptly
    93 Vice President and General Manager's signals
    95 President's signal
    134 Who is at the key?
    "19" and "31" refer to train orders of two different types (absolute and permissive). They were so well known that the terms "19 order" and "31 order" were still in railroad use in the 1970s, after the telegraph was gone from railroad operations.

    The Morse code used in US wire telegraphy was the "American" Morse code, which shares some codes with the "Continental" code we still use today. (The continent referred to in the name is Europe, and it became the standard code for radio work early in the 20th century).

    The abbreviation "es" for "and" derives from the American Morse character "&" which was dit dididit.
    The prosign "SK" with the letters run together derives from the American Morse "30", which was didididahdit daaaaaaaah (extra long dah is zero in that code).

    There are some urban legends about Winchester rifles and such, but they do not stand up to historical fact.

    A telegraph operator was expected to be listening for messages all the time. However, sometimes, an operator has to answer a different call - the call of nature. In Victorian times, such things were referred to indirectly - "powder my nose". Hence the informal abbreviation derived from the structure of the code letter. (Note that some telegraph operators were women, even in the 19th century, and politeness was the rule, not the exception. Look up Hettie Ogle and the role she played in the Johnstown Flood.)

    In these parts, today, phrases such as "visit the room of many doors" and "sharpen the skates" are sometimes used.

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2015
  7. K4PIH

    K4PIH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thank you gentlemen. The last posts were very informative and I for one appreciate the research you did. I always wondered about such things from back in my CB days (yeah I admit it, still do). We used to say 3's and 8's which is verbal shorthand for 73 and 88's. I had my own guesses that a lot of them came from the telegraphy days and sounders in those old train stations out in the west when the telegraph was the cat's meow.

    Again thanks for the education.

  8. AC6AT

    AC6AT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I gotta say, Occam's Razor points pretty sharply away from that explanation and toward the more common-sense one (that it means "take a five minute break" and is simply an abbreviation). Also favoring the latter explanation is the fact that "take five [ten, whatever]" is still in common use on television and film sets, where often one set of workers has to stand by anyway while another set gets something ready--and where the days can be so gruelingly long that a smart director or AD will give everybody a few unscheduled breaks from time to time to prevent open insurrection.
  9. N2EY

    N2EY Ham Member QRZ Page

    may seem that way...but it came from the (informal) telegraphic abbreviation.

    Ever see "30" used to mean "the end"? It comes from the telegraph too.
  10. K9ASE

    K9ASE XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    This was also in The vintage Radio column of the Feb. OST in an article titled "From Separates to Combos to Transceivers"
    I wonder if that's what inspired Jim to share?
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