The singing telegram at 75

Although there is no record of the content of the inaugural message, today marks the 75th anniversary of singing telegrams, or musical telegrams as they were originally called, the first of which was delivered by the New York-based Postal Telegraph Company on Feb. 10, 1933.

A mid-Depression marketing ploy to make its messengers stand out from the competition's, the company hired musicians who would play appropriate music while recipients read their telegrams. Another motive behind musical telegrams was to supplant the public's association of telegrams with bad news -- the death of a loved one, for example -- with something more cheerful.

One of the most famous early telegrams was the first one ever delivered by Western Union, on July 28 of the same year. The story goes that a fan of singer Rudy Vallee sent him a birthday greeting telegram, and the company's public relations director, George P. Oslin, asked one of the operators, Lucille Lipps, to sing the message over the phone, to the tune of Happy Birthday to You. (The part about the original sender may be apocryphal, as some reports suggest that the whole idea originated with Oslin, who was allegedly a friend of Vallee's. Oslin's story became such legend, in fact, that he is often credited with inventing singing telegrams.) Oslin later recalled he "was angrily informed I was making a laughingstock of the company."

Yet singing telegrams, which were generally delivered in person, grew in popularity until the increasing prevalence of telephones in homes saw the novelty wear off.

In Canada, the singing telegram died around 1950, when Unitel Communications, the modern-day equivalent of Western Union, ceased sending them. Western Union halted its singing telegram service in the U.S. in 1974.