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Friday, August 20, 2010

Around the World in 16-1/2 Minutes

Ninety-nine years ago today, the New York Times decided to find out how long it would take a commercial telegram to circle the globe. The record had been set in 1903, when President Roosevelt celebrated the completion of the Commercial Pacific Cable by sending the first round-the-world message in just 9 minutes. However, that message had been given priority status and the Times wanted to see how long a regular message would take -- and what route it would follow.

At 7:00 p.m. on August 20, 1911, the
Times telegraph operator on the seventeenth floor of the newspaper's offices in Times Square sent a telegram that stated simply: "This message sent around the world." Sixteen-and-a-half minutes later, the same telegraph operator received his message back. In the intervening minutes the telegram had traveled from New York westward, stopping in:

  • San Francisco
  • Honolulu
  • Midway Island
  • Manila
  • Hong Kong
  • Saigon
  • Singapore
  • Madras
  • Bombay
  • Aden
  • Suez
  • Port Said
  • Alexandria
  • Malta
  • Gibraltar
  • Lisbon
  • The Azores
  • and then back to Times Square.
The Times was particularly struck by the portion of the route sent by the Indian Government telegraph from Madras to Bombay. "This line," they wrote, "traverses the domains of the Nizam of Hyderabad, the most powerful Prince in India, from the Coromandel to the Malabar coast, crossing the Indian peninsula and passing through great forests inhabited by man-eating tigers, panthers, boa constrictors, and pythons, and singing its way past the lonely residence of the American missionary, whose only gleam of civilization is the buzzing on the telegraph wires near his bungalow."

Today, the building where the
Times dispatched their record-setting message is called One Times Square and is best known for its news zipper and the dropping ball on New Year's Eve. The Times moved out in 1913 and eventually sold the building in 1961.

* * *

Read more about One Times Square and the history of the area
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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