Back In The Day, Jokes Went Viral Via Telegraph : Blog Of The Nation Sunday Magazine posts 100-year-old New York Times Sunday Magazine clips. This one? Viral jokes spread via telegraph.
NPR logo Back In The Day, Jokes Went Viral Via Telegraph

Back In The Day, Jokes Went Viral Via Telegraph

These days, it's bound to come up in conversation — "Did you see that photo/comic/video of __?" Of course you did, because someone sent you the link, or you saw it trending on Twitter, or your aggregator had it in five different places so you finally clicked on it.

Sunday Magazine, the coolest thing I've seen online today, is David Friedman of Ironic Sans' project.  Every Friday, he posts "the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from 100 years ago this weekend, with a little bit of commentary or context." And, yes, his story from June 12, 1910 popped up on my aggregator, because that's how these things work.

It's a clipping called, "Passing A Good Joke Along The Wire," with the following text:

[The reporter asks] "Do you mean to say that there are people so anxious to spring a new joke that they will go to the expense of telegraphing it to their friends?"

[The telegraph operator responds] "No; no one goes to the expense — that’s on the telegraph company. You see, it’s this way: The operators at all the big telegraph centres over the country have a speaking acquaintance with each other. They call each other by first names, though the chances are that they haven’t the slightest idea of each other’s appearance. During the night the wires are often quiet. Now, suppose a message has just been sent from New York to Buffalo; for the time being there is nothing more to be dispatched, and no other operator is trying to get the wire. In this case the telegraph instrument in Buffalo is very apt to click off, ‘Say, Jim, I just heard a new story. It’s a good one,’ and the story follows."

"When Jim at Buffalo gets Jack at Chicago or Pete at St. Louis on an idle wire, the new story is passed along. And so in a single night a cracking good story may be passed from New York to San Francisco."

Bored telegraph operators, stewards of the nation's comedy.