Telephones and Telegraph


In the 1950s Western Union, the first ecommerce company, was at the top of its game.  It dominated telecommunications but failed to adapt and enter into the voice telephone systems.   Employment in the telegraph industry soared in the late 1800s, but by the early 1960s, the telegraph was on its way out. It is hard to believe but the telegraph lasted until about 1991. In the end, the telegraph died of a slow death. Perhaps it died at the same rate as those who grew up with the telegraph and refused to change.

There are always those who refuse to adapt. Just like those who continue to use DOS or FORTRAN, or COBOL, there are those who continued to use the telegraph-even when better options were available.


The first commercial telephones started appearing in the early 1880s and by 1902, there were 2 million telephones landlines with 54,000 employed in the telephone industry. Like software development, there was a rapid growth period that was unheard of before. Twenty years later, in 1922, there were 13 million telephones and 210,000  salaried employees.   Over seventy percent of those employed by telephone companies were operators.    It was better tools, techniques, and automation that replaced the telephone operator.

Employment in the telephone industry grew until it peaked in 1979 with slightly more than 1 million employees.  Since 1979, the number of people employed by landline telephone companies had fallen to about 300,000 in 2006.  Today, everyone understands cell phones will replace landlines, and I am sure there are some who will hold onto their landlines until they die.

The common thread in all these industries is a belief that the growth is going to last forever.  I am not sure where we are on the growth curve for software development, but I do know the industry will peak and then rapidly decline.   The software industry will continue to change rapidly and automate impacting those employed in the industry .

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 01:01  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Landline telephones are making a small comeback, at least with the older generation 🙂

  2. is the software industry truly in decline? if so, what is a natural employment migration path for those who have spent 20 years in the industry?

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