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This Western Union telegram was sent on 24 September 1963 from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to Senator Leverett Saltonstall (1892-1979) of Massachusetts. In it, Rusk thanks Saltonstall for his leadership during the ratification of the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union.
Prior to telephones, e-mail, and instant messaging, telegrams conveyed messages across the country and around the world. The first telegram was sent from Washington to Baltimore in 1844 by Samuel F. B. Morse (the inventor of the telegraph and Morse code) and read, "What hath God wrought!" Morse's telegraphy, in which electronic impulses are sent through wires, would revolutionize the way we communicate. Messages could travel cross-country in a mere day -- unspeakably slow to modern eyes, but inconceivable for those used to sending news by horse and rider. Telegrams carried news of world events like the surrender of Fort Sumter in 1861, the Wright brothers' first flight, and the sinking of the Titanic, as well as personal greetings and messages, notably the deaths of servicemen during war time.
Western Union began in 1851 as the Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, and by 1856, had acquired many competing firms, and its permanent name. In 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph line was completed, and the rest is communications history. For more than 150 years, Western Union's couriers delivered messages of all kinds, but with the advent of new technologies that provided instant communication, the telegram fell out of favor with the public. With little fanfare, on 27 January 2006, Western Union discontinued the service. Although other companies continue to transmit telegrams, one of the pioneers in the field has now turned its attention to financial services.
Senator Leverett Saltonstall, a descendent of Sir Richard Saltonstall, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1892. As a recent graduate of Harvard College, he rowed as captain of the celebrated crew that won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley, on 4 July 1914, less than a month before the First World War began. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he served in the First World War, and, later, as an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County and Newton alderman before being elected to the Massachusetts General Court in 1922. A lifelong Republican, he was elected speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1929. In an upset victory over the legendary James Michael Curley, Saltonstall was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1938 and served three two-year terms before being elected to the United States Senate in 1944.
In the Senate where he served until 1966, Saltonstall was a strong supporter of national defense and civil rights. He was a member of the Committee on Armed Services and its CIA subcommittee, as well as the Committee on Appropriations. He worked easily with the junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, co-sponsoring the Cape Cod National Seashore Bill in 1959. Although a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, Saltonstall supported President Kennedy's efforts on behalf of the long-stalled atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty. He witnessed the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in Moscow in August of 1963 and worked for ratification of the Treaty in the Senate later that year. Saltonstall retired from the Senate in 1966 and died in 1979.
While the telegram displayed here celebrates a diplomatic and political triumph, not all telegrams brought happy news. Like many parents of servicemen and women during the Second World War and after, Leverett Saltonstall, then the governor of Massachusetts, was notified by Western Union of the death of a son, Peter Saltonstall, a marine who was killed in action during the invasion of Guam in 1944.
The Leverett Saltonstall Papers (1871-1981; 384 record cartons) primarily comprise Salstonstall's senatorial correspondence and files, and form one of the largest and most important modern manuscript collections held by the Massachusetts Historical Society. There is a detailed unpublished guide to the collection in the MHS library.