THE ORIGIN OF 73
(Via Louise Ramsey Moreau, W3WRE, &
Charles A. Wimer, KC8EHA)
The following is from Louise Ramsey Moreau, W3WRE:
The traditional expression "73" goes right back to the beginning of the landline
telegraph days. It is found in some of the earliest editions of the numerical codes,
each with a different definition, but each with the same idea in mind - it indicated
that the end, or signature, was coming up. But there are no data to prove that any of
these were used.
The first authentic use of 73 is in the publication "The National
Telegraphic Review and Operators' Guide", first published in April 1857. At that time,
73 meant "My love to you"! Succeeding issues of this publication continued to use this
definition of the term. Curiously enough, some of the other numerals used then had the
same definition as they have now, but within a short time, the use of 73 began to change.
In the National Telegraph Convention, the numeral was changed from the Valentine-type
sentiment to a vague sign of fraternalism. Here, 73 was a greeting, a friendly "word"
between operators and it was so used on all wires.
In 1859, the Western Union
Company set up the standard "92 Code." A list of numerals from one to 92 was compiled
to indicate a series of prepared phrases for use by the operators on the wires. Here,
in the 92 Code, 73 changes from a fraternal sign to a very flowery "accept my compliments",
which was in keeping with the florid language of that era.
Over the years from
1859 to 1900, the many manuals of telegraphy show variations of this meaning. Dodge's
"The Telegraph Instructor" shows it merely as "compliments." The Twentieth Century Manual
of Railways and Commercial Telegraphy defines it two ways, one listing as "my compliments
to you"; but in the glossary of abbreviations it is merely "compliments". Theodore A.
Edison's Telegraphy Self-Taught shows a return of "accept my compliments". By 1908,
however, a later edition of the Dodge Manual gives us today's definition of "best regards"
with a backward look at the older meaning in another part of the work where it also
lists it as "compliments".
"Best regards" has remained ever since as the "put-it-down-in-black-and-white"
meaning of 73 but it has acquired overtones of much warmer meaning. Today, amateurs
use it more in the manner that James Reid had intended that it be used - a "friendly
word between operators".
I hope that this helps you in some way....
Charles A. Wimer
Amateur Radio Call: KC8EHA
Coordinator, Trumbull County (OH)
ARRL Official Emergency Station (OH)