You are on page 1of 2

For hundreds of years, or at least since pens and paper were used routinely, people who

wanted to get in touch with other people separated by distance and to catch up with news,
had only one way to do it: they wrote letters, the only means of long-distance communication,
at least until the inauguration of the telegraph in the 19th century. It was a burst of
Industrialisation. Beginning with Mr. Morse's innovation, modern technologies have
broken into new means of communication, first rendering letter writing one option among
many and then just a quaint anachronism.
How were letters delivered in the olden days?
In ancient civilizations, letters containing confidential information, were transmitted by
messengers, who might not survive the assault on the way. Then for a long time, mail with
informative reports was only a legacy of governments, militaries and kings. In the 6th
century BC, the Persian Empire (now Iran [i`ra:n]) developed a relay system that went up to
100 miles a day; It was a tedious procedure; so when horses got tired, as a matter of
prudence, they were traded for a fresh one. The Greeks, typically, put athlete runners on duty
to deliver their mail – Philonides, reliable courier [ˈkʊr.i.ə] and surveyer for Alexander the
Great, once ran 148 miles in a day. The Arabs [ˈær.əb] had a distinctive pattern too – using
pigeons. Caesar [ˈsiː.zər] had a pattern similar to the Persians, with stopping points – or ‘post
houses’ – where couriers could rest from time to time and trade horses. But after the Roman
Empire broke down, the mail network collapsed, and so did organised communication
throughout Europe.

When did letter writing really take off?

Coming alive of letter writing can be traced to the invention of the printing press, the
increasing availability of books, a change in the outlook of religions, and rising literacy rates.
Sweden, ahead as usual, achieved a 100% literacy rate in the 18th Century after the Lutheran
Church firmly instructed laypeople that it was vital for everyone to be able to read the word
of God, not only pastors and priests as had previously been ordained in many Christian

In England, between 1500 and 1900, literacy rates rose from 10 to 95% for men, and from
less than 5% to 95% for women.
In 1870, compulsory education was introduced in Australia. The Australian authorities were
intent on forging a penal colony to an organised society and helping combat ignorance, which
was considered by government to be a contributor to high crime rates.
In the US, there was a religious injunction that believers must read the bible themselves for
their and God’s sake, achieving a 100% literacy rate.

It was assumed that only men wrote letters and women held their tongues. But from the mid
to 18th century, the silence was broken and people began arguing about gender division of
letter writing publicly.
In 1860, the post office was invented, so anyone could drop a line easily or break news to
their relatives.

In 1868, the typewriter was invented, and in 1873, the first Remingtons were on the market.
Mark Twain (author of Huckleberry Finn) bought one of the first models, in 1874, and was
the talk of the town as the first author to submit a manuscript typed on one. But early users
were generally stenographers and typists, and most of them were women, skilled operators.
These were some of the first women to enter the office, and the workplace became more
sexually changed.
In 1892 in Atlantic City, two court cases were fought over men who married their
‘typewriters’ and then found themselves in an emergency – their relatives tried to argue that
they were not of sound mind when they entered into a relationship.

So what’s happening with letters these days? Are they receding from public view?

Most letters we get these days are either from business or government – they are requests (or
demands) for money or requests for favours. Sometimes intrusive organisations put fliers in
the mail. Truly personal letter with customised paper is a dying art nowadays.

M: Today you have the opportunity to create your own perfect country. You will work in groups of
four. Together decide what will be the name of your country, what it will look like, what will
people do there and according to what laws people will live and cooperate. You have four minutes
to think about it and write down and then you will present your country to others.