Telegrams and the Telegraph System

Back to main narrative

The Vienna Technical Museum contains a small display of both pneumatic and telegraph equipment, from which the method by which telegrams were transmitted can be deduced. Particularly informative is a photograph of a telegraph receipt and pneumatic office; according to this captioned image from the Austrian National Library it is the Central Telegraph Office in Vienna although it seems to have only one sending/receiving Felbinger apparatus and is totally different from the 1907 photograph below from a Festschrift. Probably, the Central facility was completely rebuilt.

In the above photograph, a receiving apparatus is shown on the front left-hand desk, being disbelievingly observed as it receives a message and produces a paper tape. At a desk behind, ladies are separating the tape into addresses and messages, and sticking these on to telegram forms. Men then assign destination-office codes (the Instradierungschiffre) and sort the forms into pigeon-holes. There are extensive racks on the walls containing the Büchse for outgoing messages. And at the front is a lonely Felbinger pneumatic apparatus.

The key to understanding the system is the Hughes Apparatus, which you can see in the Vienna Technical Museum (and in the Budapest Postal Museum!). The Hughes transmitter had a keyboard somewhat like a small piano with letters and numbers (it was suggested that the average Viennese could play the piano from birth, but typing had to be taught!). Pressing the keys caused a 5-part code for the character to be sent as short and long electrical impulses down the wire, and also the character was printed on a paper tape. The Hughes receiver accepted incoming code and printed the corresponding character on a paper tape. Some method existed of synchronising transmitter and receiver, and of setting up a route for the signals to the correct destination. A longer discussion, with examples of Hughes-station cachets, is in "Stamps of Hungary" #148, Mar 2002, pp 17-20; it notes that the inventor was the American Prof David Hughes, born in Wales in 1831!

The telegraph service spread rapidly, as a policy decision had been taken to install the necessary wires alongside the rapidly-expanding railway network, and the Military used it for most of their communications.

Happy in their work: The staff of the Rohrpost Zentralstation, from the 1907 Festschrift.

Folding of telegrams

When the telegram is delivered by the messenger, it has been folded so that the address is visible but the message hidden, and sometimes sealed with a paper seal. However, several examples of Vienna telegram forms have the cancel of the delivery office in a position that is partly hidden if the form is folded. It would make much more sense if the forms were sent from the Central Telegraph Office to the delivery office unsealed in a rolled-up bundle, not folded, as they would have had to be unfolded, cancelled, and refolded and then sealed.

See for confirmation the "Press Release" in volume 3, which explicitly says "Die Sendungen wurden zusammengerollt ..." - "Telegrams, express-letters and Rohrpostcards were transported. They were rolled up & placed in aluminium cans, which were then sealed with a leather cap."

The Büchse were loaded from the end, not through a "porthole" in the side, so the folded telegrams had to be shorter than the can’s internal depth. But there is a problem with this: for the 1946 specimens, they don’t fit unless folded! Details, sketches and photos of Büchsen are here.

This is an earlier (1912) telegramme, folded and sealed for delivery. It has no pneumatic-transmission markings because the Telegraphencentrale where the telegram reached Vienna was also the delivery office for the Foreign Ministry at Minoritenplatz, the addressee. Opened out, it looks like this:

What was permitted?

The customer service expanded along with the area covered, and user-supplied items became sendable. This required changes in the size and weight limits, listed in the "Geschichte der Wiener Rohrpost" by Dr Hajek.

Source and date



Initially, only the officially-supplied stationery was permitted

10 grams
Hajek pp 38-39: CircVOBlatt 14/1899 (effective immediately?) 85x150mm15 grams
Hajek pp 38-39: CircVOBlatt 14/1901 (effective immediately?)110x155mm20 grams
Hajek p53: PVOBlatt 29/1931 (effective 1 July 1931)120x180mm[no change]

Do actual telegrams fit?

We have measured the telegrams we have. (a) An 1898 telegram is 123 by 225 mm which when rolled will just fit into a 124mm deep Büchse (b) nine 1946 ones are all too big to fit; possibly the bottom section was folded to cover the message (there is a horizontal crease) and then rolled, although how this squares with the delivery office’s cancelling is unclear (c) all the examples of private mail seem to have been rolled, no visible vertical creases - this also looks as if it applies to mail from 1929/30 to 1956 where the examples have no visible vertical creases but do have strange creases which conform with the rolling of a sealed envelope.

These illustrations are of a 1946 telegram, folded and unfolded. It is A5 in size (indeed it says so at bottom right!), thus 148mm high – which will by no means fit into a 124mm deep container unless folded**. Note how when it is folded to reveal only the delivery name & address, the 7 WIEN 62 cancel is obscured. This and a second specimen have no fastening to prevent the messenger reading the contents, although they could have had one fold inserted into the other. Other specimens have paper sealing strips, some of which are specific to this purpose, others are torn from whatever came to hand in the office!

** Notionally, the leather end-cap could have been not pushed down, but the required 148 - 124 = 24mm standoff would probably have led to the cans jamming in the tube.


This envelope arrived "mit aufgesprungenem Rand" (with a split-open edge) so was officially sealed on the back on 5 May 1893 at Marokkanergasse (Office 49) by Ferdinand Hübl who duly annotated and signed it.

This letter-card's perforations had torn; it was repaired on 6 May 1908 with a smaller simpler seal with no (superfluous?) explanations.

Some telegram seals from various parts of the Empire at various dates!

Posting Receipts for pneumatic items: 1875 - 1916

The issue of Aufgabescheinen (certificates of posting) for pneumatic mail was abolished on 1.10.1916. The background to this is:

(a) the wording on the original letter-sheet, which in the last paragraph says "Empfangsbestätigungen über pneumatische Briefe werden dem Aufgeber auf sein Verlangen gegen Erlag einer weiteren Gebühr von 5kr ausgefolgt" (ie Acknowledgement of the receipt of letters by the Pneumatic Post will be given upon request against payment of a further fee of 5kr)

(b) Hajek, "Geschichte der Wiener Rohrpost" page 55: "Durch die mit 1.X.1916 in Kraft getretene Postordnung wurde schliesslich die Ausstellung von Aufgabescheinen über Rohrpostsendungen abgeschafft; das Publikum hatte von dieser Einrichtung, die ununterbrochen seit dem Jahre 1875 bestanden hatte, seit jeher einen sehr geringen Gebrauch gemacht." (ie Under the Postordnung of 1.10.1916 the issue of certificates of posting for pneumatic mail was abolished; the public had made very little use of this facility, which had existed continuously since the year 1875.)

Examples; click the small pic to spawn a large pic!

Telegram receipt issued on 7.11.1877 at KKPS No 3 which was Telegraphenamt Kärntner-Ring 3; the telegram cost 50kr and the receipt an extra 5kr.

Telegram receipt issued by K.K.POST- U. TELEGRAPHENAMT WIEN EFFECTENBORSE for a 25-word telegram sent to Szegedin at a charge of 75hr on 23 April 1888. The receipt cost an extra 5kr.

German receipt with dual Czech-German cancel from the k.k. Telegraph station at Neu Bystritz on 5 Feb 1909. Telegram of 30 words handed in at 5:15pm and sent to Vienna at a cost of 1K14h. The receipt cost an extra 10h.

So, the facility existed and the receipt was charged for. However, nobody has seen either a form specifically designed for pneumatic use, or a Telegraph form used for a pneumatic receipt. Since the system of issuing these receipts was established before the pneumatic post was introduced, and the same staff operated both from the same places, it is plausible to suppose that they extended the use of their existing form to cover the new requirement to issue pneumatic receipts, instead of inventing a new one.

The "book of forms" for the Telegraph service does not contain any specifically Rohrpost forms. Since this receipt had an imprint, it should have some "official existence", as opposed to forms with no face value which were often printed by a local jobbing printer.

Wartime censoring of telegrams.

Telegrams were censored, just like everything else. Jump to the sections on "WWI censoring" and "post WWII green censor marks" for a discussion.

A telegram from the 1880s

The telegram number is 6554 in blue at the top; to the right thereof is a blue crayoned 3. This is the Instradirungs 3, not office number 3; the office was located at I Karntnerring 3. The delivery address is Domgasse which is just to the East of St Stephens; in pencil is Blutgasse which leads off it. The Fleischmarkt office was closer, but each street was assigned to a specific office. The wording under the yellow seal is 'Classe der Depesche'. The handing-in date ought to be on the line below the seal. The form is Telegraphen-Drucksorte Nr.61, different from the other telegrams we have seen.

On the back is a list of 16 telegram- and pneumatic post-accepting offices which includes "Frucht und Mehl-Börse, Schottenring 19" and "Effecktenbörse, Schottenring 16". It is thus the 10 July 1880 list (for a lengthy discussion jump to the section on where the Börses were. And it must predate 1 Sep 1890 when Fruchtbörse moved to its new building at Taborstrasse 10, Bez II.

Upside down at the bottom of side 2 is a small part that when the form is folded and sealed in the official manner becomes visible below the delivery address. It says "Der Pneumatik übergeben 188# um 10 Uhr 20 min V Mittag" and to the right in even fainter pencil "Dem Boten übergeben 188# um 10 Uhr 25 Min # Mittag" (# = blank). That is, despatched by the 10:20 am train and handed to the delivery man at 10:25. No year.

Back to main narrative

Vienna directories

And finally, the Vienna telephone directory from 1881, and the list of telegraph stations from 1886 with those offering pneumatic service red-dotted.

Back to main narrative