1918 Western Union Messenger Delivery Bicycle



The following interview is being conducted through Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project in the Hampden Woodbury Community.  The interviewee is Mr. Luther Butler and the interviewer is Susan Hawes.  Today is August 3rd, 1979:

SH:  The interesting thing about your life, seems to be that the variety of jobs that you had and the different job experiences that you had. Wonder if you could briefly describes your jobs a little bit and tell me which one was your favorite one, If you could briefly describe the jobs that you had?

LB: Well, The first job I was a messenger boy for the Western Union Telegraph Company.  I was delivering telegrams with a bicycle and then later on, I progressed and became of age to get a drivers license and went to work with a motorcycle for Western Union. I made a little bit more money and delivering to all the various counties.  Because we didn’t have communications like you have now and I was assigned more or less to deliver messages to all the various police departments in the twenty three counties. I wasn’t making much money and I was making about, even with my motorcycle about, fourteen to fourteen fifty dollars a week – if I had a real good week. Then, I got a job at the Hampden Transfer Storage and that was where my stepfather worked and he got me a job there.  Later on and I was promoted to a driver.  I went from twenty cents an hours to twenty five cents an hour. 

– Transcribed and edited by John Brockenwitch, ANTH 640, University of Maryland, October 2005

In the 21st century, the mobile phone and internet provide instant communication. So it may be hard to imagine how complicated it was to get in touch with someone before the 1920s. The fastest way was to go to  a Western Union office (If you had a telephone, you could call them). They would use morse code to send a telegram to the relevant Western Union telegraph office.
When the message was received by that office, a uniformed messenger – usually a young boy – would deliver a written or printed copy to the destination address. In larger American cities, Western Union messengers usually delivered telegrams by bicycle.
The company typically employed young teenage boys, for low wages. In the early decades of the twentieth century, money and jobs were scarce and young boys often had to support their families. The boys in the photo below are around twelve to fourteen years of age. One of the boys, Jason Roberts (third from left), remembered wearing down three different bicycles while working there. He also tried chainless (shaft-drive) Pierce bicycles to see if they were any better.*


1918 Western Union Messenger Special

Telegram Delivery Bicycle

28″ Steel Wheels

Coaster Brake

Troxel Saddle

(Now sold)

This restored ‘Western Union Messenger Special’ has steel wheels and a coaster brake, and an original Western Union bicycle sign fitted to the top bar to advertise the company. As soon as the next message arrives over the wire, it’s ready to jump on and deliver the telegram…







I have collected a lot of Western Union paraphernalia to accompany this bicycle for displays. In the photo above is a Western Union postcard, a Manual for Messengers that tells messengers to ‘Take pride in your job and in your appearance’ and a small hard-cover book containing instructions to messengers, delivery sheets, a log of deliveries and telegram blanks. The cover of this book can be seen below, alongside a leather pouch worn over the messenger’s shoulder.


Other items in my Western Union collection, seen below, are a company ID card, a WU Tel Co (Western Union Telegraph Co) morse code relay transmitter, a booklet full of Western Union telegram blanks, and a Western Union telegram sent in 1928.

Together with the poster displayed behind the Messenger Bicycle, this makes an interesting display for shows.

Above, ID card; below, morse code relay transmitter.


Above, a book of telegram blanks; below, 1928 telegram.

































* Western Union info and photo – http://texashideout.tripod.com/employers.html