Instant Messaging is nothing new – it was alive and well in 1978

After spending a life changing year doing voluntary work I settled in a small new town in the North East of England called Peterlee. This was 1978, the year I got married – and my wife was the reason I moved there.


My next job was with a wallpaper company called Macgregor Wallcoverings, a division of the Berger Paint group. It was an exciting time, and I met some really great people whilst working there – although there were times when relationships were strained, especially during the many industrial disputes. The wallpaper industry was at the time a closed shop and everyone had to be members of one of the print unions. You will recall that these were some of the most extreme of unions, and we were often coming out in support of some dispute miles away.

Macgregors made wallpaper for the mass market and exported their products all over the world – which is where I came in, continuing my ‘career’ as an Export Clerk – my importing skills weren’t required here. This was my first and only experience of a female boss, Christine Steele, an ardent St Helens Rugby League fan – this was a positive experience all round.


Now to the focus of this blog, my next experience with a new technology – this time, it was the telex machine.  The telex used a telephone line to communicate a typed message. This could be typed live with the person at the other end typing live responses, or alternatively it could be prepared offline creating a ticker-tape output  for later transmission . (The waste from the holes punched created really annoying confetti)

Telex machine

A telex machine very similar to the one I used

At the time, telephone communication was very expensive and especially to international numbers so the most popular method was to type the message before hand to minimise the cost of the call.  However there were times when typing live was necessary – and this was just amazing – especially in 1978. Here I was in Peterlee typing away and then someone in Argentina might be responding immediately – mind blowing for many now – but imagine what it felt like then.


A Page from Robert Propst’s book ‘A Facility Based on Change’

The telex was a a bulky and also a very loud machine and either had it’s own room or was covered with an acoustic hood. There was something rather dramatic about hearing it fire up with those loud typing sounds – if you heard it. it was impossible to resist going over to check where the next message was coming from – not unlike the ping of the incoming emails today. Even more exciting was when it was an order, I think that probably is the first buzz I started to get from selling.

In my next post I will share with you the challenges of using the telephone when access to it was limited.

“The Telex machine is kept so clean – And it types to a waiting world”


About Mark Catchlove

All views are my own
This entry was posted in Design, Learning, Mobility, travel, Vintage, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Instant Messaging is nothing new – it was alive and well in 1978

  1. Pingback: Please can I have a line Ethel? « Mark Catchlove's Blog

  2. Pingback: People of influence | Mark Catchlove's Blog

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