The History of 73

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From the 1969 ARRL "The Radio Amateur's Operating Manual"


  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 
Telegraph 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 then used have the same definition 
now that they had then, 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 Railway 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 to "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".


         -Louise Ramsey Moreau W3WRE/WB6BBO

About the Author

Richard KB5JBV has been an Amateur radio operator since 1988. He has held positions with the America Radio Relay League including but not limited to Assistant Section Manager, Official Observer, Official Relay Station, Official Emergency Station, ARES Emergency Coordinator for Resonant Frequency: The Amateur Radio Podcast was created to help get information on amateur radio out to the new ham and the ham that wants to find out more about different aspects of the hobby they are thinking about getting into. So sit back have a drink and enjoy.

Richard KB5JBV has been an Amateur radio operator since 1988. He held positions with the America Radio Relay League including but not limited to Assistant Section Manager, Official Observer, Official Relay Station, Official Emergency Station, ARES Emergency Coordinator for Kaufman County Texas, Volunteer Examiner and Technical Specialist in the North Texas section.

Richard has also served as RACES assistant radio officer for the city of Mesquite, Tx. and among numerous other duties Including club president for the HAM Association of Mesquite Texas.

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