Telegraph station interior from Mosjøen, Norway, 1906

Telegraph station interior from Mosjøen, Norway, 1906

Telegraph station interior from Mosjøen, Norway, 1906

Map shows postal stations, mail roads and telegraph lines in New South Wales, 1900

Map shewing the postal stations, mail roads & telegraph lines in New South Wales, 1900

Map shows postal stations, mail roads and telegraph lines in New South Wales, 1900

The Phillips Code

In 1859, Western Union standardized on the “92 code”, a series of telegraphic abbreviations in which any number (originally 1 to 92) has a particular meaning, conceived with the purpose of cutting down transmission time on the old land telegraph systems. These were later included as part of the so-called Phillips Code, a series of abbreviations first published in 1879 by Walter Polk Phillips of the Associated Press for use in the telegraphic transmission of press dispatches. Walter Polk Phillips (1846-1920) was a US journalist, telegraph operator, and businessman who invented the Phillips Code. He later became the head of the United Press.

Many amateur radio operators probably don’t know that “73” is from Phillips Code. In the April 1935 issue of QST on page 60 there is a short article on the origin of 73. This article was a summation of another article that appeared in the “December Bulletin from the Navy Department Office of the Chief of Naval Operations”. That would be December of 1934. The quotation from the Navy is as follows: “It appears from a research of telegraph histories that in 1859 the telegraph people held a convention, and one of its features was a discussion as to the saving of ‘line time’. A committee was appointed to devise a code to reduce standard expressions to symbols or figures. This committee worked out a figure code, from figure 1 to 92. The symbol most often used till now is 73, which means “my compliments” or “best regards”. The other figures have fallen into almost complete disuse.

Nowadays 22 has become 88 (love and kisses). I don’t know when this came about. 30 is still used in the newspaper and magazine business to indicate the end of a feature, story, or column. And, of course, 73 is still used by amateur radio operators to mean “best regards”. Making any of these numbers plural (73s, 88s, etc.) is incorrect since they are already plural. 73s would mean best regardses and 88s would mean love and kisseses. Those make no sense. Anyway, the subject of where 73 came from comes up periodically and this article reinforces the “Phillips Code” origin.
Some other related stuff:Phillips Code “19” and “31” refer to train orders. They were so well known that the terms “19 order” and “31 order” were still in RR use in the 1970s, long after the telegraph was gone. The abbreviation “es” for “and” derives from the Morse character “&”. The prosign “SK” with the letters run together derives from the Morse “30”.
The numeric code is a small part of the abbreviations outlined in the Phillips Code. Here are the numbers as referenced:

Number “Extended” meaning in wired-telegraphy and radio-telegraphy
1 Wait a moment.
2 Important business.
3 What time is it?
4 Where shall I go ahead?
5 Have you business for me?
6 I am ready.
7 Are you ready?
8 Close your key; circuit is busy.
9 Close your key for priorit business (Wire chief, dispatcher, etc).
10 Keep this circuit closed.
12 Do you understand?
13 I understand.
14 What is the weather?
15 For you and other to copy.
17 Lightning here.
18 What is the trouble?
19 Form 19 train order.
21 Stop for a meal.
22 Wire test.
23 All copy.
24 Repeat this back.
25 Busy on another wire.
26 Put on ground wire.
27 Priority, very important.
28 Do you get my writing?
29 Private, deliver in sealed envelope.
30 No more (end).
31 Form 31 train order.
32 I understand that I am to …
33 Car report (Also, answer is paid for).
34 Message for all officers.
35 You may use my signal to answer this.
37 Diversion (Also, inform all interested).
39 Important, with priority on thru wire (Also, sleep-car report).
44 Answer promptly by wire.
73 Best regards.
88 Love and kisses.
91 Superintendant’s signal.
92 Deliver promptly.
93 Vice President and General Manager’s signals.
95 President’s signal.
134 Who is at the key?