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Western Union Man

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"Western Union" man, not western "union man".

The telegraph operator in The Western, generally wears a white shirt, suspenders, and a green eyeshade. The telegraph office is in the railroad station; while owned by two separate companies, they have a symbiotic relationship (in Real Life, the telegraph lines and railroad ran side-by-side between towns all over the country). May or may not employ one or more young boys to deliver incoming messages to in-town businesses and homes—if not, everyone else in town has to go to the office to pick up incoming telegrams. Since messages can arrive at any time, the Western Union man himself is seldom seen outside the office. Unlike his Pony Express predecessor, tends to be a Meek Townsman. Sometimes gets to Take a Level in Badass if the train station gets robbed.

The Western Union corporation provided most of the telegraph service in the United States from the 1850s to 2006. The long period of obsolescence—again, WU discontinued telegram service in 2006, a scant two years before the iPhone was launched—masks just how bleeding-edge the technology was when introduced. It was a major development for human communication, the first time ever information could travel faster than it could be physically carried on a written note (beyond the radius practical for line-of-sight means like semaphore or smoke signals). The Western Union Man is the forerunner of all geekdom.

Sub-Trope of Railroad Employee Roundhouse.


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    Audio Plays 

    Comic Books 
  • Blueberry: "Red Neck" Wooley is first and foremost a badass Mountain Man, but he used to work as a telegraph operator in a small town —this becomes a Chekhov's Skill twice in the run of the comics.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Once Upon a Time in the West: In the famous opening sequence, the three thugs waiting at the railway station scare the meek telegraphist away simply by showing up in the dilapidated office. Eventually, much to his distress, they rip the cables off, annoyed by the sound the machine keeps making.
  • The Outlaws IS Coming!: Rance Rodan sends telegrams to his allied outlaws to come to Caspar to deal with Ken Cabot and the Stooges. Due to the violent nature of the outlaws, several Western Union men meet unfortunate fates as they attempt to deliver the telegrams.
  • In Posse (1975), Nightingale gives the telegrapher in Tesoto a bunch of telegrams to send announcing his capture of Jack Strawhorn. Later, when Strawhorn returns to Tesoto with Nightingale as his hostage, the telegrapher tries to send a message one to discover that Strawhorn has downed the telegraph wires.

  • Little House on the Prairie: As civilization is slowly reaching the frontier town of De Smet, so does the telegraph. The clerk working in the office presents the apparatus to the townsfolk, who are fascinated. Then he plays a small prank on them, first asking the visitors to align in a circle, hold their hands... and pass a mild electric shock through them. Thankfully, they remain amused. By the end of "The Rose Years", Rose takes a job for the telegraph office.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Deadwood: Blazanov, who like everyone else in the show doesn't follow the codified look or behaviour, still has the utmost dedication to his job and the constant vigil at the key.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: Horace is the resident telegraph operator, and hits all the markers to the point qualifying as a proto-nerd.
  • Lois & Clark: In the Reincarnation Romance, Clark's western counterpart was a mild-mannered telegraph operator (with a Lone Ranger-style heroic identity).