The Origin of 73
The traditional expression "73" goes right back to the beginning of the landline telegraph days. It it 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 Telegraphic Review and Operators' Guide, first published in April 1857. At that time, 73 meant "My love to you"! Succeeeding issue of this publication continued to use this definition of the term. Curiously enough, some of the other numerals used then had the same definition as they have now, but within aq short time. the use of 73 began to change.
In the National Telegraph Convention, the numerals was changed from the Valentine-type sentimentto a vague sign of fraternalism. Here, 73 was a greeting "word" between operators and it was 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 shows variations of this meaning. Dodge's The Telegrapg 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-Taugh shows a return to "accept my compliments." By 1908 however, a later edition of the Dodge Manual gives 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 words between operators." - Louise Ramsey Moreau, W3WRE
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