Origin of 73

Glen E. Zook gzook at HOME.COM
Thu Sep 27 19:52:07 EDT 2001

Many amateurs already know that "73" is from what is known as the
"Phillips Code", a series of numeric messages conceived for the purpose
of cutting down transmission time on the old land telegraph systems when
sending text that is basically the same.

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.  Most of these figure symbols became
obsolescent, but a few remain to this date, such as 4, which means
"Where shall I go ahead?'.  Figure 9 means 'wire', the wire chief being
on the wire and that everyone should close their keys.  Symbol 13 means
'I don't understand'; 22 is 'love and a kiss'; 30 means 'good night' or
'the end'.  The symbol most often used now is 73, which means 'my
compliments' and 92 is for the word 'deliver.'  The other figures in
between the forgoing have fallen into almost complete disuse."

One of the chief telegraphers of the Navy Department of Communications,
a J. L. Bishop, quoted from memory the signals that were in effect in

1  Wait a minute
4  Where shall I start in message?
5  Have you anything for me?
9  Attention or clear the wire
13 I do not understand
22 Love and kisses
25 Busy on another circuit
30 Finsihed, the end-used mainly by press telegraphers
73 My compliments, or Best Regards
92 Deliver

Now days, 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 alread 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.

Glen, K9STH

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