News & Opinion | September 22, 2020 10:04 am

The First “Online” Wedding Actually Happened 144 Years Ago

Before Zoom weddings, there were telegraph weddings

telegraph
Before Zoom, couples were wed remotely by telegraph.
Getty Images/Tetra images RF

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on indefinitely, weddings, like many aspects of our lives, have shifted online. Like Zoom classes, Zoom meetings and Zoom happy hours, we also now attend and/or get married ourselves in Zoom weddings, to the extent that an entire Zoom wedding industry has sprung up in recent months.

But while we tend to see Zoom weddings as a distinctly modern symbol of our technologically advanced, if dystopian, age, it turns out the first “online” wedding actually happened nearly 150 years ago. Back in 1876, a couple was married via telegraph, as Thomas Smith recounts in a recent article for Medium’s OneZero.

According to Smith, William Storey, a telegraph operator at Camp Smith in Arizona, was denied military leave to travel to San Diego to marry his fiancee, Clara Choate. He was able to get Choate to travel to Arizona instead, but there was no minister within 100 miles who could perform the ceremony, so Storey decided to telegraph one in.

The couple was married remotely by a minister in San Diego, who performed the ceremony by communicating with the couple via telegraph. Operators across the telegraph line tuned in to witness the event, and one in San Diego reportedly wired to the let newlyweds know that a band was serenading the couple from hundreds of miles away.

While a telegraph wedding is certainly more rudimentary than today’s pandemic Zoom weddings, Storey and Choate’s remote union did pioneer the “online” wedding as we know it today — as Smith notes, the phrase “online” actually has its origins in the telegraph, when it referred to the physical telegraph line.

So while Zoom weddings may seem like a dystopian sign of our uniquely troubled modern age, it turns out remote weddings have a long history of bringing couples together amid adverse circumstances (though maybe not quite so adverse as a viral pandemic).

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.