For hundreds of years, or at least since pens and paper became commonplace, people who wanted to get in touch with other people separated by distance had only one way to do it: they wrote letters, the only means of long-distance communication, at least until the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century. But where would Western civilization be without letters? As author of ‘To the Letter” Simon Garfield stated, we wouldn't have most of the New Testament—whatever you may think of St. Paul, he was indisputably a tireless letter writer. More contemporaneously, look to popular song for an index of just how commonplace letter writing was in our culture as late as a generation ago ("A Soldier's Last Letter," "Please, Mr. Postman," "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "P.S. I Love You"). As communication technology has diversified, posted letters have become less and less important as a method of communication.
Historically, letters have existed from the time of ancient India, ancient Egypt and Sumer, through Rome, Greece and China, up to the present day. Letters make up several of the books of the Bible. Archives of correspondence, whether for personal, diplomatic, or business reasons, serve as primary sources for historians. At certain times, the writing of letters has risen to be an art form and a genre of literature. In the ancient world letters were written on a various different materials, including metal, lead, wax-coated wooden tablets, pottery fragments, animal skin, and papyrus (Garfield, “To the Letter”)..
It all started with the development of the telegraph, which drastically shortened the time taken to send a communication, by sending it between distant points as an electrical signal. The signal was converted back into writing on paper and delivered to the recipients at the telegraph office closest to its destination. The next one was the telex which avoided the need for local delivery all together. Then it was followed by the fax machine: a letter could be transferred electronically from the sender to the receiver through the telephone network as an image. In today age, it’s the internet via email, it plays a large part in written communications; however, these email communications are not commonly referred to as letters but rather as e-mail (or email).
Despite email, letters are still popular, particularly in business and for official communications. Letters have several advantages over email, no special device is needed to receive a letter, just a postal address, and the letter can be read...