As you probably know, the Internet works because of something called DNS. Computers only communicate via a numerical IP address, like 126.96.36.199. People are, of course, terrible with numbers. DNS acts as the Internet’s phone book, translating human-friendly domain names into the IP address your computer needs to connect to a site . So when you type “google.com” into your address bar. your computer connects to a DNS server, asks for the IP address for google.com, and the DNS server says it’s 188.8.131.52. Your computer connects to that address and you get Google’s home page.
While domain names have been around longer than you might think, the idea really isn’t new, though. When telegraphs were the thing, a company, person or organization could set up a telegraphic address. Like a domain name, people could address telegraphs to FORD or STDOIL and they’d be passed down the telegraph lines until someone who knew the actual address sent it to its final destination. Just like trademarks, telegraphic addresses were a valuable property, and were fought over when companies split up. Competitors even bought addresses similar to legit ones, like COKECOLA or COCOCOLA.
A few companies and organizations are named for the previous telegraphic address.
Interflora rose to fame by using telegraphic (later, telephone) lines to send flower arrangements anywhere in the country. In the pre-Internet days, if your uncle on the other side of the country died, it was difficult to find a florist on in that area on your own. Instead you’d send the order from a local florist via Interflora, who’d telegraph an in-network florist near your uncle’s funeral home… for a cut of the money, of course. Which is kind of a good example of how this whole system worked.
Interpol, the international crime-fighting agency founded in Vienna in 1923, was originally known as the International Criminal Police Commission. It later changed its name to its telegraphic address. So if you wanted to squeal on someone, you just send a telegram to INTERPOL.
Oxfam, a charity founded at Oxford University, but with independent branches all over the world, was founded as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in 1942, initially to help fight the famine in Greece due to its Axis occupation and the Allies’ retaliatory blockade during the war. OXFAM was, of course, it’s telegraphic address.