A Short History of Morse Code

Morse code is a way of transmitting individual characters through a standardized pattern of dots or dashes to a listener or observer. It was developed by Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872), an American painter and inventor. Morse became particularly interested in electricity around 1872 and was from this time period that the electric telegraph was invented. Since outdated, the telegraph is a communication system that transmits electric signals over wires from location to location with the intent of communicating a message.

Originally messages that needed to be delivered over great distances had to be delivered by messengers who carried them in writing or could recite them from memory. Due to the time constraints of this type of horse-driven delivery system it was no wonder Morse was successful for helping to expedite this process. In fact by 1851 the United States had over 50 telegraph companies most of which used technology that held Morse patents.

Morse code was sent over a series of electrical signals referred to as dits and dahs. The short signals are referred to as dits and are represented by dots. The long signals are referred to as dahs and are represented as dashes. Morse code and its interpretation are based on defined time intervals that define characters, time between characters, and time between words. As such the speed of transmitting Morse code is measured in words per minute (WPM) just as in typing. A savvy Morse code operator is said to be able to transmit and receive information at between 20-30 WPM. Learn Morse Code.

To transmit messages, operators use the electric telegraph to tap out Morse code. Because each character, letter or number, is represented by defined codes it was possible for the transmitter to send electrical impulses over wires so that a receiver could decipher them. The original machine would produce codes onto a piece of paper and then was modified to emboss the paper with dots and dashes.

The device became famous in 1838 but was not put to use by the US congress until some five years later. The first experimental telegraph was then funded to be transmitted from Washington to Baltimore. After the results of a Whig national party nomination on May 1, 1844 the first news to be sent of electric telegraph was transmitted through part of the finished telegraph line. Hand-carried news reached a point between the two cities where Morse’s partner wired it to the Capital. It’s message? “What hath God wrought?”

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