Categories : Innovations Interesting Science Discovery Technology


The invention of the Telegraph was not an isolated idea in history – rather, it was the eventual outcome of a number of scientific developments. To see where it began, we have to go back to 1825.

British inventor William Sturgeon was the inventor of a device that would be the foundation for later electronic communications. This invention was called the electromagnet. The power of this was demonstrated when he used a seven once piece of iron with wires wrapped around it to lift nine pounds – the electric current was generated by a single cell battery.
Then, in 1830, Joseph Henry, an American, sent an electronic current over one mile of wire to which caused a bell to ring. This can be thought of as the moment that the telegraph was born. Next up was Samuel Morse.

In 1835, while he was a professor at New York University, Morse proved that signals could be transmitted via wire. By using pulses of currents to deflect an electromagnet, he was able to move a marker and produce written code on a piece of paper – commonly known as Morse Code. The following year, the device was modified to include dots and dashes. In 1838 he gave a public demonstration, but it was not until 1843, five years later, that he received $30,000 to construct an experimental telegraph line from Washington D.C. to Baltimore, a distance of 40 miles.

The first public message sent was on May 1, 1944, when Henry Clay was nominated at the Whig party national convention. Morse’s partner, Alfred Vail, wired this news to the capital, thus making it the first ever news dispatched via electronic telegraph.

The message sent, “What hath God Wrought?” was sent from the old Supreme Court Chamber to Baltimore opened the line telegraph line on May 24, 1844. Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of one of Morse’s friends, chose the message from Numbers XXIII, 23. The early Morse telegraph produced a paper printout of dashes and dots, which were then translated by an operator.

By this time Morse and his partners began to receive private funding to extend the line to Philadelphia and New York. Smaller telegraph companies also began to spring up throughout the US. In 1851, another landmark accomplish occurred – trains were dispatched using the telegraph. Western Union also began business in this year, and in 1861 completed the first transcontinental telegraph line.

Originally, Morse code was printed on paper. Eventually this advanced to trained operators who could receive transmission by ear, and tape was discarded in favor of human operators, who could transmit up to 50 words per minute.

Advancements continued with the Telegraph, but it all started with a British inventor.  Samuel Morse applied what was already known in a different, and ultimately brilliant fashion.

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 Posted on : January 10, 2009 - Last updated on Jan 14, 2011

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