IntroductionCommunication that would have taken days was changed into seconds and weeks turned into minutes. The telegraph, invented by Samuel morse in 1830s revolutionized long distance communication all over the world. Many other communication systems existed before the telegraph. The development of the telegraph and Morse code relied on prior inventions and the aid of fellow inventors. This invention had a huge effect on America and the world, leading to many modern communication systems.Earlier Communication Systems The telegraph was a revolutionary invention that replaced express mail carriers and made other communication systems obsolete.
In the past, ancient civilizations like Egypt, China, and Greece have used smoke signals or drum beats for long distance communication. In the 1790s systems called semaphores were used, which often had moving arms. These stations were located on the tops of hills and used visual signals to relay information to other stations.
By the 1800s semaphores had become fairly common in Europe, although there were only a few simple links in the newly formed United States. Semaphores were slow and limited by weather and sight between stations. The telegraph was more reliable and replaced semaphore systems. Some semaphores stayed near the coast for ship to land communication since the telegraph could not travel out to sea. Some other forms of long distance communication in the US were overland mail and the Pony express. In the 1850s mail delivery from the East to the West of America was problematic.
Mail had to be transported down the Eastern seaboard, into the Caribbean sea, to Panama, overland to the Pacific, and up the Western seaboard to reach its destination. In 1857 the US postmaster gave a contract to a private Overland Mail company. Its stagecoaches, which held 5-6 hundred pounds of mail and up to four passengers, could make a trip from Saint Louis to San Francisco in 25 days. It operated successfully until the Civil War. In 1860 William H. Russel decided to create an express service.
He advertised for “Young skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans prefered.” He organized 90 riders and 500 well bred mounts to get an average of 350 letters 1966 miles in ten and a half days. These courageous riders would go 75 to 100 miles a day for the service that became known as the Pony Express. This, like the semaphore, was also replaced by the telegraph. In 1861 the transcontinental telegraph line (from the East to West coast) was laid, ending the Pony Express.Development of the Telegraph Samuel Morse was not the first person with the idea of telegraphy.
The idea of using electricity for long distance communication had been circulating since the 18th century, and inventors had been working on developing a way to send messages through electrical currents along wires. The nature of “electrical fluid”, as electricity was known at the time, was poorly understood, making progress slow. In England William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone developed the first electric telegraph for commercial use, beginning operation in 1838. It used two needles at a time out of five that would rotate on the receiving device to point at letters on the display. In the United States, Samuel Morse with the help from Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail, developed a single wire system that imprinted dots and dashes on a moving tape, although operators later learned to interpret the dots and dashes by listening to the clicks of the receiver.
In an early review of Morse’s invention from the April 1838 issue of the American Biblical Repository it was described as “more simple, less expensive, and more complete and permanent” and they predicted that “Should its succes equal the expectation of most who have examined it, the results of this discovery upon society will be greater than the imagination of the mos sanguine can now distinctly conceive.” In 1838 Morse started conducting demonstrations of the telegraph in New York and Washington, but because of the panic of 1837, a financial crisis in the United States,he decided to wait for better times. During this period he visited England to get a patent and view competing telegraph systems. While there he met with with Charles Wheatstone and realized his own system was more simple, efficient, and easy to use. By 1843 the US was starting to recover and Morse asked congress for the 30,000 dollar contract to create his system.
The House of Representatives eventually passed the bill and it was approved by the Senate. Morse received the money and begun his plan for an underground telegraph line.Morse, Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail had to lay insulate wire between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland 35 miles away in only two months. Once they finished, they tested the line but it did not work. They had bought defective wire and the insulation had burnt up. They had already spent 20,000 dollars so far and were forced to start over with little time remaining.
Desperately they decided to string the wires on trees and poles 30 feet high since the wire only needed to be insulated where it touched the poles. They successfully linked the Supreme Court chamber of the Capitol Building in Washington to the railroad station in Baltimore. On May 24, 1844 Samuel Morse sent his famous first message “What hath God wrought”. Soon, overhead wires connected cities all along the Atlantic coast, moved west and even connected Europe and America in Morse’s lifetime.
Morse Code Morse code was created in the 1830s by Vail and Morse, a code that translated the English alphabet into a series of dots and dashes. Each letter had a specific pattern. People who sent messages with the code refer to dot (the short marks) as dit and dash (the long marks) as dah.
The T in dit is silent except for the last letter in each word. For example, SOS, the famous request for help or rescue would be di-di-di dah-dah-dah di-di-dit. In the first telegraphs, the code was rendered as marks on a piece of paper. Operators realized they could hear and understand the message by the clicking of the receiver and it was later replaced by a beeping receiver. The telegraph was the most famous and common use of Morse code, although it is not the only way to send Morse code messages. They can be written on paper, tapped with fingers or a pencil, flashed with a light, blinked with the eyelids and many other ways. This first version of Morse code became known as American Morse code, although a more consistent version was developed in Europe.
Continental Morse code was created because the original included some oddities. Radio adopted Morse code in its early days and its potential for International Communication meant that a single telegraphic code was needed. Eventually Continental Morse was universally adopted and became known as International Morse. American Morse was largely dispersed from Radio use.Growth of the Telegraph Before the telegraph people would have to send letters or meet in person. People wanted quicker and easier communication, therefore the telegraph was quickly accepted. Messages could be sent hundreds and eventually thousands of miles in about an hour.
After messages were received they would be given to runners to be hand delivered. in the early 1850s a message of 10 words or less would cost $0.25 per hundred miles, which nowadays would be about seven and a half dollars. The only restriction to the telegraph was that it needed to be connected by cable between stations which could cost $100 to $200 per mile which was a lot of money at the time.
By the 1850s there were Telegraph lines in most major Eastern and Midwestern cities. In October 1861 the first transcontinental cable was laid and in 1866 a cable was laid across the floor of the Atlantic connecting North America and England. by 1866 100,000 miles of telegraph lines linked cities and towns in the US and there were thousands of workers in the telegraph industry. Morse was able to experience many of these incredible feet before his death in 1872 by the end of the nineteenth Century new technologies developed on the same principles as the telegraph. Early Wireless SpeculationThe earliest experimental telegraphs used many connecting wires and in some cases, a wire per letter of the alphabet. Morse’s first line in 1844 used to lines, one for carrying the electrical current for signaling and another to complete the circuit.
This was one of the reasons it was more efficient than competition. Later, it was discovered that two wires could be simplified to one by “grounding” the sending wire, eliminating the return wire. “Grounding” was a phenomenon at the time and was accomplished by physically burying a metal plate in the ground to which the wire was connected. It became known as “ground return” because it was incorrectly thought that the return current flowed through the Earth and to the sending point. What was really happening was that the Earth around the grounding point was acting as a sink, and the ” return current” was not actually traveling any significant distance.
This misconception gave light to the idea of signaling without any wires, like we see in our world today. Scientist were bamboozled and perplexed because while “ground return” currents could travel hundreds of miles, they could only send current through the ground for a couple of meters. In the 1860s, the Steinheil Telegraph section of History, Theory and Practice of the electric Telegraph reviewed the phenomenon, concluding that “It must be left to the future to decide whether we shall ever succeed in telegraphing at great distances without any metallic communication at all.” In 1878 the man responsible For the Atlantic Telegraph line said that “I am pretty sure that some day someone will show how messages can be sent across the Atlantic through the air without the aid of any wires whatever.
” It turned out that there was no way to send standard electrical currents for long distances through the ground but in 1895 Guglielmo Marconi discovered groundwave radio signals, that could travel the ” great distances” envisioned by Steinheil over land and sea using the earth as a guide. Marconi also later discovered skywave signals that could travel through the air and across the Atlantic Ocean.