Telegraph & Morse Code

By: Barry Hawkins


Developed in the 1830s and 1840s by Samuel Morse (1791-1872) and other inventors, the telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication. It worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations. In addition to helping invent the telegraph, Samuel Morse developed a code that assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet and allowed for the simple transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines.

The First Telegraph Message & it's impact

In 1844, Morse sent his first telegraph message, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland; by 1866, a telegraph line had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. to Europe. Although the telegraph had fallen out of widespread use by the start of the 21st century, replaced by the telephone, fax machine and Internet, it laid the groundwork for the communications revolution that led to those later innovations.

Why It's Called The Morse Code

Samuel Morse, Joseph Henry, and Alfred Vail continued to work on the electrical telegraph system, making advancements and developments. One year after they released their system in 1836, the British team of Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke developed an electrical telegraph that could use electric currents with a hammer to type out letters. Though the system was innovative, it failed to find a market. By 1844, the Morse telegraph began using paper type and electric currents that would leave imprints on paper. The team developed the Morse code as a way to make the movable type readable by those who received it. Morse code consists of a series of dashes and dots, arranged in a way that represents the letters of the alphabet. Morse code has continued to advance over the years and is still in use today.