Back in the 1950s, my dad was a Boy Scout troop leader and district commissioner. I remember when he was trying to get his troop, which included my two older brothers, to learn Morse Code. I was too young for scouts at the time, but my dad came up with a way to remember the Morse Code and asked me to learn it to see if it really helped. I did and when I demonstrated what I learned to the older boys, they were embarrassed that a young kid like me could do better than they could. Then dad showed them what he showed me. Before my older brothers learned the Morse Code, dad and I would talk to each other at the dinner table by tapping on the table with our forks. It really irked my brothers and helped to encourage them to learn the code so they could understand what dad and I would laugh about.
I wish I could remember it all now, but I do recall a few such as A (• —) was apple and the stem. B (— • • •) baseball bat and 3 base balls. E(•) was easy, an egg. F (• • — •) was two foxes, a fence they jumped over and 1 more fox. G (— — •) was a gun, the stock, the barrel and a bullet. I (• •) was a pair of eyes. L (• — • •) was a locomotive, front wheel, engine and two rear wheels. There are a few others I still remember nearly 60 years later, but you get the idea.
On this day, May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse made his code famous and changed the world. After convincing Congress to fund a telegraph line between Washington DC and Baltimore, Morse demonstrated how his device worked. Surrounded by members of Congress, Morse typed in a question taken from Numbers 23:23, suggested by Annie Ellsworth.
At the other end of the telegraph in Baltimore was Alfred Vail, who repeated ‘What hath God wrought’ back to Morse a moment after Morse was done, proving the success of the new telegraph.
Morse’s idea for the telegraph started in 1832 when a Frenchman first shared his idea. Morse took that idea and spent the next 12 years figuring out the best type of instrument to send and receive the messages. One of the problems he ran into was the fact that there was no standard by which to create and read the messages. During this time of development, Morse devised his own code, which is still used today, some 172 years later.
Morse also received a patent for his telegraph and Annie Ellsworth who suggested the first message just happened to be the daughter of the commissioner of patents.
The successful trial of the telegraph led to a fairly fast expansion of a national telegraph system. Once the first telegraph line opened, it only took 10 years to see it expand to move than 20,000 miles of telegraph lines.
The telegraph also played an important part in the Civil War, giving both sides the ability to communicate with their leaders and troops in many areas of the conflict. Some say the telegraph along with the railroad played an important role in the expansion of the western US.
It was Samuel Morse’s code that gave us the international signal for distress S O S – (• • • — — — • • •). Just think about how many people have been rescued using the S O S signal? Chances are, hundreds of thousands of people owe their lives Samuel Morse and his code, which was first demonstrated on this date, May 24, 1844. There is no doubt that the invention of the telegraphed changed the world.
Sources for the above includes: What Hath God Wrought?; Samuel F.B. Morse Sent the First Telegraphic Message : May 24, 1844; What Hath God Wrought!; The First Long-Distance Telegraph Message, Sent This Day in 1844: ‘What Hath God Wrought?’; Samuel F. B. Morse.