You've Got...A Telegram - Decoding the Past [Part 2]

Published on September 25th, 2015

The story continues…in England AND in America.


Two men, from two different countries, found two separate solutions to the telegraph….at the same time.


1830’s –Englishman William Fotergill Cooke, an artist of sorts, worked with Professor Charles Wheatstone to  develop a system that used electromagnetic needles that combined and pointed at letters on a printed grid to spell out a message.


American Samuel F.B. Morse, also an artist, collaborated with Alfred Vail to create an electromechanical system in which a stylus would emboss or draw dots and dashes on to a piece of paper and then be interpreted orally. The stylus would move according to the short or long electric bursts the device received. These bursts were created by holding down a key for different periods of time to interrupt the flow of electricity through a wire.


1843 – After further developments of this “Recording Telegraph”, partners Morse, Vail, and Leonard Gale incorporated and were funded by Congress to set up a demonstration line between Washington and Baltimore.


1844 – After a failed attempt using underground cables, Morse successfully sent a telegraph (“What hath God wrought!”, by the way) from the U.S. Supreme Court Chambers in Washington to Vail in Baltimore on May 24th.


1845 – A small group of investors subscribed $15,000 and formed the Magnetic Telegraph Company. Many other telegraph companies formed as licenses were sold wherever possible.  Leaps and bounds in the telegraph technology were made by some big name companies.


Also, independent entrepreneurs published books of codes to assist in creating short messages. These codes varied from numbers to Latin to nonsense words that would translate into phrases.


1850 – A significant advancement in the telegraph system occurred when skilled operators realized that they could scribe the Morse code message by ear according to the clicking pattern that the recording instrument made.


If you happened to miss last week’s history on the telegram, you can catch up with Part 1!


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