How and when was Morse Code Invented?

Morse Code

Who Invented Morse Code?

The Morse code is a way of representing numeric and alphabetic characters/symbols by using dots and dashes as signals. Morse code took its name from the American who invented the telegraph; Samuel Morse.

Samuel was an artist who loved to do paintings. He worked together with two other fellow inventors namely; Joseph Henry (a physics guru) and Alfred Vail, the trio pioneered the electrically-powered systems of telegraphs.

Their invention was needed to transmit texts by using pulses of electricity and the periods of inactivity between the pulses.

By 1837, Samuel Morse had finished work on his codes which became the basis of contemporary International Morse code. Two English inventors, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone became the first to incorporate electromagnets to a telegraph receiver. In 1837, they obtained a patent from England and showcased their work on a railway in London. This became the first known commercial purpose telegraph. William and Charles improved their invention in 1841, by building the telegraph which could print letters by using a hammer to strike the wheeled surface of a typeface.

The system of telegraphs operating on the Morse scheme of codes was initially demonstrated in 1844. Morse’s concept was to use electric current to make indentations on a piece of tape made with paper. The receiver used a motion-driven (mechanical clock) to drive a tape of paper

Upon receiving an electric current, an electromagnet attaches itself to an armature which pushes a pen-like structure to make indentations on a tape. Morse code was needed in order to convert the indentations into text messages. Samuel developed the codes which made use of numerals. Alfred Vail later improved the system by adding alphabetic codes and other characters.

The First Message Sent Via Morse Code

The inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse, was the first man to transmit a message using the Morse code. On 24th May 1844, Morse tested a message transmission from Washington to Baltimore.  A biblical text was suggested to Alfred Morse by a young lady named Ellsworth. She was the daughter of a friend of Morse. The first text message was “What Hath God Wrought” This quotation was taken from the book of Numbers 23:23

The successful transmission of the message became a turning point in communication systems around the globe. Samuel Morse invented the codes as the means to transmit messages using his telegraph system. A typical Morse code consists of electronically printed dots and dashes.

Usage of Morse Code in World War I & II

In the 1890s, Morse code began to find use in radio communications. The challenge was that transmitting voice signals through Morse code wasn’t feasible at that time. When the messages were sent through radio waves, the electronic dots and dashes were converted into short tones and long tones. Telegraph operators were trained to listen and interpret the tones. Radio operators called the tones, dits and dahs. As a coded means of communication, Morse code was heavily employed for communications, during World War 1 and 2. The Morse code system had a smaller communication bandwidth – it was suitable for high frequency (HF) radio waves. Skillful Morse code operators could still read a message even if the signal was distorted by noise.

During the Cold War, Morse code was still popular. Naval officers used Morse code to serve as a secondary plan to send distress signals (SOS). The disadvantage of using Morse code was that it took a relatively long time interval to transmit messages via Morse code. In the Second World War, a device called burst encoder was developed and used to play Morse code messages at a high speed. This helped to reduce the transmission time, thereby lessening the chances of being detected by an enemy. The Russians and their allies made use of Morse code during the war. The U.S also used it during the Vietnam War.

Morse Code for the Maritime Distress Signal – SOS

Morse code was used to create an international emergency signal, called SOS. A more technical way of representing SOS is by putting a long bar over the top of characters. The SOS signal is a call for help. In 1905, Germany became the first country to adopt the SOS distress signal. The signal became standardized and used across the world until it was substituted in 1999, by a new Global Maritime Distress Signal.

In Morse code, the three characters of SOS (∙∙∙−−−∙∙∙) are represented by 3 dots (indicating the first S), 3 dashes (indicating the O) and 3 dots (indicating the last S).

The Morse code for SOS is easy to remember, that is why it became widely adopted as a distress signal. SOS has been assumed to be an abbreviation for “Save Our Souls” or “Save Our Ship”.

How has Morse Code Changed the World?

The introduction of the telegraph and Morse code has revolutionized human communication. Before their inventions, the world had no means of long-distance communication. Messages were written down by hand and relayed to far places by horse riders. Society was stuck in dark ages with no clue to broadcast information to farther places.

With the invention of Morse code, the world was presented with a faster means of long-distance communication. Thanks to Morse code, it was possible for ships to transmit messages by using light or electric pulses.

Naval officers used Morse code to communicate with their counterparts at different locations. When wars broke out, military officers used Morse code to communicate with its members at bases. This helped them to share secret information about enemy locations.

The introduction of Morse code laid a foundation for modern forms of telecommunication such as the telephone and the internet.

How Morse Code is used in our world today

Morse code was used as a means of telecommunication during the telegraph era. It is still in used today. The American Navy still employs Morse code to communicate using signal lamps. Additionally, Morse code has been used to assist people with communication disabilities.

Commonly asked questions about Morse code

These FAQs provide a brief overview on the history and invention of Morse code:

Who invented Morse code?

Morse code was developed by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail in the early 1830s for use with their new invention, the telegraph.

How does it work?

Each letter of the alphabet, numeral, and some punctuation marks are represented by a unique combination of dots (short signals) and dashes (long signals).

Is Morse code used today?

While it’s no longer a primary method of communication, Morse code is still used in some sectors like aviation and amateur radio. It’s also popular among enthusiasts and is often used as a method of learning or challenge in escape rooms and other puzzle scenarios.

Why was Morse code important in history?

Before the advent of telephones and other communication methods, the telegraph was the fastest way to communicate over long distances. Morse code made this possible and revolutionized global communication in the 19th century.

Is Morse code universal?

While the basic Morse code is standardized and used internationally, there have been different versions and extensions for languages with characters not found in the English alphabet.

How fast can someone send or receive Morse code?

A skilled operator can send and receive Morse code at speeds up to 20-30 words per minute or even faster. However, beginners usually start at much slower speeds.

Is it only audible?

No. While Morse code is often transmitted using sound (like beeps), it can also be transmitted visually (with flashing lights, for example), or even tactilely (as vibrations).

What do the terms “dit” and “dah” mean?

“Dit” and “dah” are the phonetic representations of the short and long signals, respectively. They are often used to vocalize Morse code.

Is there a Morse code for emojis or modern symbols?

Traditional Morse code does not have representations for modern symbols like emojis. However, enthusiasts and communities may have developed unofficial codes for such symbols.

Why is the distress signal “SOS” in Morse code?

“SOS” is universally recognized as a distress signal in Morse code. It’s not an abbreviation but was chosen because of its simplicity and unmistakability: three short signals, followed by three long signals, followed by three short signals (…—…).


3 Responses

  1. colby says:

    this was vary useful thx

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