Social Change and the Telegraph


Search the Library for more like this

The Telegraph and Social Changes in the 19th Century

In [1829] Morse paid another visit to Europe, and spent over three years in the principal art centres of the continent.  He had already lectured on the fine arts at the New York Athenaeum, and during his absence in Europe was appointed professor of the literature of the arts of design in the University of New York City.

On his return voyage to the United States, in [1832], Morse first essayed a practical application of the principles of the telegraph. A fellow-passenger, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, who had studied in the laboratories of Paris, described an experiment by which electricity had been instantaneously transmitted over a long length of wire.  Morse then suggested that messages could be thus transmitted by electricity.  Before the end of the voyage Morse had sketched a complete set of apparatus, and was laboring to formulate an alphabet.  After arriving in New York he continued his experiments, and by the end of that year had a great part of the necessary apparatus constructed.  But it was not till [1835] that he completed his first model of a recording instrument.  He was now able to show a telegraph in full operation over half a mile of wire stretched round a room.  Parts of the great scheme were due to the suggestions of others.  The inventor sought information from every available source.

Morse gave an exhibition of his apparatus to the students in the University of New York City.  Among those present was Alfred Vail, who invited Morse to Speedwell.  Vail’s father promised to assist with money in perfecting the invention.  It was estimated that a sum of two thousand dollars would be necessary to secure the patent and construct the required apparatus.  Morse had devised a system of leaden types, by which signals were recorded; but Vail constructed an instrument on a different principle, involving the lever or “point,” which produced dots and dashes.  His next step was to devise an alphabetical code.  This led to the production of the dot and dash alphabet known as the “Morse.”  In January, [1838], the completion of the machine was announced.  Judge Vail went into the operating room, and found his son at one end of a three-mile wire, stretched round the walls, and Morse at the other.  He wrote on paper, “A patient waiter is no loser,” and handing it to his son, said, “If you can dispatch this from one end, and Morse can read it at the other, then I shall be convinced.”  This was immediately done.  

General operating room at Western UnionIn [1837] Morse had filed his first caveat in the Patent Office, Washington, and asked Congress for an appropriation to build a telegraph line from Washington to Baltimore.


Excerpt from The Library of Historic Characters and Famous Events of All Nations and All Ages by John P Lamberton – 1900




Further Reading and External Links

A full size replica of first Samuel F.B. Morse’s demonstration model of 1837

The Invention of the Telegraph

1st Formal message sent – World Cuture Pictorial