A Short History of the Morse Code

For a lot of people, knowledge of the Morse code begins and ends at S.O.S. However, Morse code has been tremendously important for international communication. Though the way of Morse code started to die off with the start of the new millennium, almost everyone at least knows of Morse code.

But how did it all begin, and how did it become such a standard for telecommunication? Let’s take a look at the ins and outs in this short history of the Morse code.

Before Morse

In the early 1800s, many countries across Europe were trying to figure out a way to communicate electronically. These early devices used electromagnetic technology that would send messages telegraphically through a single-needle system. Multiple codes were used during this time to see which one would be the most convenient, but it was hard to find the right method.

Enter Samuel Morse

Born in 1791, Samuel Morse spent much of his life as a painter. However, it wouldn’t be his art that he’d become known for well after his death in 1872. Morse teamed up with scientist Joseph Henry and professor Leonard Gale to come up with a new method of telegraphic communication. Even with his background in art, Morse had a good handle on the engineering aspects of how this new system would work. “Science and art are not opposed,” Morse said.

“If the presence of electricity can be made visible in any part of the circuit, I see no reason why intelligence may not be transmitted instantaneously by electricity,” Morse said of the design. 

Morse had introduced new circuits and frequent intervals that extended the reach of the messages he was sending. At first, it was only a couple hundred yards but quickly became several miles that the messages could travel. Morse fought hard for a patent and government support to fund the expansion of his telegraphic system, and within a few years, it was a standard across the northeastern part of the United States.

“It would not be long ere the whole surface of this country would be channeled for those nerves which are to diffuse, with the speed of thought, a knowledge of all that is occurring throughout the land, making, in fact, one neighborhood of the whole country,” Morse exclaimed.

How The Code Works

You may have seen a chart of Morse code before, which shows a series of dots and dashes that represents each letter of the English alphabet. Each of these series is transmitted in the form of electronic pulses and originally would move a stylus to make an indentation. These indentations could then be read as letters, forming words and sentences. More commonly used letters were given the easiest series of dots and dashes to transmit. For instance, the letter ‘A’ is just a dot and a dash, while ‘J’ is a dash, dot, dash, dot.

Use of Morse Code

Before the use of voice transmitters, Morse code became the standardized system of telecommunication. As aviation was starting to become more common, the communication needed to increase and Morse code exploded in popularity. Then, as World War I came around, Morse code was adopted into other languages. Afterward, Morse code would also be used in maritime, including lighthouses flashing in Morse code.

Do We Still Use Morse Code Today?

Morse code isn’t used these days nearly as much as it was at the turn of the 20th century. Each year, voice communication becomes more reliable, making Morse code a bit of a relic. It was all the way up until the 2000s that Morse code was still commonly used, and it does still have some uses, though many of which are a novelty. Still used in aviation and radio historians, Morse code will live on forever. Even the military still flashes lamps and bulbs in Morse code to send signals when voice communications aren’t an option.

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