In the beginning of the industrial age, cities were expanding and railroads were growing, but people couldn’t get messages or news to other people fast enough. There were some electrical communications, but all were to slow or to complicating. Railroads were growing to fast, they were connecting cities to each other, and there needed some form of communication of some sort fast enough to past messages around. That is what Morse system of telegraphy did.
In the early 19th century, all of the essential components necessary to construct an electrical communication system had been discovered. The most important of these were the battery by Volta, the relationship between electric current and magnetism by Oersted, and the electromagnet by Henry. It now remained for someone to find a practical method to combine these technologies into a working communication system.
Some commercial electrical communications systems existed in Europe as early as the 183Os. A classic example of this is the English “Needle Telegraph”. The needle telegraph required two or more lines to form a complete circuit. It was also relatively slow and the design of the transmitting and receiving instruments was complex. Something simple and efficient was needed.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse invented the Morse system of telegraphy in the 1840s in the United States. “Morse Code” is essentially a simple way to represent the letters of the alphabet using patterns of long and short pulses. A unique pattern is assigned to each character of the alphabet, as well as to the ten numerals. These long and short pulses are translated into electrical signals by an operator using a telegraph key, and the electrical signals are translated back into the alphabetic characters by a skilled operator at the distant receiving instrument. It has also been acknowledged that Morse’s partner Alfred Vail very likely assisted in the development of the code and the instruments used to transmit and receive it.
Morse telegraphy became the standard method of electrical communication in both the United States and Europe due to its simplicity and ability to work on inferior quality wires. In 1851, countries in Europe adopted a new code known as “continental” or “international” code. This new code was a modification of the original Morse. The new code eliminated the characters using spaced dots, which were found to cause errors in transmission on undersea cables. The new code became the standard for all telegraph work except in North America where the original Morse was used on all landline circuits (except for undersea cable).
The applications of the Morse telegraph were many. The best known of these to the public was the commercial telegram service. The railroads were an early and enthusiastic user of the Morse system, which improved the efficiency, and safety of railroad operations manifold. The Associated Press was originally an alliance of Morse telegraph services and operators dedicated to news dispatches.
Industry found the telegraph indispensable for the transmission of business related communication including information on stocks and commodities. The American Civil War was the one of the first demonstrations of the military value of the telegraph in the control of troop deployment and intelligence. Even the flow of oil through pipelines was controlled by Morse telegraph.
The railroad and the steamship improved communications within nations and across the world. Britain introduced an inexpensive postal system, which further improved communication. Messages that once would have taken days to arrive now took minutes or seconds. In 1851, the first underwater telegraph cable was installed under the English Channel. It made rapid communication between Britain and the continent possible.