This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

First Text Message

morse-codeMay 24, 1844:  First Telegraph Service Launched

Samuel Morse sends the first telegraphic message over a line from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore. The message, “What hath God wrought!” was transmitted to his partner, Alfred Vail, who retransmitted the same message back to Morse. This formally opened America’s first telegraph line, launching America’s first form of instant communication in history. The biblical text was selected by Annie Ellsworth, the teenage daughter of the U.S. Commissioner of Patents.

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Samuel Morse

In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland. The message–“What Hath God Wrought?”–was telegraphed back to the Capitol a moment later by Vail.

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Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument.  During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line.  On May 24, 1844, he inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with a message that was fitting given the invention’s future effects on American life.

Samuel Morse Telegraph Receiver Used to receive the message during the demonstration to Congress in 1844

Samuel Morse Telegraph Receiver Used to receive the message during the demonstration to Congress in 1844

Just a decade after the first line opened, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it enabled greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.

Samuel F. B. Morse (between 1865 and 1880) Photoportrait by Mathew Brady

Samuel F. B. Morse (between 1865 and 1880) Photoportrait by Mathew Brady

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Telegraph Launched

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