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May 24Trivia powered by Prof. Walter

Samuel F.B. Morse Sent the First Telegraphic Message
May 24, 1844

What was the first telegraph message? Sent by inventor Samuel F.B. Morse on May 24, 1844, over an experimental line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, the message said: "What hath God wrought?" Taken from the Bible, Numbers 23:23, and recorded on a paper tape, the phrase had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellsworth, the young daughter of a friend. The success of the experiment would change forever the national communication system. But Morse wasn't just interested in the telegraph.

Morse was also well respected for his paintings of people, like the self-portrait on the previous screen and this one of Mrs. David C. De Forest. He painted his subjects with honesty and insight. It was while returning from Europe to take his position as an arts professor at New York University that Morse came up with the idea of a communications system using the electro-magnet and a series of relays through a network of telegraph stations. In order to transmit messages in this system, he invented Morse Code, an alphabet of electronic dots and dashes. The system made communication across the country faster than ever before.

Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, dooming the Pony Express, but aiding forces in the Civil War. Mobile telegraph stations, like this one with hastily strung wires, connected scattered military units. President Lincoln kept up with events of the war through frequent dispatches from General George McClellan. One Confederate attack failed when soldiers became tangled up in Union telegraph wires strung from tree stump to tree stump. Morse probably never expected telegraph wires to be a booby-trap!

A generation or two ago, people would send telegrams to announce important news such as a new birth in the family. Ask your family if they have ever sent a telegram.

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