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Published on Jun 4, 2008
Beginning in 1836, Samuel F. B. Morse and Alfred Vail developed an electric telegraph, which sent pulses of electrical current to control an electromagnet that was located at the receiving end of the telegraph wire. The technology available at the time made it impossible to print characters in a readable form, so the inventors had to devise an alternate means of communication. Beginning in 1837, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone operated electric telegraphs in England, which also controlled electromagnets in the receivers; however, their systems used needle pointers that rotated to indicate the alphabetic characters being sent.
In contrast, Morse and Vail's initial telegraph, which first went into operation in 1844, made indentations on a paper tape when an electrical current was transmitted. Morse's original telegraph receiver used a mechanical clockwork to move a paper tape. When an electrical current was received, an electromagnet engaged an armature that pushed a stylus onto the moving paper tape, making an indentation on the tape. When the current was interrupted, the electromagnet retracted the stylus, and that portion of the moving tape remained unmarked.
The Morse code was developed so that operators could translate the indentations marked on the paper tape into text messages. In his earliest code, Morse had planned to only transmit numerals, and use a dictionary to look up each word according to the number which had been sent. However, the code was soon expanded to include letters and special characters, so it could be used more generally. The shorter marks were called "dots", and the longer ones "dashes", and the letters most commonly used in the English language were assigned the shortest sequences.
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