Morse code is a system of transmitting words and symbols via tones, lights or clicks. These can only be understood after decoding, which can be done by a trained listener. Each letter, number or other symbol is made up of short and long signals called “dots” and “dashes”, also called “dits” and “dahs”. For example, the letter K is made up of a dash followed by a dot and then another dash (see below for more). This system was first developed for the electric telegraph system and was used as a way of quickly sending messages over a long distance. Although telegraph systems have been replaced by telephone systems in most cases, Morse code is still used in the aviation and marine industries, along with being popular with amateur radio enthusiasts.
Who invented the telegraph and Morse code?
The telegraph was invented in 1836 by Americans Samuel F. B. Morse, Joseph Henry, and Alfred Vail. The telegraph system was designed to send electrical pulses along wires. These pulses activated an electromagnet at the other end of the system so the code could be received. The original code was designed by Samuel Morse and he decided to transmit numbers that could then be decoded into letters. However, Alfred Vail expanded this idea to include letters and other special characters. The telegraph system originally printed the “dots” and “dashes” onto paper, but telegraph operators soon learned to interpret the sounds directly and write them down. The telegraph greatly improved the speed that messages could be delivered and it became
Did you know?
Morse was inspired to create such a system after news of his wife’s illness and death reached him too late. He had been unaware of her ill health and his wife was already buried by the time he reached his home.
In 1944 the first public telegram in America was sent by Morse, he sent “What hath God wrought.”
Morse code was the standard used internationally for maritime distress until 1999. The frequencies for Morse code are no longer monitored.
The proficiency of a Morse code operator is measured in words per minute. The record for copying down a Morse transmission is 75.2 words per minute (although faster performance is rumored to have occurred).