Where Was Morse Code First Used?
The first message in Morse code was tapped out in the United States over a telegraph line from Baltimore to Washington by Samuel F. B. Morse in 1844. Morse is often credited with the invention of the telegraph on his return to the United States from a trip to Europe in 1832. During this trip he became acquainted with the works of Michael Faraday on electro-magnetism, which forms the basis of the telegraph. This gave Morse the necessary impetus to go ahead with his work.
In 1837 Morse exhibited his first truly successful telegraph instrument. By 1838 he had developed the Morse code, an alphabet which consists of dots and dashes representing letters and numbers. In the same year he attempted unsuccessfully to persuade congress to build a telegraph line.
It was not until 1843 that congress voted to pay Morse to build the first telegraph line in the United States from Baltimore to Washington. In the following year Morse sent his famous message “What hath God wrought!” on this line. Later, Morse was caught in a mass of legal claims among his telegraph partners and rival inventors. He was probably the most successful propagator of the telegraph, although there were many pioneers in the same field long before him.
Morse code is a method of transmitting text information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment. The International Morse Code encodes the ISO basic Latin alphabet, some extra Latin letters, the Arabic numerals and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals (prosigns) as standardized sequences of short and long signals called “dots” and “dashes”, or “dits” and “dahs”, as in amateur radio practice. Because many non-English natural languages use more than the 26 Roman letters, extensions to the Morse alphabet exist for those languages.
Each Morse code symbol represents either a text character (letter or numeral) or a prosign and is represented by a unique sequence of dots and dashes. The duration of a dash is three times the duration of a dot. Each dot or dash is followed by a short silence, equal to the dot duration. The letters of a word are separated by a space equal to three dots (one dash), and the words are separated by a space equal to seven dots. The dot duration is the basic unit of time measurement in code transmission. To increase the speed of the communication, the code was designed so that the length of each character in Morse varies approximately inversely to its frequency of occurrence in English. Thus the most common letter in English, the letter “E”, has the shortest code, a single dot.
Morse code is used by some amateur radio operators, although knowledge of and proficiency with it is no longer required for licensing in most countries. Pilots and air traffic controllers usually need only a cursory understanding. Aeronautical navigational aids, such as VORs and NDBs, constantly identify in Morse code. Compared to voice, Morse code is less sensitive to poor signal conditions, yet still comprehensible to humans without a decoding device. Morse is, therefore, a useful alternative to synthesized speech for sending automated data to skilled listeners on voice channels. Many amateur radio repeaters, for example, identify with Morse, even though they are used for voice communications.
In an emergency, Morse code can be sent by improvised methods that can be easily “keyed” on and off, making it one of the simplest and most versatile methods of telecommunication. The most common distress signal is SOS or three dots, three dashes, and three dots, internationally recognized by treaty.
Morse code was used as an international standard for maritime distress until 1999 when it was replaced by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System. When the French Navy ceased using Morse code on January 31, 1997, the final message transmitted was “Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.” In the United States the final commercial Morse code transmission was on July 12, 1999, signing off with Samuel Morse’s original 1844 message, “What hath God wrought”, and the prosign “SK”.
As of 2015, the United States Air Force still trains ten people a year in Morse. The United States Coast Guard has ceased all use of Morse code on the radio, and no longer monitors any radio frequencies for Morse code transmissions, including the international medium frequency (MF) distress frequency of 500 kHz. However, the Federal Communications Commission still grants commercial radiotelegraph operator licenses to applicants who pass its code and written tests. Licensees have reactivated the old California coastal Morse station KPH and regularly transmit from the site under either this Call sign or as KSM. Similarly, a few US Museum ship stations are operated by Morse enthusiasts.