Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Leah Moser and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: SAMUEL FINLEY BREESE MORSE
Inventor of the Telegraph]
MASTERS OF SPACE
_and the Telegraph_
_and the Cable_
_and the Telephone_
_and the Wireless Telegraph_
_and the Wireless Telephone_
BY WALTER KELLOGG TOWERS
MY CO-LABORER AND COMPANION
BERENICE LAURA TOWERS
WHOSE ENCOURAGEMENT AND ASSISTANCE
WERE CONSTANT IN THE GATHERING
AND PREPARATION OF MATERIAL
FOR THIS VOLUME.
I. COMMUNICATION AMONG THE ANCIENTS
II. SIGNALS PAST AND PRESENT
III. FORERUNNERS OF THE TELEGRAPH
IV. INVENTIONS OF SIR CHARLES WHEATSTONE
V. THE ACHIEVEMENT OF MORSE
VI. "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?"
VII. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TELEGRAPH SYSTEM
VIII. TELEGRAPHING BENEATH THE SEA
IX. THE PIONEER ATLANTIC CABLE
X. A SUCCESSFUL CABLE ATTAINED
XI. ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, THE YOUTH
XII. THE BIRTH OF THE TELEPHONE
XIII. THE TELEPHONE AT THE CENTENNIAL
XIV. IMPROVEMENT AND EXPANSION
XV. TELEGRAPHING WITHOUT WIRES
XVI. AN ITALIAN BOY'S WORK
XVII. WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY ESTABLISHED
XVIII. THE WIRELESS SERVES THE WORLD
XIX. SPEAKING ACROSS THE CONTINENT
XX. TELEPHONING THROUGH SPACE
SAMUEL FINLEY BREESE MORSE
MORSE'S FIRST TELEGRAPH INSTRUMENT
CYRUS W. FIELD
WILLIAM THOMSON (LORD KELVIN)
THE "GREAT EASTERN" LAYING THE ATLANTIC CABLE, 1866
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
THOMAS A. WATSON
PROFESSOR BELL'S VIBRATING REED
PROFESSOR BELL'S FIRST TELEPHONE
THE FIRST TELEPHONE SWITCHBOARD USED IN NEW HAVEN, CONN., FOR EIGHT
EARLY NEW YORK EXCHANGE
PROFESSOR BELL IN SALEM, MASS., AND MR. WATSON IN BOSTON,
DEMONSTRATING THE TELEPHONE BEFORE AUDIENCES IN 1877
DOCTOR BELL AT THE TELEPHONE OPENING THE NEW YORK-CHICAGO LINE,
OCTOBER 18, 1892
A REMARKABLE PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN OUTSIDE OF THE CLIFDEN STATION WHILE
MESSAGES WERE BEING SENT ACROSS TO CAPE RACE
MARCONI STATION AT CLIFDEN, IRELAND
This is the story of talking at a distance, of sending messages
through space. It is the story of great men--Morse, Thomson, Bell,
Marconi, and others--and how, with the aid of men like Field, Vail,
Catty, Pupin, the scientist, and others in both the technical and
commercial fields, they succeeded in flashing both messages and speech
around the world, with wires and without wires. It is the story of
how the thought of the world has been linked together by those modern
wonders of science and of industry--the telegraph, the submarine
cable, the telephone, the wireless telegraph, and, most recently, the
The story opens with the primitive methods of message-sending by fire
or smoke or other signals. The life and experiments of Morse are then
pictured and the dramatic story of the invention and development of
the telegraph is set forth. The submarine cable followed with the
struggles of Field, the business executive, and Thomson, the inventor
and scientific expert, which finally culminated in success when the
_Great Eastern_ landed a practical cable on the American coast. The
early life of Alexander Graham Bell was full of color, and I have told
the story of his patient investigations of human speech and hearing,
which, finally culminated in a practical telephone. There follows the
fascinating story of Marconi and the wireless telegraph. Last comes
the story of the wireless telephone, that newest wonder which has come
among us so recently that we can scarcely realize that it is here. An
inner view of the marvelous development of the telephone is added in
The part played by the great business leaders who have developed and
extended the new inventions, placing them at the service of all,
has not been forgotten. Not only have means of communication been
discovered, but they have been improved and put to the widest
practical use with remarkable efficiency and celerity. The stories of
these developments, in both the personal and executive sides, embody
the true romance of the modern business world.
The great scientists and engineers who have wrought these wonders
which have had so profound an influence upon the life of the
world lived, and are living, lives filled with patient effort,
discouragement, accomplishment, and real romance. They are interesting
men who have done interesting things. Better still, they have done
important, useful things. This book relates their life stories in a
connected form, for they have all worked for a similar end. The story
of these men, who, starting in early youth in the pursuit of a great
idea, have achieved fame and success and have benefited civilization,
cannot but be inspiring. They did not stumble upon their discoveries
by any lucky accident. They knew what they sought, and they labored
toward the goal with unflagging zeal. Had they been easily discouraged
we might still be dependent upon the semaphore and the pony express
for the transmission of news. But they persevered until success was
attained, and in the account of their struggle to success every one
may find encouragement in facing his own tasks.
One can scarce overestimate the value of modern methods of
communication to the world. So much of our development has been more
or less directly dependent upon it that it is difficult to fancy our
situation without the telegraph and telephone. The diligence with
which the ancients sought speedy methods for the sending of messages
demonstrates the human need for them. The solution of this great
problem, though long delayed, came swiftly, once it was begun.
Even the simple facts regarding "Masters of Space" and their lives of
struggle and accomplishment in sending messages between distant points
form an inspiring story of great achievement.
#MASTERS OF SPACE#
COMMUNICATION AMONG THE ANCIENTS
Signaling the Fall of Troy--Marine Signaling among the
Argonauts--Couriers of the Greeks, Romans, and
Aztecs--Sound-signaling--Stentorophonic Tube--The Shouting
Sentinels--The Clepsydra--Signal Columns--Indian Fire and Smoke
It was very early in the history of the world that man began to feel
the urgent need of communicating with man at a distance. When village
came into friendly contact with village, when nations began to
form and expand, the necessity of sending intelligence rapidly and
effectively was clearly realized. And yet many centuries passed
without the discovery of an effective system. Those discoveries were
to be reserved for the thinkers of our age.
We can understand the difficulties that beset King Agamemnon as he
stood at the head of his armies before the walls of Troy. Many were
the messages he would want to send to his native kingdom in Greece
during the progress of the siege. Those at home would be eager for
news of the great enterprise. Many contingencies might arise which
would make the need for aid urgent. Certainly Queen Clytemnestra
eagerly awaited word of the fall of the city. Yet the slow progress of
couriers must be depended upon.
One device the king hit upon which was such as any boy might devise
to meet the simplest need. "If I can go skating tonight," says Johnny
Jones to his chum, "I'll put a light in my window." Such is the simple
device which has been used to bear the simplest message for ages. So
King Agamemnon ordered beacon fires laid on the tops of Mount Ida,
Mount Athos, Mount Cithaeron, and on intervening eminences. Beside them
he placed watchers who were always to have their faces toward Troy.
When Troy fell a near-by fire was kindled, and beacon after beacon
sprang into flame on the route toward Greece. Thus was the message
of the fall of Troy quickly borne to the waiting queen by this
preconceived arrangement. Yet neither King Agamemnon nor his sagest
counselors could devise an effective system for expediting their
Prearranged signals were used to convey news in even earlier times.
Fire, smoke, and flags were used by the Egyptians and the Assyrians
previous to the Trojan War. The towers along the Chinese Wall were
more than watch-towers; they were signal-towers. A flag or a light
exhibited from tower to tower would quickly convey a certain message
agreed upon in advance. Human thought required a system which could
convey more than one idea, and yet skill in conveying news grew
Perhaps the earliest example of marine signaling of which we know
is recorded of the Argonautic Expedition. Theseus devised the use of
colored sails to convey messages from ship to ship of the fleet, and
caused the death of his father by his failure to handle the signals
properly. Theseus sailed into conflict with the enemy with black sails
set, a signal of battle and of death. With the battle over and himself
the victor, he forgot to lower the black flag and set the red flag of
victory. His father, the aged AEgeus, seeing the black flag, believed
it reported his son's death, and, flinging himself into the sea, was
In time it occurred to the great monarchs as their domains extended
to establish relays of couriers to bear the messages which must be
carried. Such systems were established by the Greeks, the Romans, and
the Aztecs. Each courier would run the length of his own route and
would then shout or pass the message to the next runner, who would
speed it away in turn. Such was the method employed by our own
An ancient Persian king thought of having the messages shouted from
sentinel to sentinel, instead of being carried more slowly by relays
of couriers. So he established sentinels at regular intervals within
hearing of one another, and messages were shouted from one to the
other. Just fancy the number of sentinels required to establish a line
between distant cities, and the opportunities for misunderstanding and
mistake! The ancient Gauls also employed this method of communication.
Caesar records that the news of the massacre of the Romans at Orleans
was sent to Auvergne, a distance of nearly one hundred and fifty
miles, by the same evening.
Though signaling by flashes of light occurred to the ancients, we have
no knowledge that they devised a way of using the light-flashes for
any but the simplest prearranged messages. The mirrors of the Pharaohs
were probably used to flash light for signal purposes. We know that
the Persians applied them to signaling in time of war. It is reported
that flashes from the shields were used to convey news at the battle
of Marathon. These seem to be the forerunners of the heliograph. But
the heliograph using the dot-and-dash system of the Morse code can
be used to transmit any message whatever. The ancients had evolved
systems by which any word could be spelled, but they did not seem to
be able to apply them practically to their primitive heliographs.
An application of sound-signaling was worked out for Alexander
the Great, which was considered one of the scientific wonders of
antiquity. This was called a stentorophonic tube, and seems to have
been a sort of gigantic megaphone or speaking-trumpet. It is recorded
that it sent the voice for a dozen miles. A drawing of this strange
instrument is preserved in the Vatican.
Another queer signaling device, built and operated upon a novel
principle, was an even greater wonder among the early peoples. This
was known as a clepsydra. Fancy a tall glass tube with an opening at
the bottom in which a sort of faucet was fixed. At varying heights
sentences were inscribed about the tube. The tube, being filled with
water, with, a float at the top, all was ready for signaling any
of the messages inscribed on the tube to a station within sight and
similarly equipped. The other station could be located as far away
as a light could be seen. The station desiring to send a message to
another exhibited its light. When the receiving station showed its
light in answer, the tap was opened at the bottom of the tube in each
station. When the float dropped until it was opposite the sentence
which it was desired to transmit, the sending station withdrew its
light and closed the tap. This was a signal for the receiving station
to stop the flow of water from its tube. As the tubes were just alike,
and the water had flowed out during the same period at equal speed,
the float at the receiving station then rested opposite the message to
Many crude systems of using lights for signaling were employed. Lines
of watch-towers were arranged which served as signal-stations. The
ruins of the old Roman and Gallic towers may still be found In France.
Hannibal erected them in Africa and Spain. Colored tunics and spears
were also used for military signals in the daytime. For instance,
a red tunic displayed meant prepare for battle; while a red spear
conveyed the order to sack and devastate.
An ancient system of camp signals from columns is especially
interesting as showing a development away from the prearranged signals
of limited application. For these camp signals the alphabet was
divided into five or six parts, and a like number of columns erected
at each signal-station. Each column represented one group of letters.
Suppose that we should agree to get along without the Q and the Z
and reduce our own alphabet to twenty-four letters for use in such
a system. With six columns we would then have four letters for each
column. The first column would be used to signal A, B, C, and D. One
light or flag shown from column one would represent A, two flags
or lights B, and so on. Thus any word could be spelled out and any
message sent. Without doubt the system was slow and cumbersome, but it
was a step in the right direction.
The American Indians developed methods of transmitting news which
compare very favorably with the means employed by the ancients.
Smoke-rings and puffs for the daytime, and fire-arrows at night, were
used by them for the sending of messages. Smoke signals are obtained
by building a fire of moist materials. The Indian obtains his
smoke-puffs by placing a blanket or robe over the fire, withdrawing
it for an instant, and then replacing it quickly. In this way puffs of
smoke may be sent aloft as frequently as desired.
A column of smoke-puffs was used as a warning signal, its meaning
being: Look out, the enemy is near. One smoke-puff was a signal for
attention; two puffs indicated that the sender would camp at that
place. Three puffs showed that the sender was in danger, as the enemy
Fire-arrows shot across the sky at night had a similar meaning. The
head of the arrow was dipped in some highly inflammable substance and
then set on fire at the instant before it was discharged from the bow.
One fire-arrow shot into the sky meant that the enemy were near; two
signaled danger, and three great danger. When the Indian shot many
fire-arrows up in rapid succession he was signaling to his friends
that his enemies were too many for him. Two arrows discharged into the
air at the same time indicated that the party sending them was
about to attack. Three indicated an immediate attack. A fire-arrow
discharged diagonally across the sky indicated the direction in which
the sender would travel. Such were the methods which the Indians used,
working out different meanings for the signals in the various tribes.
Very slight progress was made in message-sending in medieval times,
and it was the middle of the seventeenth century before even signal
systems were attained which were in any sense an improvement. For many
centuries the people of the world existed, devising nothing better
than the primitive methods outlined above.
SIGNALS PAST AND PRESENT
Marine and Military Signals--Code Flags--Wig-wag--Semaphore
Telegraphs--Heliographs--Ardois Signals--Submarine Signals.
In naval affairs some kind of an effective signal system is
imperative. Even in the ordinary evolutions of a fleet the commander
needs some better way of communicating with the ship captains than
despatching a messenger in a small boat. The necessity of quick and
sure signals in time of battle is obvious. Yet for many centuries
naval signals were of the crudest.
The first distinct advance over the primitive methods by which the
commander of one Roman galley communicated with another came with the
introduction of cannon as a naval arm. The use of signal-guns was soon
thought of, and war-ships used their guns for signal purposes as early
as the sixteenth century. Not long after came the square-rigged
ship, and it soon occurred to some one that signals could be made by
dropping a sail from the yard-arm a certain number of times.
Up to the middle of the seventeenth century the possibilities of
the naval signal systems were limited indeed. Only a few prearranged
orders and messages could be conveyed. Unlimited communication at a
distance was still impossible, and there were no means of sending a
message to meet an unforeseen emergency. So cumbersome were the signal
systems in use that even though they would convey the intelligence
desired, the speaking-trumpet or a courier was employed wherever
To the officers of the British navy of the seventeenth century
belongs the credit for the first serious attempt to create a system of
communication which would convey any and all messages. It is not clear
whether Admiral Sir William Penn or James II. established the code.
It was while he was Duke of York and the commander of Britain's
navy, that the James who was later to be king took this part in the
advancement of means of communication. Messages were sent by varying
the position of a single signal flag.
In 1780 Admiral Kempenfeldt thought of adding other signal flags
instead of depending upon the varied positions of a single signal.
From his plan the flag signals now in use by the navies of the world
were developed. The basis of his system was the combining of distinct
flags in pairs.
The work of Admiral Philip Colomb marked another long step forward
in signaling between ships. While a young officer he developed a
night-signal system of flashing lights, still in use to some extent,
and which bears his name. Colomb's most important contribution to the
art of signaling was his realization of the utility of the code which
Morse had developed in connection with the telegraph.
Code flags, which are largely used between ships, have not been
entirely displaced by the wireless. The usual naval code set consists
of a set of alphabet flags and pennants, ten numeral flags, and
additional special flags. This of course provides for spelling out any
conceivable message by simply hoisting letter after letter. So slow
a method is seldom used, however. Various combinations of letters and
figures are used to indicate set terms or sentences set forth in the
code-book. Thus the flags representing A and E, hoisted together, may
be found on reference to the code-book to mean, "Weigh anchor." Each
navy has its own secret code, which is carefully guarded lest it be
discovered by a possible enemy. Naval code-books are bound with metal
covers so that they may be thrown overboard in case a ship is forced
The international code is used by ships of all nations. It is the
universal language of the sea, and by it sailors of different tongues
may communicate through this common medium. Any message may be
conveyed by a very few of the flags in combination.
The wig-wag system, a favorite and familiar method of communication
with every Boy Scout troop, is in use by both army and navy. The
various letters of the alphabet are indicated by the positions in
which the signaler holds his arms. Keeping the arms always forty-five
degrees apart, it is possible to read the signals at a considerable
distance. Navy signalers have become very efficient with this form of
communication, attaining a speed of over fifteen words a minute.
A semaphore is frequently substituted for the wig-wag flags both on
land and on sea. Navy semaphores on big war-ships consist of arms ten
or twelve feet long mounted at the masthead. The semaphore as a means
of communication was extensively used on land commercially as well as
by the army. A regular semaphore telegraph system, working in relays
over considerable distances was in operation in France a century ago.
Other semaphore telegraphs were developed in England.
The introduction of the Morse code and its adaptation to signaling by
sight and sound did much to simplify these means of communication. The
development of signaling after the adoption of the Morse code, though
it occurred subsequent to the introduction of the telegraph, may
properly be spoken of here, since the systems dependent upon sight and
sound grow from origins more primitive than those which depend upon
electricity. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century armies had
made slight progress in perfecting means of communication. The British
army had no regular signal service until after the recommendations
of Colomb proved their worth in naval affairs. The German army, whose
systems of communication have now reached such perfection, did not
establish an army signal service until 1902.
The simplicity of the dot and dash of the Morse code makes it
readily available for almost any form of signaling under all possible
conditions. Two persons within sight of each other, who understand
the code, may establish communication by waving the most conspicuous
object at hand, using a short swing for a dot and a long swing for a
dash. Two different shapes may also be exhibited, one representing a
dot and the other a dash. The dot-and-dash system is also admirably
adapted for night signaling. A search-light beam may be swung across
the sky through short and long arcs, a light may be exhibited and
hidden for short and long periods, and so on. Where the search-light
may be played upon a cloud it may be seen for very considerable
distances, messages having been sent forty miles by this means.
Fog-horns, whistles, etc., may be similarly employed during fogs or
amid thick smoke. A short blast represents a dot, and a long one a
The heliograph, which established communication by means of short and
long light-flashes, is another important means of signaling to which
the Morse code has been applied. This instrument catches the rays of
the sun upon a mirror, and thence casts them to a distant receiving
station. A small key which throws the mirror out of alignment serves
to obscure the flashes for a space at the will of the sender, and so
produces short or long flashes.
The British army has made wide use of the heliograph in India and
Africa. During the British-Boer War It formed the sole means of
communication between besieged garrisons and the relief forces.
Where no mountain ranges intervene and a bright sun is available,
heliographic messages may be read at a distance of one hundred and
While the British navy used flashing lights for night signals, the
United States and most other navies adopted a system of fixed colored
lights. The system in use in the United States Navy is known as the
Ardois system. In this system the messages are sent by four lights,
usually electric, which are suspended from a mast or yard-arm. The
lights are manipulated by a keyboard situated at a convenient point on
the deck. A red lamp is flashed to indicate a dot in the Morse code,
while a white lamp indicates a dash. The Ardois system is also used by
the Army. The perfection of wireless telegraphy has caused the Ardois
and other signal systems depending upon sight or sound to be discarded
in all but exceptional cases. The wig-wag and similar systems will
probably never be entirely displaced by even such superior systems
as wireless telegraphy. The advantage of the wig-wag lies in the
fact that no apparatus is necessary and communication may thus be
established for short distances almost instantly. Its disadvantages
are lack of speed, impenetrability to dust, smoke, and fog, and the
short ranges over which it may be operated.
There is another form of sound-signaling which, though it has been
developed in recent years, may properly be mentioned in connection
with earlier signal systems of similar nature. This is the submarine
signal. We have noted that much attention was paid to communication by
sound-waves through the medium of the air from the earliest times. It
was not until the closing years of the past century, however, that
the superior possibilities of water as a conveyer of sound were
Arthur J. Mundy, of Boston, happened to be on an American steamer on
the Mississippi River in the vicinity of New Orleans. It was rumored
that a Spanish torpedo-boat had evaded the United States war vessels
and made its way up the great river. The general alarm and the
impossibility of detecting the approach of another vessel set
Mundy thinking. It seemed to him that there should be some way
of communicating through the water and of listening for sounds
underwater. He recalled his boyhood experiments in the old
swimming-hole. He remembered how distinctly the sound of stones
cracked together carried to one whose ears were beneath the surface.
Thus the idea of underwater signaling was born.
Mundy communicated this idea to Elisha Gray, and the two, working
together, evolved a successful submarine signal system. It was on the
last day of the nineteenth century that they were able to put their
experiments into practical working form. Through a well in the center
of the ship they suspended an eight-hundred-pound bell twenty feet
beneath the surface of the sea. A receiving apparatus was located
three miles distant, which consisted simply of an ear-trumpet
connected to a gas-pipe lowered into the sea. The lower end of the
pipe was sealed with a diaphragm of tin. When submerged six feet
beneath the surface the strokes of the bell could be heard. Then
a special electrical receiver of extreme sensitiveness, known as a
microphone, was substituted and connected at the receiving station
with an ordinary telephone receiver. With this receiving apparatus the
strokes of the bell could be heard at a distance of over ten miles.
This system has had a wide practical application for communication
both between ship and ship and between ship and shore. Most
transatlantic ships are now equipped with such a system. The
transmitter consists of a large bell which is actuated either by
compressed air or by an electro-magnetic system. This is so arranged
that it may be suspended over the side of the ship and lowered
well beneath the surface of the water. The receivers consist of
microphones, one on each side of the ship. The telephone receivers
connected to the two microphones are mounted close together on an
instrument board on the bridge of the ship. The two instruments are
used when it is desired to determine the direction from which the
signals come. If the sound is stronger in the 'phone on the right-hand
side of the ship the commander knows that the signals are coming from
that direction. If the signals are from a ship in distress he may
proceed toward it by turning his vessel until the sound of the
signal-bell is equal in the two receivers. The ability to determine
the direction from which the signal comes is especially valuable
in navigating difficult channels in foggy weather. Signal-bells are
located near lighthouses and dangerous reefs. Each calls its own
number, and the vessel's commander may thus avoid obstructions and
guide the ship safely into the harbor. The submarine signal is equally
useful in enabling vessels to avoid collision in fogs. Because water
conducts sound much better than air, submarine signals are far better
than the fog-horn or whistles.
The submarine signal system has also been applied to submarine
war-ships. By this means alone may a submarine communicate with
another, with a vessel on the surface, or with a shore station.
An important and interesting adaptation of the marine signal was made
to meet the submarine warfare of the great European conflict. At first
it seemed that battle-ship and merchantman could find no way to locate
the approach of an enemy submarine. But it was found that by means
of the receiving apparatus of the submarine telephone an approaching
submarine could be heard and located. While the sounds of the
submarine's machinery are not audible above the water, the delicate
microphone located beneath the water can detect them. Hearing a
submarine approaching beneath the surface, the merchantman may avoid
her and the destroyers and patrol-boats may take means to effect her
FORERUNNERS OF THE TELEGRAPH
From Lodestone to Leyden Jar--The Mysterious "C.M."--Spark and
Frictional Telegraphs--The Electro-magnet--Davy and the Relay
The thought and effort directed toward improving the means of
communication brought but small results until man discovered and
harnessed for himself a new servant--electricity. The story of
the growth of modern means of communication is the story of the
application of electricity to this particular one of man's needs.
The stories of the Masters of Space are the stories of the men who so
applied electricity that man might communicate with man.
Some manifestations of electricity had been known since long before
the Christian era. A Greek legend relates how a shepherd named Magnes
found that his crook was attracted by a strange rock. Thus was the
lodestone, the natural magnetic iron ore, discovered, and the legend
would lead us to believe that the words magnet and magnetism were
derived from the name of the shepherd who chanced upon this natural
magnet and the strange property of magnetism.
The ability of amber, when rubbed, to attract straws, was also known
to the early peoples. How early this property was found, or how, we do
not know. The name electricity is derived from _elektron_, the Greek
name for amber.
The early Chinese and Persians knew of the lodestone, and of the
magnetic properties of amber after it has been rubbed briskly. The
Romans were familiar with these and other electrical effects. The
Romans had discovered that the lodestone would attract iron, though a
stone wall intervened. They were fond of mounting a bit of iron on a
cork floating in a basin of water and watch it follow the lodestone
held in the hand. It is related that the early magicians used it as a
means of transmitting intelligence. If a needle were placed upon a bit
of cork and the whole floated in a circular vessel with the alphabet
inscribed about the circle, one outside the room could cause the
needle to point toward any desired letters in turn by stepping to the
proper position with the lodestone. Thus a message could be sent to
the magician inside and various feats of magic performed. Our own
modern magicians are reported as availing themselves of the more
modern applications of electricity in somewhat similar fashion and
using small, easily concealed wireless telegraph or telephone sets for
communication with their confederates off the stage.
The idea of encircling a floating needle with the alphabet was
developed into the sympathetic telegraph of the sixteenth century,
which was based on a curious error. It was supposed that needles which
had been touched by the same lodestone were sympathetic, and that if
both were free to move one would imitate the movements of another,
though they were at a distance. Thus, if one needle were attracted
toward one letter after the other, and the second similarly mounted
should follow its movements, a message might readily be spelled out.
Of course the second needle would not follow the movements of the
first, and so the sympathetic telegraph never worked, but much effort
was expended upon it.
In the mean time others had learned that many substances besides
amber, on being rubbed, possessed magnetic properties. Machines by
which electricity could be produced in greater quantities by friction
were produced and something was learned of conductors.
Benjamin Franklin sent aloft his historic kite and found that
electricity came down the silken cord. He demonstrated that frictional
and atmospheric electricity are the same. Franklin and others sent the
electric charge along a wire, but it did not occur to them to endeavor
to apply this to sending messages.
Credit for the first suggestion of an electric telegraph must be given
to an unknown writer of the middle eighteenth century. In the _Scots
Magazine_ for February 17, 1755, there appeared an article signed
simply, "C.M.," which suggested an electric telegraph. The writer's
idea was to lay an insulated wire for each letter of the alphabet.
The wires could be charged from an electrical machine in any desired
order, and at the receiving end would attract disks of paper marked
with the letter which that wire represented, and so any message could
be spelled out. The identity of "C.M." has never been established, but
he was probably Charles Morrison, a Scotch surgeon with a reputation
for electrical experimentation, who later emigrated to Virginia. Of
course "C.M.'s" telegraph was not practical, because of the many wires
required, but it proved to be a fertile suggestion which was followed
by many other thinkers. One experimenter after another added an
improvement or devised a new application.
A French scientist devised a telegraph which it is suspected might
have been practical, but he kept his device secret, and, as Napoleon
refused to consider it, it never was put to a test. An Englishman
devised a frictional telegraph early in the last century and
endeavored to interest the Admiralty. He was told that the semaphore
was all that was required for communication. Another submitted a
similar system to the same authorities in 1816, and was told that
"telegraphs of any kind are now wholly unnecessary." An American
inventor fared no better, for one Harrison Gray Dyar, of New York, was
compelled to abandon his experiments on Long Island and flee because
he was accused of conspiracy to carry on secret communication, which
sounded very like witchcraft to our forefathers. His telegraph sent
signals by having the electric spark transmitted by the wire decompose
nitric acid and so record the signals on moist litmus paper. It seems
altogether probable that had not the discovery of electro-magnetism
offered improved facilities to those seeking a practical telegraph,
this very chemical telegraph might have been put to practical use.
In the early days of the nineteenth century the battery had come into
being, and thus a new source of electric current was available for
the experimenters. Coupled with this important discovery in its
effect upon the development of the telegraph was the discovery of
electro-magnetism. This was the work of Hans Christian Oersted, a
native of Denmark. He first noticed that a current flowing through
a wire would deflect a compass, and thus discovered the magnetic
properties of the electric current. A Frenchman named Ampere,
experimenting further, discovered that when the electric current is
sent through coils of wire the magnetism is increased.
The possibility of using the deflection of a magnetic needle by
an electric current passing through a wire as a means of conveying
intelligence was quickly grasped by those who were striving for
a telegraph. Experiments with spark and chemical telegraphs were
superseded by efforts with this new discovery. Ampere, acting upon the
suggestion of La Place, an eminent mathematician, published a plan for
a feasible telegraph. This was later improved upon by others, and it
was still early in the nineteenth century that a model telegraph was
exhibited in London.
About this time two professors at the University of Goettingen were
experimenting with telegraphy. They established an experimental line
between their laboratories, using at first a battery. Then Faraday
discovered that an electric current could be generated in a wire by
the motion of a magnet, thus laying the basis for the modern dynamo.
Professors Gauss and Weber, who were operating the telegraph line at
Goettingen, adapted this new discovery to their needs. They sent the
message by moving a magnetic key. A current was thus generated in the
line, and, passing over the wire and through a coil at the farther
end, moved a magnet suspended there. The magnet moved to the right or
left, depending on the direction of the current sent through the
wire. A tiny mirror was mounted on the receiving magnet to magnify its
movement and so render it more readily visible.
One Steinheil, of Munich, simplified it and added a call-bell. He
also devised a recording telegraph in which the moving needle at the
receiving station marked down its message in dots and dashes on a
ribbon of paper. He was the first to utilize the earth for the return
circuit, using a single wire for despatching the electric current used
in signaling and allowing it to return through the ground.
In 1837, the same year in which Wheatstone and Morse were busy
perfecting their telegraphs, as we shall see, Edward Davy exhibited a
needle telegraph in London. Davy also realized that the discoveries
of Arago could be used in improving the telegraph and making it
practical. Arago discovered that the current passing through a coil of
wire served to magnetize temporarily a piece of soft iron within it.
It was this principle upon which Morse was working at this time. Davy
did not carry his suggestions into effect, however. He emigrated to
Australia, and the interruption in his experiments left the field open
for those who were finally to bring the telegraph into usable form.
Davy's greatest contribution to telegraphy was the relay system by
which very weak currents could call into play strong currents from
a local battery, and so make the signals apparent at the receiving
INVENTIONS OF SIR CHARLES WHEATSTONE
Wheatstone and His Enchanted Lyre--Wheatstone and Cooke--First
Electric Telegraph Line Installed--The Capture of the "Kwaker"--The
Before we come to the story of Samuel F.B. Morse and the telegraph
which actually proved a commercial success as the first practical
carrier of intelligence which had been created for the service of man,
we should pause to consider the achievements of Charles Wheatstone.
Together with William Fothergill Cooke, another Englishman, he
developed a telegraph line that, while it did not attain commercial
success, was the first working telegraph placed at the service of the
Charles Wheatstone was born near Gloucester in 1802. Having completed
his primary schooling, Charles was apprenticed to his uncle, who was
a maker and seller of musical instruments. He showed little aptitude
either in the workshop or in the store, and much preferred to continue
the study of books. His father eventually took him from his uncle's
charge and allowed him to follow his bent. He translated poetry from
the French at the age of fifteen, and wrote some verse of his own. He
spent all the money he could secure on books. Becoming interested in a
book on Volta's experiments with electricity, he saved up his coppers
until he could purchase it. It was in French, and he found the
technical descriptions rather too difficult for his comprehension, so
that he was forced to save again to buy a French-English dictionary.
With the aid of this he mastered the volume.
Immediately his attention was turned toward the wonders of the infant
science of electricity, and he eagerly endeavored to perform the
experiments described. Aided by his older brother, he set to work on
a battery as a source of current. Running short of funds with which to
purchase copper plates, he again began to save his pennies. Then the
idea occurred to him to use the pennies themselves, and his first
battery was soon complete.
He continued his experiments in various fields until, at the age of
nineteen, he first brought himself to public notice with his enchanted
lyre. This he placed on exhibition in music-shops in London. It
consisted of a small lyre suspended from the ceiling which gave forth,
in turn, the sounds of various musical instruments. Really the lyre
was merely a sounding-box, and the vibrations of the music were
conveyed from instruments, played in the next room, to the lyre
through a steel rod. The young man spent much time experimenting with
the transmission of sound. Having conveyed music through the steel rod
to his enchanted lyre, much to the mystification of the Londoners,
he proposed to transmit sounds over a considerable distance by this
method. He estimated that sound could be sent through steel rods at
the rate of two hundred miles a second and suggested the use of such
a rod as a telegraph between London and Edinburgh. He called his
arrangement a telephone.
A scientific writer of the day, commenting in a scientific journal
on the enchanted lyre which Wheatstone had devised, suggested that it
might be used to render musical concerts audible at a distance. Thus
an opera performed in a theater might be conveyed through rods to
other buildings in the vicinity and there reproduced. This was never
accomplished, and it remained for our own times to accomplish this and
even greater wonders.
Wheatstone also devised an instrument for increasing feeble sound,
which he called a microphone. This consisted of a pair of rods to
convey the sound vibrations to the ears, and does not at all resemble
the modern electrical microphone. Other inventions in the transmission
and reproduction of sound followed, and he devoted no little attention
to the construction of improved musical instruments. He even made some
efforts to produce a practical talking-machine, and was convinced
that one would be attained. At thirty-two he was widely famed as a
scientist and had been made a professor of experimental physics
in King's College, London. His most notable work at this time was
measuring the speed of the electric current, which up to that time had
been supposed to be instantaneous.
By 1835 Wheatstone had abandoned his plans for transmitting sounds
through long rods of metal and was studying the telegraph. He
experimented with instruments of his own and proposed a line across
the Thames. It was in 1836 that Mr. Cooke, an army officer home on
leave, became interested in the telegraph and devoted himself to
putting it on a working basis. He had already exhibited a crude set
when he came to Wheatstone, realizing his own lack of scientific
knowledge. The two men finally entered into partnership, Wheatstone
contributing the scientific and Cooke the business ability to the new
enterprise. The partnership was arranged late in 1837, and a patent
taken out on Wheatstone's five-needle telegraph.
In this telegraph a magnetic needle was located within a loop formed
by the telegraph circuit at the receiving end. When the circuit was
closed the needle was deflected to one side or the other, according to
the direction of the current. Five separate circuits and needles were
used, and a variety of signals could thus be sent. Five wires, with a
sixth return wire, were used in the first experimental line erected in
London in 1837. So in the year when Morse was constructing his models
Wheatstone and Cooke were operating an experimental line, crude
and impracticable though it was, and enjoying the sensations of
communicating with each other at a distance.
In 1841 the telegraph was placed on public exhibition at so much a
head, but it was viewed as an entertaining novelty without utility by
the public at large. After many disappointments the inventors secured
the cooperation of the Great Western Railroad, and a line was erected
for a distance of thirteen miles. But the public would not patronise
the line until its utility was strikingly demonstrated by the capture
of the "Kwaker."
Early one morning a woman was found dead in her home in the suburbs of
London. A man had been observed leaving the house, and his appearance
had been noted. Inquiries revealed that a man answering his
description had left on the slow train for London. Without the
telegraph he could not have been apprehended. But the telegraph was
available at this point, and his description was telegraphed ahead and
the police in London were instructed to arrest him upon his arrival.
"He is dressed as a Quaker," ran the message. There was no Q in the
alphabet of-the five-needle instrument, and so the sender spelled
Quaker, Kwaker. The clerk at the receiving end could not-understand
the strange word, and asked to have it repeated again and again.
Finally some one suggested that the message be completed and the whole
was then deciphered. When the man dressed as a Quaker stepped from the
slow train on his arrival at London the police were awaiting him; he
was arrested and eventually confessed the murder. The news of this
capture and the part the telegraph played gave striking proof of the
utility of the new invention, and public skepticism and indifference
By 1845 Wheatstone had so improved his apparatus that but one wire was
required. The single-needle instrument pointed out the letters on the
dial around it by successive deflections in which it was arranged
to move, step by step, at the will of the sending station. The
single-needle instrument, though generally displaced by Morse's
telegraph, remained in use for a long time on some English lines.
Wheatstone had also invented a type-printing telegraph, which he
patented in 1841. This required two circuits.
With a working telegraph attained, the partners became involved in an
altercation as to which deserved the honor of inventing the same.
The quarrel was finally submitted to two famous scientists for
arbitration. They reported that the telegraph was the result of
their joint labors. To Wheatstone belongs the credit for devising
the apparatus; to Cooke for introducing it and placing it before the
public in working form. Here we see the combination of the man of
science and the man of business, each contributing needed talents for
the establishment of a great invention on a working basis.
Wheatstone's researches in the field of electricity were constant.
In 1840 he devised a magnetic clock and proposed a plan by which many
clocks, located at different points, could be set at regular intervals
with the aid of electricity. Such a system was the forerunner of
the electrically wound and regulated clocks with which we are now so
familiar. He also devised a method for measuring the resistance which
wires offer to the passage of an electric current. This is known
as Wheatstone's bridge and is still in use in every electrical and
physical laboratory. He also invented a sound telegraph by which
signals were transmitted by the strokes of a bell operated by the
current at the receiving end of the circuit.
The invention of Wheatstone's which proved to be of greatest lasting
importance in connection with the telegraph was the automatic
transmitter. By this system the message is first punched in a strip of
paper which, when passed through the sending instrument, transmits the
message. By this means he was able to send messages at the rate of one
hundred words a minute. This automatic transmitter is much used for
press telegrams where duplicate messages are to be sent to various
The automatic transmitter brought knighthood to its inventor,
Wheatstone receiving this honor in 1868. Wheatstone took an active
part in the development of the telegraph and the submarine cable up to
the time of his death in 1875.
Wheatstone's telegraph would have served the purposes of humanity
and probably have been universally adopted, had not a better one been
invented almost before it was established. And it is because Morse,
taking up the work where others had left off, was able to invent an
instrument which so fully satisfied the requirements of man for so
long a period that he is known to all of us as the inventor of the
telegraph. And yet, without belittling the part played by Morse,
we must recognize the important work accomplished by Sir Charles
THE ACHIEVEMENT OF MORSE
Morse's Early Life--Artistic Aspirations--Studies in Paris--His
Paintings--Beginnings of His Invention--The First Instrument--The
Morse Code--The First Written Message.
When we consider the youth and immaturity of America in the first half
of the nineteenth century, it seems the more remarkable that the honor
of making the first great practical application of electricity should
have been reserved for an American. With the exception of the isolated
work of Franklin, the development of the new science of electrical
learning was the work of Europeans. This was natural, for it was
Europe which was possessed of the accumulated wealth and learning
which are usually attained only by older civilizations. Yet, with all
these advantages, electricity remained largely a scientific plaything.
It was an American who fully recognized the possibilities of this
new force as a servant of man, and who was possessed of the practical
genius and the business ability to devise and introduce a thoroughly
workable system of rapid and certain communication.
We have seen that Wheatstone was early trained as a musician. Samuel
Morse began life as an artist. But while Wheatstone early indicated
his lack of interest in music and devoted himself to scientific
studies while yet a youth, Morse's artistic career was of his own
choosing, and he devoted himself to it for many years. This explains
the fact that Wheatstone attained much scientific success before
Morse, though he was eleven years his junior.
It was in 1791 that Samuel Morse was born. Samuel Finley Breese Morse
was the entire name with which he was endowed by his parents. He came
from the sturdiest of Puritan stock, his father being of English and
his mother of Scotch descent. His father was an eminent divine, and
also notable as a geographer, being the author of the first American
geography of importance. His mother also was possessed of unusual
talent and force. It is interesting to note that Samuel Morse first
saw the light in Charlestown, Massachusetts, at the foot of Breed's
Hill, but little more than a mile from the birthplace of Benjamin
Franklin. He came into the world about a year after Franklin died.
It is interesting to believe that some of the practical talent of
America's first great electrician in some way descended to Samuel
He received an unusual education. At the age of seven he was sent to a
school at Andover, Massachusetts, to prepare him for Phillips Academy.
At the academy he was prepared for Yale College, which he entered when
fifteen years of age. With the knowledge of science so small at the
time, collegiate instruction in such subjects was naturally meager in
the extreme. Jeremiah Day was then professor of natural philosophy at
Yale, and was probably America's ablest teacher of the subject.
His lectures upon electricity and the experiments with which he
illustrated them aroused the interest of Morse, as we learn from the
letters he wrote to his parents at this time.
One principle in particular impressed Morse. This was that "if the
electric circuit be interrupted at any place the fluid will become
visible, and when it passes it will leave an impression upon any
intermediate body." Thus was it stated in the text-book in use at Yale
at that time. More than a score of years after the telegraph had been
achieved Morse wrote:
The fact that the presence of electricity can be made visible
in any desired part of the circuit was the crude seed which
took root in my mind, and grew into form, and ripened into the
invention of the telegraph.
We shall later hear of the occasion which recalled this bit of
information to Morse's mind.
But though Yale College was at that time a center of scientific
activity, and Morse showed more than a little interest in electricity
and chemistry, his major interest remained art. He eagerly looked
forward to graduation that he might devote his entire time to the
study of painting. It is significant of the tolerance and breadth of
vision of his parents that they apparently put no bars in the path
of this ambition, though they had sacrificed to give him the best
of collegiate trainings that he might fit himself for the ministry,
medicine, or the law. As a boy of fifteen Samuel Morse had painted
water-colors that attracted attention, and he was possessed of enough
talent to paint miniatures while at Yale which were salable at five
dollars apiece, and so aided in defraying his college expenses.
After his graduation from Yale in 1810, Morse devoted himself entirely
to the study of art, still being dependent upon his parents for
support. He secured the friendship and became the pupil of Washington
Allston, then a foremost American painter. In the summer of 1811
Allston sailed for England, and Morse accompanied him. In London he
came to the attention of Benjamin West, then at the height of his
career, and benefited by his advice and encouragement.
That he had no ambition other than his art at this period we may learn
from a letter he wrote to his mother in 1812.
My passion for my art [he wrote] is so firmly rooted that I
am confident no human power could destroy it. The more I study
the greater I think is its claim to the appellation divine. I
am now going to begin a picture of the death of Hercules, the
figure to be large as life.
When he had completed this picture to his own satisfaction, he showed
it to West. "Go on and finish it," was West's comment. "But it is
finished," said Morse. "No, no. See here, and here, and here are
places you can improve it." Morse went to work upon his painting
again, only to meet the same comment when he again showed it to West.
This happened again and again. When the youth had finally brought it
to a point where West was convinced it was the very best Morse could
do he had learned a lesson in thoroughness and painstaking attention
to detail that he never forgot.
That he might have a model for his painting Morse had molded a figure
of Hercules in clay. At the advice of West he entered the cast in a
competition for a prize in sculpture, with the result that he received
the prize and a gold medal for his work. He then plunged into the
competition for a prize and medal offered by the Royal Academy for the
best historical painting. His subject was, "The Judgment of Jupiter
in the Case of Apollo, Marpessa, and Idas." Though he completed the
picture to the satisfaction of West, Morse was not able to remain in
London and enter it in the competition. The rules required that the
artist be present in person if he was to receive the prize, but Morse
was forced to return to America. He had been in England for four
years--a year longer than had originally been planned for him--and he
was out of funds, and his parents could support him no longer.
Morse lived in London during the War of 1812, but seems to have
suffered no annoyance other than that of poverty, which the war
intensified by raising the prices of food as well as his necessary
artist's materials to an almost prohibitive figure. The last of the
Napoleonic wars was also in progress. News of the battle of Waterloo
reached London but a short time before Morse sailed for America. It
required two days for the news to reach the English capital. The young
American, whose inability to sell his paintings was driving him from
London, was destined to devise a system which would have carried the
great news to its destination within a few seconds.
But while he gained fame in America and secured praise and attention
as he had in London, he found art no more profitable. He contrived to
eke out an existence by painting an occasional portrait, going from
town to town in New England for this purpose. He turned from art
to invention for a time, joining with his brother in devising a
fire-engine pump of an improved pattern. They secured a patent upon
it, but could not sell it. He turned again to the life of a wandering
painter of portraits. In 1818 he went to Charleston, South Carolina,
at the invitation of his uncle. His portraits proved very popular and
he was soon occupied with work at good prices. This prosperity enabled
him to take unto himself a wife, and the same year he married Lucretia
Walker, of Concord, New Hampshire.
After four years in the South Morse returned to the North, hoping that
larger opportunities would now be ready for him. The result was again
failure. He devoted his time to huge historical paintings, and the
public would neither buy them nor pay to see them when they were
exhibited. Another blow fell upon him in 1825 when his wife died. At
last he began to secure more sitters for his portraits, though his
larger works still failed. He assisted in the organization of the
National Academy of Design and became its first president. In 1829 he
again sailed for Europe to spend three years in study in the galleries
of Paris and Rome. Still he failed to attain any real success in his
chosen work. He had made many friends and done much worthy work, yet
there is little probability that he would have attained lasting fame
as an artist even though his energies had not been turned to other
It was on the packet ship _Sully_, crossing the Atlantic from France,
that Morse conceived the telegraph which was to prove the first great
practical application of electricity. One noon as the passengers
were gathered about the luncheon-table, a Dr. Charles T. Jackson,
of Boston, exhibited an electro-magnet he had secured in Europe, and
described certain electrical experiments he had seen while in Paris.
He was asked concerning the speed of electricity through a wire, and
replied that, according to Faraday, it was practically instantaneous.
The discussion recalled to Morse his own collegiate studies in
electricity, and he remarked that if the circuit were interrupted the
current became visible, and that it occurred to him that these flashes
might be used as a means of communication. The idea of using the
current to carry messages became fixed in his mind, and he pondered,
over it during the remaining weeks of the long, slow voyage.
Doctor Jackson claimed, after Morse had perfected and established his
telegraph, that the idea had been his own, and that Morse had secured
it from him on board the _Sully_. But Doctor Jackson was not a
practical man who either could or did put any ideas he may have had
to practical use. At the most he seems to have simply started Morse's
mind along a new train of thought. The idea of using the current as
a carrier of messages, though it was new to Morse, had occurred to
others earlier, as we have seen. But at the very outset Morse set
himself to find a means by which he might make the current not only
signal the message, but actually record it. Before he landed from the
_Sully_ he had worked out sketches of a printing telegraph. In this
the current actuated an electro-magnet on the end of which was a rod.
This rod was to mark down dots and dashes on a moving tape of paper.
Thus was the idea born. Of course the telegraph was still far from an
accomplished fact. Without the improved electro-magnets and the relay
of Professor Henry, Morse had not yet even the basic ideas upon
which a telegraph to operate over considerable distances could
be constructed. But Morse was possessed of Yankee imagination and
practical ability. He was possessed of a fair technical education
for that day, and he eagerly set himself to attaining the means to
accomplish his end. That he realized just what he sought is shown by
his remark to the captain of the _Sully_ when he landed at New York.
"Well, Captain," he remarked, "should you hear of the telegraph one of
these days as the wonder of the world, remember that the discovery was
made on board the good ship _Sully_."
With the notion of using an electro-magnet as a receiver, an alphabet
consisting of dots and dashes, and a complete faith in the practical
possibilities of the whole, Morse went to work in deadly earnest. But
poverty still beset him and it was necessary for him to devote most of
his time to his paintings, that he might have food, shelter, and the
means to buy materials with which to experiment. From 1832 to 1835 he
was able to make but small progress. In the latter year he secured an
appointment as professor of the literature of the arts of design in
the newly established University of the City of New York. He soon had
his crude apparatus set up in a room at the college and in 1835 was
able to transmit messages. He now had a little more leisure and a
little more money, but his opportunities were still far from what
he would have desired. The principal aid which came to him at the
university was from Professor Gale, a teacher of chemistry. Gale
became greatly interested in Morse's apparatus, and was able to give
him much practical assistance, becoming a partner in the enterprise.
Morse knew little of the work of other experimenters in the field of
electricity and Gale was able to tell Morse what had been learned by
others. Particularly he brought to Morse's attention the discoveries
of another American, Prof. Joseph Henry.
The electro-magnet which actuated the receiving instrument in the
crude set in use by Morse in 1835 had but a few turns of thick
wire. Professor Henry, by his experiments five years earlier, had
demonstrated that many turns of small wire made the electro-magnet far
more sensitive. Morse made this improvement in his own apparatus. In
1832 Henry had devised a telegraph very similar to that of Morse by
which he signaled through a mile of wire. His receiving apparatus
was an electro-magnet, the armature of which struck a bell. Thus the
messages were read by sound, instead of being recorded on a moving
strip of paper as by Morse's system. While Henry was possibly the
ablest of American electricians at that time, he devoted himself
entirely to science and made no effort to put his devices to practical
use. Neither did he endeavor to profit by his inventions, for he
secured no patents upon them.
Professor Henry realized, in common with Morse and others, that if
the current were to be conducted over long wires for considerable
distances it would become so weak that it would not operate a
receiver. Henry avoided this difficulty by the invention of what is
known as the relay. At a distance where the current has become
weak because of the resistance of the wire and losses due to faulty
insulation, it will still operate a delicate electro-magnet with a
very light armature so arranged as to open and close a local circuit
provided with suitable batteries. Thus the recording instrument may
be placed on the local circuit and as the local circuit an opened and
closed in unison with the main circuit, the receiver can be operated.
It was the relay which made it possible to extend telegraph lines to
a considerable distance. It is not altogether clear whether Morse
adopted Henry's relay or devised it for himself. It is believed,
however, that Professor Henry explained the relay to Professor Gale,
who in turn placed it before his partner, Morse.
By 1837 Morse had completed a model, had improved his apparatus, had
secured stronger batteries and longer wires, and mastered the use
of the relay. It was in this year that the House of Representatives
ordered the Secretary of the Treasury to investigate the feasibility
of establishing a system of telegraphs. This action urged Morse to
complete his apparatus and place it before the Government. He was
still handicapped by lack of money, lack of scientific knowledge, and
the difficulty of securing necessary materials and devices. To-day the
experimenter may buy wire, springs, insulators, batteries, and almost
anything that might be useful. Morse, with scanty funds and limited
time, had to search for his materials and puzzle out the way to make
each part for himself with such crude tools as he had available. Need
we wonder that his progress was slow? Instead we should wonder that,
despite all discouragements and handicaps, he clung to his great idea
and labored on.
But assistance was to come to him in this same eventful year of 1837,
and that quite unexpectedly. On a Saturday in September a young man
named Alfred Vail wandered into Professor Gale's laboratory. Morse
was there engaged in exhibiting his model to an English professor then
visiting in New York. The youth was deeply impressed with what he saw.
He realized that here were possibilities of an instrument that would
be of untold service to mankind. Asking Professor Morse whether he
intended to experiment with a longer line, he was informed that such
was his intention as soon as he could secure the means. Young Vail
replied that he thought he could secure the money if Morse would admit
him as a partner. To this Morse assented.
Vail plunged into the enterprise with all the enthusiasm of youth.
That very evening he studied over the commercial possibilities, and
before he retired had marked out on the maps in his atlas the routes
for the most needed lines of communication. The young man applied to
his father for support. The senior Vail was the head of the Speedwell
Iron Works at Morristown, New Jersey, and was a man of unusual
enterprise and ability. He determined to back his son in the
enterprise, and Morse was invited to come and exhibit his model. Two
thousand dollars was needed to make the necessary instruments and
secure the patents. On September 23, 1837, the agreement was drawn
up by the terms of which Alfred Vail was, at his own expense, to
construct apparatus suitable for exhibition to Congress and to secure
a patent. In return he was to receive a one-fourth interest. Very
shortly afterward they filed a caveat in the Patent Office, which is a
notice serving to protect an impending invention.
Alfred Vail immediately set to work on the apparatus, his only helper
being a fifteen-year-old apprentice boy named William Baxter. The
two worked early and late for many months in a secret room in the
iron-works, being forced to fashion every part for themselves. The
first machine was a copy of Morse's model, but Vail's native
ability as a mechanic and his own ingenuity enabled him to make many
improvements. The pencil fastened to the armature which had marked
zigzag lines on the moving paper was replaced by a fountain-pen which
inscribed long and short lines, and thus the dashes and dots of the
Morse code were put into their present form. Morse had worked out an
elaborate telegraphic code or dictionary, but a simpler code by which
combinations of dots and dashes were used to represent letters instead
of numbers in a code was now devised. Vail recognized the importance
of having the simplest combinations of dots and dashes stand for the
most used letters, as this would increase the speed of sending. He
began to figure out for himself the frequency with which the various
letters occur in the English language. Then he thought of the
combination of types in a type-case, and, going to a local newspaper
office, found the result all worked out for him. In each case of type
such common letters as _e_ and _t_ have many more types than little
used letters such as _q_ and _z_. By observing the number of types of
each letter provided, Vail was enabled to arrange them in the order of
their importance in assigning them symbols in the code. Thus the
Morse code was arranged as it stands to-day. Alfred Vail played a
very important part in the arrangement of the code as well as in the
construction of the apparatus, and there are many who believe that the
code should have been called the Vail code instead of the Morse code.
[Illustration: MORSE'S FIRST TELEGRAPH INSTRUMENT
A pen was attached to the pendulum and drawn across the strip of paper
by the action of the electro-magnet. The lead type shown in the lower
right-hand corner was used in making electrical contact when sending a
message. The modern instrument shown in the lower left-hand corner is
the one that sent a message around the world in 1896.]
Morse came down to Speedwell when he could to assist Vail with the
work, and yet it progressed slowly. But at last, early in January
of 1838 they had the telegraph at work, and William Baxter, the
apprentice boy, was sent to call the senior Vail. Within a few moments
he was in the work-room studying the apparatus. Alfred Vail was at
the sending key, and Morse was at the receiver. The father wrote on a
piece of paper these words: "A patient waiter is no loser." Handing it
to his son, he stated that if he could transmit the message to Morse
by the telegraph he would be convinced. The message was sent and
recorded and instantly read by Morse. The first test had been
"WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?"
Congress Becomes Interested--Washington to Baltimore Line
Proposed--Failure to Secure Foreign Patents--Later Indifference of
Congress--Lean Years--Success at Last--The Line is Built--The First
Morse and his associates now had a telegraph which they were confident
would prove a genuine success. But the great work of introducing this
new wonder to the public, of overcoming indifference and skepticism,
of securing financial support sufficient to erect a real line, still
remained to be done. We shall see that this burden remained very
largely upon Morse himself. Had Morse not been a forceful and able man
of affairs as well as an inventor, the introduction of the telegraph
might have been even longer delayed.
The new telegraph was exhibited in New York and Philadelphia without
arousing popular appreciation. It was viewed as a scientific toy; few
saw in it practical possibilities. Morse then took it to Washington
and set up his instruments in the room of the Committee on Commerce
of the House of Representatives in the Capitol. Here, as in earlier
exhibitions, a majority of those who saw the apparatus in operation
remained unconvinced of its ability to serve mankind. But Morse
finally made a convert of the Hon. Francis O.J. Smith, chairman of
the Committee on Commerce. Smith had previously been in correspondence
with the inventor, and Morse had explained to him at length his belief
that the Government should own the telegraph and control and operate
it for the public good. He believed that the Government should be
sufficiently interested to provide funds for an experimental line a
hundred miles long. In return he was willing to promise the Government
the first rights to purchase the invention at a reasonable price.
Later he changed his request to a line of fifty miles, and estimated
the cost of erection at $26,000.
Smith aided in educating the other members of his committee, and one
day in February of 1838 he secured the attendance of the entire body
at a test of the telegraph over ten miles of wire. The demonstration
convinced them, and many were their expressions of wonder and
amazement. One member remarked, "Time and space are now annihilated."
As a result the committee reported a bill appropriating $30,000 for
the erection of an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore.
Smith's report was most enthusiastic in his praise of the invention.
In fact, the Congressman became so much interested that he sought a
share in the enterprise, and, securing it, resigned from Congress that
he might devote his efforts to securing the passage of the bill and to
acting as legal adviser. At this time the enterprise was divided into
sixteen shares: Morse held nine; Smith, four; Alfred Vail, two; and
Professor Gale, one. We see that Morse was a good enough business man
to retain the control.
Wheatstone and others were developing their telegraphs in Europe, and
Morse felt that it was high time to endeavor to secure foreign patents
on his invention. Accompanied by Smith, he sailed for England in May,
taking with him a new instrument provided by Vail. Arriving in London,
they made application for a patent. They were opposed by Wheatstone
and his associates, and could not secure even a hearing from the
patent authorities. Morse strenuously insisted that his telegraph was
radically different from Wheatstone's, laying especial emphasis on the
fact that his recording instrument printed the message in permanent
form, while Wheatstone's did not. Morse always placed great emphasis
on the recording features of his apparatus, yet these features were
destined to be discarded in America when his telegraph at last came
With no recourse open to him but an appeal to Parliament, a long and
expensive proceeding with little apparent possibility of success,
Morse went to France, hoping for a more favorable reception. He found
the French cordial and appreciative. French experts watched his tests
and examined his apparatus, pronouncing his telegraph the best of all
that had been devised. He received a patent, only to learn that to be
effective the invention must be put in operation in France within two
years, under the French patent law. Morse sought to establish his line
in connection with a railway, as Wheatstone had established his
in England, but was told that the telegraph must be a Government
monopoly, and that no private parties could construct or operate.
The Government would not act, and Morse found himself again defeated.
Faring no better with other European governments, Morse decided
to return to America to push the bill for an appropriation before
While Morse was in Europe gaining publicity for the telegraph, but
no patents, his former fellow-passenger on the _Sully_, Dr. Charles
Jackson, had laid claim to a share in the invention. He insisted that
the idea had been his and that he had given it to Morse on the trip
across the Atlantic. This Morse indignantly denied.
Congress would now take no action upon the invention. A heated
political campaign was in progress, and no interest could be aroused
in an invention, no matter what were its possibilities in the
advancement of the work and development of the nation. Smith was
in politics, the Vails were suffering from a financial depression,
Professor Gale was a man of very limited means, and so Morse found
himself without funds or support. In Paris he had met M. Daguerre, who
had just discovered photography. Morse had learned the process and,
in connection with Doctor Draper, he fitted up a studio on the roof
of the university. Here they took the first daguerreotypes made in
Morse's work in art had been so much interrupted that he had but few
pupils. The fees that these brought to him were small and irregular,
and he was brought to the very verge of starvation. We are told of the
call Morse made upon one pupil whose tuition was overdue because of a
delay in the arrival of funds from his home.
"Well, my boy," said the professor, "how are we off for money?"
The student explained the situation, adding that he hoped to have the
money the following week.
"Next week!" exclaimed Morse. "I shall be dead by next week--dead of
"Would ten dollars be of any service?" asked the student, astonished
"Ten dollars would save my life," was Morse's reply.
The student paid the money--all he had--and they dined together, Morse
remarking that it was his first meal for twenty-four hours.
Morse's situation and feelings at this time are also illustrated by a
letter he wrote to Smith late in 1841.
I find myself [he wrote] without sympathy or help from any
who are associated with me, whose interests, one would think,
would impell them to at least inquire if they could render me
some assistance. For nearly two years past I have devoted all
my time and scanty means, living on a mere pittance, denying
myself all pleasures and even necessary food, that I might
have a sum, to put my telegraph into such a position before
Congress as to insure success to the common enterprise. I
am crushed for want of means, and means of so trifling a
character, too, that they who know how to ask (which I do not)
could obtain in a few hours.... As it is, although everything
is favorable, although I have no competition and no
opposition--on the contrary, although every member of
Congress, so far as I can learn, is favorable--yet I fear all
will fail because I am too poor to risk the trifling expense
which my journey and residence in Washington will occasion me.
I will not run in debt, if I lose the whole matter. No one can
tell the days and months of anxiety and labor I have had in
perfecting my telegraphic apparatus. For want of means I have
been compelled to make with my own hands (and to labor for
weeks) a piece of mechanism which could be made much better,
and in a tenth the time, by a good mechanician, thus
wasting time--time which I cannot recall and which seems
double-winged to me.
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." It is true, and I have
known the full meaning of it. Nothing but the consciousness
that I have an invention which is to mark an era in human
civilization, and which is to contribute to the happiness of
millions, would have sustained me through so many and such
lengthened trials of patience in perfecting it.
A patent on the telegraph had been issued to Morse in 1840. The
issuance had been delayed at Morse's request, as he desired to first
secure foreign patents, his own American rights being protected by the
caveat he had filed. Although the commercial possibilities, and hence
the money value of the telegraph had not been established, Morse was
already troubled with the rival claims of those who sought to secure a
share in his invention.
While working and waiting and saving, Morse conceived the idea of
laying telegraph wires beneath the water. He prepared a wire by
wrapping it in hemp soaked in tar, and then covering the whole with
rubber. Choosing a moonlight night in the fall of 1842, he submerged
his cable in New York Harbor between Castle Garden and Governors
Island. A few signals were transmitted and then the wire was carried
away by a dragging anchor. Truly, misfortune seemed to dog Morse's
footsteps. This seems to have been the first submarine cable, and
in writing of it not long after Morse hazarded the then astonishing
prediction that Europe and America would be linked by telegraphic
Failing to secure effective aid from his associates, Morse hung on
grimly, fighting alone, and putting all of his strength and energy
into the task of establishing an experimental line. It was during
these years that he demonstrated his greatness to the full. His
letters to the members of the Congressional Committee on Commerce show
marked ability. They outline the practical possibilities very clearly.
Morse realized not only the financial possibilities of his invention,
but its benefit to humanity as well. He also presented very practical
estimates of the cost of establishing the line under consideration.
The committee again recommended that $30,000 be appropriated for the
construction of a Washington-Baltimore line. The politicians had come
to look upon Morse as a crank, and it was extremely difficult for his
adherents to secure favorable action in the House. Many a Congressman
compared Morse and his experiments to mesmerism and similar "isms,"
and insisted that if the Government gave funds for this experiment
it would be called upon to supply funds for senseless trials of weird
schemes. The bill finally passed the House by the narrow margin of six
votes, the vote being taken orally because so many Congressmen feared
to go on record as favoring an appropriation for such a purpose.
The bill had still to pass the Senate, and here there seemed little
hope. Morse, who had come to Washington to press his plan, anxiously
waited in the galleries. The bill came up for consideration late one
evening just before the adjournment. A Senator who noticed Morse went
up to him and said:
"There is no use in your staying here. The Senate is not in sympathy
with your project. I advise you to give it up, return home, and think
no more about it."
The inventor went back to his room, with how heavy a heart we may
well imagine. He paid his board bill, and found himself with but
thirty-seven cents in the world. After many moments of earnest prayer
Early next morning there came to him Miss Annie Ellsworth, daughter of
his friend the Commissioner of Patents, and said, "Professor, I have
come to congratulate you."
"Congratulate me!" replied Morse. "On what?"
"Why," she exclaimed, "on the passage of your bill by the Senate!"
The bill had been passed without debate in the closing moments of the
session. As Morse afterward stated, this was the turning-point in the
history of the telegraph. His resources were reduced to the minimum,
and there was little likelihood that he would have again been able to
bring the matter to the attention of Congress.
So pleased was Morse over the news of the appropriation, and so
grateful to Miss Ellsworth for her interest in bringing him the good
news, that he promised her that she should send the first message
when the line was complete. With the Government appropriation at his
disposal, Morse immediately set to work upon the Washington-Baltimore
line. Professors Gale and Fisher served as his assistants, and Mr.
Vail was in direct charge of the construction work. Another person
active in the enterprise was Ezra Cornell, who was later to found
Cornell University. Cornell had invented a machine for laying wires
underground in a pipe.
It was originally planned to place the wires underground, as this was
thought necessary or their protection. After running the line some
five miles out from Baltimore it was found that this method of
installing the line was to be a failure. The insulation was not
adequate, and the line could not be operated to the first relay
station. A large portion of the $30,000 voted by Congress had been
spent and the line was still far from completion. Disaster seemed
imminent. Smith lost all faith in the enterprise, demanded most of the
remaining money under a contract he had taken to lay the line, and a
quarrel broke out between him and Morse which further jeopardized the
Morse and such of his lieutenants as remained faithful in this hour of
trial, after a long consultation, decided to string the wire on
poles. The method of attaching the wire to the poles was yet to be
determined. They finally decided to simply bore a hole through each
pole near the top and push the wire through it. Stringing the wire in
such fashion was no small task, but it was finally accomplished. It
was later found necessary to insulate the wire with bottle necks where
it passed through the poles. On May 23, 1844, the line was complete.
Remembering his promise to Miss Ellsworth, Morse called upon her
next morning to give him the first message. She chose, "What hath
God wrought?" and early on the morning of the 24th Morse sat at the
transmitter in the Supreme Court room in the Capitol and telegraphed
these immortal words to Vail at Baltimore. The message was received
without difficulty and repeated back to Morse at Washington. The
magnetic telegraph was a reality.
Still the general public remained unconvinced. As in the case of
Wheatstone's needle telegraph a dramatic incident was needed to
demonstrate the utility of this new servant. Fortunately for Morse,
the telegraph's opportunity came quickly. The Democratic national
convention was in session at Baltimore. After an exciting struggle
they dropped Van Buren, then President, and nominated James K. Polk.
Silas Wright was named for the Vice-Presidency. At that time Mr.
Wright was in Washington. Hearing of the nomination, Alfred Vail
telegraphed it to Morse in Washington. Morse communicated with Wright,
who stated that he could not accept the honor. The telegraph was ready
to carry his message declining the nomination, and within a very few
minutes Vail had presented it to the convention at Baltimore, to the
intense surprise of the delegates there assembled. They refused to
believe that Wright had been communicated with, and sent a committee
to Washington to see Wright and make inquiries. They found that
the message was genuine, and the utility of the telegraph had been
DEVELOPMENT OF THE TELEGRAPH SYSTEM
The Magnetic Telegraph Company--The Western Union--Crossing the
Continent--The Improvements of Alfred Vail--Honors Awarded to
Morse--Duplex Telegraphy--Edison's Improvements.
For some time the telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore
remained on exhibition as a curiosity, no charge being made for
demonstrating it. Congress made an appropriation to keep the line in
operation, Vail acting as operator at the Washington end. On April
1, 1845, the line was put in operation on a commercial basis,
service being offered to the public at the rate of one cent for four
characters. It was operated as a branch of the Post-office Department.
On the 4th of April a visitor from Virginia came into the Washington
office wishing to see a demonstration. Up to this time not a paid
message had been sent. The visitor, having no permit from the
Postmaster-General, was told that he could only see the telegraph in
operation by sending a message. One cent being all the money he had
other than twenty-dollar bills, he asked for one cent's worth. The
Washington operator asked of Baltimore, "What time is it?" which in
the code required but one character. The reply came, "One o'clock,"
another single character. Thus but two characters had been used, or
one-half cent's worth of telegraphy. The visitor expressed himself as
satisfied, and waived the "change." This penny was the line's first
Under the terms of the agreement by which Congress had made the
appropriation for the experimental line, Morse was bound to give the
Government the first right to purchase his invention. He accordingly
offered it to the United States for the sum of $100,000. There
followed a distressing example of official stupidity and lack of
foresight. With the opportunity to own and control the nation's
telegraph lines before it the Government declined the offer. This
action was taken at the recommendation of the Hon. Cave Johnson, then
Postmaster-General, under whose direction the line had been
operated. He had been a member of Congress at the time the original
appropriation was voted, and had ridiculed the project. The nation was
now so unfortunate as to have him as its Postmaster-General, and he
reported "that the operation of the telegraph between Washington and
Baltimore had not satisfied him that, under any rate of postage
that could be adopted, its revenues could be made equal to its
expenditures." And yet the telegraph, here offered to the Government
for $100,000, was developed under private management until it paid a
profit on a capitalization of $100,000,000.
Morse seems to have had a really patriotic motive, as well as a desire
for immediate return and the freedom from further worries, in his
offer to the Government. He was greatly disappointed at its refusal
to purchase, a refusal that was destined to make Morse a wealthy man.
Amos Kendall, who had been Postmaster-General under Jackson, was
now acting as Morse's agent, and they decided to depend upon private
capital. Plans were made for a line between New York and Philadelphia,
and to arouse interest and secure capital the apparatus was exhibited
in New York City at a charge of twenty-five cents a head. The public
refused to patronize in sufficient numbers to even pay expenses,
and the entire exhibition was so shabby, and the exhibitors so
poverty-stricken, that the sleek capitalists who came departed without
investing. Some of the exhibitors slept on chairs or on the floor in
the bare room, and it is related that the man who was later to
give his name and a share of his fortune to Cornell University was
overjoyed at finding a quarter on the sidewalk, as it enabled him to
buy a hearty breakfast. Though men of larger means refused to take
shares, some in humbler circumstances could recognize the great
idea and the wonderful vision which Morse had struggled so long to
establish--a vision of a nation linked together by telegraphy. The
Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed and work started on the line.
In August of 1845 Morse sailed for Europe in an endeavor to enlist
foreign capital. The investors of Europe proved no keener than those
of America, and the inventor returned without funds, but imbued with
increased patriotism. He had become convinced that the telegraph could
and would succeed on American capital alone. In the next year a line
was constructed from Philadelphia to Washington, thus extending
the New York-Philadelphia line to the capital. Henry O'Reilly, of
Rochester, New York, took an active part in this construction work
and now took the contract to construct a line from Philadelphia to St.
Louis. This line was finished by December of 1847.
The path having been blazed, others sought to establish lines of their
own without regard to Morse's patents. One of these was O Reilly, who,
on the completion of the line to St. Louis, began one to Now Orleans,
without authority from Morse or his company. O'Reilly called his
telegraph "The People's Line," and when called to account in the
courts insisted not only that his instruments were different from
Morse's, and so no infringement of his patents, but also that the
Morse system was a harmful monopoly and that "The People's Line"
should be encouraged. It was further urged that Wheatstone in England
and Steinheil in Germany had invented telegraphs before Morse, and
that Professor Henry had invented the relay which made it possible
to operate the telegraph over long distances. The suits resulted in a
legal victory for Morse, and his patents were maintained.
But still other rival companies built lines, using various forms of
apparatus, and though the courts repeatedly upheld Morse's patent
rights, the pirating was not effectively checked. The telegraph had
come to be a necessity and the original company lacked the capital to
construct lines with sufficient rapidity to meet the need. Within
ten years after the first line had been put into operation the more
thickly settled portions of the United States were served by scores
of telegraph lines owned by a dozen different companies. Hardly any of
these were making any money, though the service was poor and the rates
were high. They were all operating on too small a scale and business
uses of the telegraph had not yet developed sufficiently.
An amalgamation of the scattered, competing lines was needed, both
to secure better service for the public and proper dividends for the
investors. This amalgamation was effected by Mr. Hiram Sibley, who
organized the Western Union in 1856. The plan was ridiculed at
the time, some one stating that "The Western Union seems very like
collecting all the paupers in the State and arranging them into a
union so as to make rich men of them." But these pauper companies did
become rich once they were united under efficient management.
The nation was just then stretching herself across to the Pacific.
The commercial importance of California was growing rapidly. By 1857
stage-coaches were crossing the plains and the pony-express riders
were carrying the mail. The pioneers of the telegraph felt that a line
should span the continent. This was then a tremendous undertaking, and
when Mr. Sibley proposed that the Western Union should undertake the
construction of such a line he was met with the strongest opposition.
The explorations of Fremont were not far in the past, and the vast
extent of country west of the Mississippi was regarded as a wilderness
peopled with savages and almost impossible of development. But Sibley
had faith; he was possessed of Morse's vision and Morse's courage.
The Western Union refusing to undertake the enterprise, he began it
himself. The Government, realizing the military and administrative
value of a telegraph line to California, subsidized the work.
Additional funds were raised and a route selected was through Omaha
and Salt Lake City to San Francisco.
The undertaking proved less formidable than had been anticipated,
for, instead of two years, less than five months were occupied in
completing the line. Sibley's tact and ability did much to avoid
opposition by the Indians. He made the red men his friends and
impressed upon them the wonder of the telegraph. When the line was in
operation between Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie he invited the chief
of the Arapahoes at Fort Kearney to communicate by telegraph with
his friend the chief of the Sioux at Fort Laramie. The two chiefs
exchanged telegrams and were deeply impressed. They were told that the
telegraph was the voice of the Manitou or Great Spirit. To convince
them it was suggested that they meet half-way and compare their
experiences. Though they were five hundred miles apart, they started
out on horseback, and on meeting each other found that the line had
carried their words truly. The story spread among the tribes, and so
the telegraph line became almost sacred to the Indians. They might
raid the stations and kill the operators, but they seldom molested the
Among many ignorant peoples the establishment of the telegraph has
been attained with no small difficulty. The Chinese showed a dread of
the telegraph, frequently breaking down the early lines because they
believed that they would take away the good luck of their district.
The Arabs, on the other hand, did not oppose the telegraph. This
is partly because the name is one which they can understand,
_tel_ meaning wire to them, and _araph_, to know. Thus in Arabic
_tele-agraph_ means to know by wire.
Just as the Indians of our own plains had difficulty in understanding
the telegraph, so the primitive peoples in other parts of the world
could scarce believe it possible. A story is told of the construction
of an early line in British India. The natives inquired the purpose of
the wire from the head man.
"The wire is to carry messages to Calcutta," he replied.
"But how can words run along a wire?" they asked.
The head man puzzled for a moment.
"If there were a dog," he replied, "with a tail long enough to reach
from here to Calcutta, and you pinched his tail here, wouldn't he howl
Once Sibley and the other American telegraph pioneers had spanned the
continent, they began plans for spanning the globe. Their idea was to
unite America and Europe by a line stretched through British Columbia,
Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Siberia. Siberia had been connected
with European Russia, and thus practically the entire line could be
stretched on land, only short submarine cables being necessary. It was
then seriously doubted that cables long enough to cross the Atlantic
were practicable. The expedition started in 1865, a fleet of thirty
vessels carrying the men and supplies. Tremendous difficulties had
been overcome and a considerable part of the work accomplished when
the successful completion of the Atlantic cable made the work useless.
Nearly three million dollars had been expended by the Western Union
in this attempt. Yet, despite this loss, its affairs were so generally
successful and the need for the telegraph so real that it continued to
thrive until it reached its present remarkable development.
While the line-builders were busy stretching telegraph wires into
almost every city and town in the nation, others were perfecting the
apparatus. Alfred Vail was a leading figure in this work. Already he
had played a large part in designing and constructing the apparatus to
carry out Morse's ideas, and he continued to improve and perfect
until practically nothing remained of Morse's original apparatus. The
original Morse transmitter had consisted of a porte-rule and movable
type. This was cumbersome, and Vail substituted a simple key to make
and break the circuit. Vail had also constructed the apparatus to
emboss the message upon the moving strip of paper, but this he now
improved upon. The receiving apparatus was simplified and the pen was
replaced by a disk smeared with ink which marked the dots and dashes
upon the paper.
As we have noticed, Morse took particular pride in the fact that
the receiving apparatus in his telegraph was self-recording, and
considered this as one of the most important parts of his system. But
when the telegraph began to come into commercial use the operators at
the receiving end noticed that they could read the messages from the
long and short periods between the clicks of the receiving mechanism.
Thus they were taking the message by ear and the recording mechanism
was superfluous. Rules and fines failed to break them of the habit,
and Vail, recognizing the utility of the development, constructed a
receiver which had no recording device, but from which the messages
were read by listening to the clicks as the armature struck against
the frame in which it was set. Thus the telegraph returned in its
elements to the form of Professor Henry's original bell telegraph.
With his bell telegraph and his relay Henry had the elements of a
successful system. He failed, however, to develop them practically or
to introduce them to the attention of the public. He was the man of
science rather than the practical inventor. Alfred Vail, joining with
Morse after the latter had conceived the telegraph, but before
his apparatus was in practical form, was a tireless and invaluable
mechanical assistant. His inventions of apparatus were of the utmost
practical value, and he played a very large part in bringing the
telegraph to a form where it could serve man effectively. After
success had been won Morse did not extend to Vail the credit which it
seems was his due.
Yet, though Morse made free use of the ideas and assistance of others,
he was richly deserving of a major portion of the fame and the rewards
that came to him as inventor of the telegraph. Morse was the directing
genius; he contributed the idea and the leadership, and bore the brunt
of the burdens when all was most discouraging.
Honors were heaped upon Morse both at home and abroad as his telegraph
established itself in all parts of the world. Orders of knighthood,
medals, and decorations were conferred upon him. Though he had failed
to secure foreign patents, many of the foreign governments recognized
the value of his invention, and France, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands,
Russia, Sweden, Turkey, and some smaller nations joined in paying him
a testimonial of four hundred thousand francs. It is to be noticed
that Great Britain did not join in this testimonial, though Morse's
system had been adopted there in preference to the one developed by
In 1871 a statue of Morse was erected in Central Park, New York
City. It was in the spring of the next year that another statue was
unveiled, this time one of Benjamin Franklin, and Morse presided at
the ceremonies. The venerable man received a tremendous ovation on
this occasion, but the cold of the day proved too great a strain upon
him. He contracted a cold which eventually resulted in his death on
April 2, 1872.
While extended consideration cannot be given here to the telegraphic
inventions of Thomas A. Edison, no discussion of the telegraph should
close without at least some mention of his work in this field. Edison
started his career as a telegrapher, and his first inventions were
improvements in the telegraph. His more recent and more wonderful
inventions have thrown his telegraphic inventions into the shadow. On
the telegraph as invented by Morse but one message could be sent over
a single wire at one time. It was later discovered that two messages'
could be sent over the single wire in opposite directions at the
same time. This was called duplex telegraphy. Edison invented duplex
telegraphy by which two messages could be sent over the same wire in
the same direction at the same time. Later he succeeded in combining
the two, which resulted in the quadruplex, by which four messages
may be sent over one wire at one time. Though Edison received
comparatively little for this invention, its commercial value may be
estimated from the statement by the president of the Western Union
that it saved that company half a million dollars in a single year.
Edison's quadruplex system was also adopted by the British lines.
Before this he had perfected an automatic telegraph, work on which
had been begun by George Little, an Englishman. Little could make the
apparatus effective only over a short line and attained no very great
speed. Edison improved the apparatus until it transmitted thirty-five
hundred words a minute between New York and Philadelphia. Such is the
perfection to which Morse's marvel has been brought in the hands of
the most able of modern inventors.
TELEGRAPHING BENEATH THE SEA
Early Efforts at Underwater Telegraphy--Cable Construction and
Experimentation--The First Cables--The Atlantic Cable
Projected--Cyrus W. Field Becomes Interested--Organizes Atlantic
Telegraph Company--Professor Thomson as Scientific Adviser--His
Early Life and Attainments.
The idea of laying telegraph wires beneath the sea was discussed long
before a practical telegraph for use on land had been attained. It
is recorded that a Spaniard suggested submarine telegraphy in 1795.
Experiments were conducted early in the nineteenth century with
various materials in an effort to find a covering for the wires which
would be both a non-conductor of electricity and impervious to water.
An employee of the East India Company made an effort to lay a cable
across the river Hugli as early as 1838. His method was to coat the
wire with pitch inclose it in split rattan, and then wrap the whole
with tarred yarn. Wheatstone discussed a Calais-Dover cable in 1840,
but it remained for Morse to actually lay an experimental cable. We
have already heard of his experiments in New York Harbor in 1842. His
insulation was tarred hemp and India rubber. Wheatstone performed a
similar experiment in the Bay of Swansea a few months later.
Perhaps the first practical submarine cable was laid by Ezra Cornell,
one of Morse's associates, in 1845. He laid twelve miles of cable in
the Hudson River, connecting Fort Lee with New York City. The cable
consisted of two cotton-covered wires inclosed in rubber, and the
whole incased in a lead pipe. This cable was in use for several months
until it was carried away by the ice in the winter of 1846.
These early experimenters found the greatest difficulty in incasing
their wires in rubber, practical methods of working that substance
being then unknown. The discovery of gutta-percha by a Scotch surveyor
of the East India Company in 1842, and the invention of a machine for
applying it to a wire, by Dr. Werner Siemens, proved a great aid
to the cable-makers. These gutta-percha-covered wires were used for
underground telegraphy both in England and on the Continent. Tests
were made with such a cable for submarine work off Dover in 1849, and,
proving successful, the first cable across the English Channel was
laid the next year by John Watkins Brett. The cable was weighted
with pieces of lead fastened on every hundred yards. A few incoherent
signals were exchanged and the communication ceased. A Boulogne
fisherman had caught the new cable in his trawl, and, raising it, had
cut a section away. This he had borne to port as a great treasure,
believing the copper to be gold in some new form of deposit. This
experience taught the need of greater protection for a cable, and the
next year another was laid across the Channel, which was protected by
hemp and wire wrappings. This proved successful. In 1852 England
and Ireland were joined by cable, and the next year a cable was laid
across the North Sea to Holland. The success of these short cables
might have promised success in an attempt to cross the Atlantic had
not failures in the deep water of the Mediterranean made it seem an
We have noted that Morse suggested the possibility of uniting Europe
and America by cable. The same thought had occurred to others, but the
undertaking was so vast and the problems so little understood that for
many years none were bold enough to undertake the project. A telegraph
from New York to St. John's, Newfoundland, was planned, however, which
was to lessen the time of communication between the continents.
News brought by boats from England could be landed at St. John's and
telegraphed to New York, thus saving two days. F.N. Gisborne secured
the concession for such a line in 1852, and began the construction.
Cables were required to connect Newfoundland with the continent, and
to cross the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but the rest of the line was to be
strung through the forests.
Before much had been accomplished, Gisborne had run out of funds,
and work was suspended. In 1854 Gisborne met Cyrus West Field, of
New York, a retired merchant of means. Field became interested in
Gisborne's project, and as he examined the globe in his library the
thought occurred to him that the line to St. John's was but a start on
the way to England. The idea aroused his enthusiasm, and he determined
to embark upon the gigantic enterprise. He knew nothing of telegraph
cables or of the sea-bottom, and so sought expert information on the
One important question was as to the condition of the sea-bottom on
which the cable must rest. Lieutenant Berryman of the United States
Navy had taken a series of soundings and stated that the sea-bottom
between Newfoundland and Ireland was a comparatively level plateau