Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi, who developed the wireless telegraph, reads signals from a spark coil used for ship-to-shore radio tests in 1901.  (AP)

Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi, who developed the wireless telegraph, reads signals from a spark coil used for ship-to-shore radio tests in 1901. (AP)

A re-enactment of the scene in the wireless room of the RMS Carpathia, the ship that received the Titanic’s distress call and came to the rescue (AP)

A re-enactment of the scene in the wireless room of the RMS Carpathia, the ship that received the Titanic’s distress call and came to the rescue (AP)

The Titanic’s Marconi Radio Room is recreated at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Connecticut.  (AP)

The Titanic’s Marconi Radio Room is recreated at the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Connecticut. (AP)

A telegram from the German ship the Amerika to the Titanic to warn her crew about icebergs (AP)

A telegram from the German ship the Amerika to the Titanic to warn her crew about icebergs (AP)

Morse, of Course!

Posted: May 1, 2020

How fast can you send a message? Skip the snail-mail. Write a text. Shoot an email. Use an app. We have lots of ways to send a quick message. Years ago, that wasn’t the case. Ancient communities spread word with smoke signals and drums. As cultures developed, letter writing became more popular. But it took weeks to deliver mail. 

A historic milestone occurred with the invention of the telegraph. The first machine was a tangled mess. It had way too many wires. Nice try! In the early 1800s, artist-turned-inventor Samuel Morse designed a “message box” that worked with a single wire. Its signal could go as far as a line could be strung. But its signal was just a beep, made by a simple on-off switch known as a telegraph key. A code would be needed to send a message. You can guess who came up with that code? Samuel Morse, of course!

T-a-a-p, tap, tap. t-a-a-p—beeeeep, beep, beep, beeeeep.

Morse code assigned a set of dots and dashes to letters and numbers. A telegraph operator tapped out a message in long and short beeps. On the other end of the wire, another operator would listen and decode the beeps back into letters. 

Within 10 years of the telegraph’s invention, over 20,000 miles of wire crossed the United States. Before long, wire crossed under the Atlantic Ocean too. 

In 1858, the first official telegram was sent between two continents. It was a letter from Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom to U.S. President James Buchanan. Throughout history, there have been other famous telegrams. Walt Disney wired a telegram to his brother. What was it about? Mickey Mouse. 

Telegraphs passed along good and bad news. King George V sent birthday telegrams to people for their 100th birthdays. But on April 14, 1912, the Titanic sent a distress message. The telegram included the sinking ship’s latitude and longitude coordinates.  

Today, telegraphs are rarely used. Their wires aren’t needed. They’ve been replaced with faster technology. But you could still learn and use Morse code.

Stop and think about smoke signals, drum beats, letters, telegraphs, text messages, and more. No matter what the carrier, it is always the actual message that really matters. Proverbs is full of advice about choosing words wisely. And Colossians 4:6 instructs, “Let your speech always be gracious.”

More to Know:

Guglielmo Marconi developed the wireless telegraph in the late 1800s. Tapping a key on a Marconi set sent electrical pulses through the air as radio waves. A telegraph receiver on another ship or on shore could hear those waves as long and short beeps. Nearly 1,500 people died when the Titanic went down. But consider this: Without wireless telegraph no ship would have come to the rescue of the Titanic. There would have been no survivors. That’s why Guglielmo Marconi was considered a hero for his work.