Samuel Morse unveiled his code 190 years ago in January 1838,
writes Jim Rees
We might not know the key, but we are all aware of the sound. The dot-and-dash rhythm of the Morse Code has long been consigned to history, but in its day it was a technical marvel.
By the dawn of the nineteenth century, the idea of sending electrical impulses along a copper wire was well known. The problem was: how could these impulses be translated into understandable communication?
The science of turning words (sound) into electrically transmitted messages and back again was still a distant dream. There had to be an intermediate stage that could be achieved with the technology then available.
Morse assigned each letter of the alphabet and numbers 0 to 9 a dot-dash sequence, a ‘dot’ being a short sharp tap on the mechanism, a ‘dash’ being a slightly longer tap. The letter S was three ‘dots’, O three dashes. So, the famous call for help, S O S, became … — …
Tapping the letters into the mechanism created small electrical charges which were sent down the copper wire telegraph cables, activating the corresponding device at the intended destination.
Highly trained operators transformed words into sequences of taps with the ease of linguists translating languages. Receiving operators would then spell out the words as the taps came through loud and clear.