He may well have asked what God had wrought, since it was that telegraph system that set in train some of the most disruptive technologies that man has ever seen.

Essentially, it meant that communicating at distance was possible and it led to data transmission throughout the globe. It gave us the internet generation.

But rather like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, it set in train a series of inventions and technologies that today, many are questioning, not least after the revelations by ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden of mass surveillance by the security services.

The Telegraph

Back then, 170 years ago, Morse was not the only inventor playing with the telegraph system.

In Britain, William Cooke and Professor Charles Wheatstone had heard about Morse’s attempt at electronic communication at distance. Cooke built a small electrical telegraph and Wheatstone found a way of sending signals over larger distance. They shared notes and built a multi-wire installation that connected Paddington and West Drayton, on the Great Western railway line.

This was their first commercial success, although they had played with similar systems on other railway lines.

Morse, meanwhile, got together with Professor Leonard Gale from New York University and transmitted a signal over a single-wire telegraph over a distance of ten miles.

Samuel Morse struggled with his designs of the telegraph. His problem was generating signals that could travel distances. Help came in the form of Professor Leonard Gale from New York University. With his help Morse was able to send information over the distance of 10 miles.

Later, with the financial help of the machinist and inventor Alfred Vail, he demonstrated his system in public, in 1838 at the Speedwell Ironworks factory. His first public message was: “A patient waiter is no loser".

Morse Code

The point about the telegraph is that it consisted of simple electrical bursts, so Morse quickly set about devising a system of clicks that could represent the alphabet.

Together with American physicist Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail, Morse devised what we now know as the Morse Code.

In consisted of a series of short and long tones created at one end which sent pulses of electric current along wires which controlled an electromagnet that was located at the receiving end of the telegraph system.

This system caught on around the globe and quickly overtook Cooke and Wheatstone’s system, although Morse struggled with the patent. Cooke and Wheatstone had already patented their system in Britain, but gradually, Morse secured patents in the US and, eventually, globally.

In use today

Morse code was used extensively in the railway industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. Then it was adopted by shipping in order to communicate between ports and telegraphy became wireless, thanks to Marconi.

Wireless telegraphy led to the arrest of Dr Crippen mid-Atlantic. Hawley Harvey Crippen was an American doctor wanted for the murder of his wife, Cora Henrietta Crippen. He escaped the US on the Montrose, but he was recognised by the captain of crew who alerted the British police, via the wireless telegraphy system

As the ship entered the St Lawrence River, Canada, a police officer, pretending to be a pilot, came on board, identified Crippen and arrested him.

Morse Code is still used by amateur radio users, as well as the airline industry. Waypoints and locator beacons used by aircraft emit Morse code signals to identify themselves.

The non-directional beacon nearest to Heathrow is LON, or .-.. --- -. In Morse Code.

But, more importantly, the telegraph paved the way for what we all take for granted today, the connected world.

(VoR)