By Nancy J. Farrier
We are so spoiled in the 21st Century. If we want to say something to a friend or family member, we simply call, email or text. Keeping in touch is pretty much instant, and almost everyone we know hasa phone that does amazing multiple functions. In fact, we become annoyed if whoever we need to contact doesn’t answer immediately.
I’m sure my kids roll their eyes when I talk about growing up in the 1960’s. We would go on vacation for two or three weeks – a road trip – without a phone. My dad would call home once or twice to check on family and the farm, but we didn’t have daily contact, and those back home had no way to contact us.
Consider how families must have felt when loved ones traveled west by wagon train. They knew the chances of seeing one another again were very slim. They could try to send letters, but with no known address, the letters might travel for months to catch up to the recipient. Once the family settled, contact was easier, but still took weeks or months.
Communication woes began to change in the mid-1800’s. Building on the discoveries of several men, Samuel Morse invented a more practical way of connecting with one another when he designed a magnetized magnet and invented the telegraph. In 1835, Morse proved that messages could be sent by using pulses of electricity and a code of dots and dashes, later refined and called “Morse Code.”
Morse gave a public demonstration of his new method of corresponding in 1838, but didn’t get any backing until several years later. In 1843 Congress funded an experimental line that stretched forty miles from Washington to Baltimore. On May 1, 1844, the first news was dispatched when Morse’s partner telegraphed the message that Henry Clay had been nominated by the Whig Party at their national convention.
The first official message, sent on May 24, 1844, shared a Bible verse, Numbers 23:23, “What hath God wrought,” chosen by the daughter of a friend of Samuel Morse. The telegraph began to spread,mostly along the railroad lines. In 1861, Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph line, giving people out west a way to connect with people in the East.
The shortest telegram in the English language was from the Irish writer Oscar Wilde. He was living in Paris and he cabled his publisher in Britain to see how his new book was doing. The message read: “?” The publisher cabled back: “!” (I found it funny that a "?" and "!" were considered English.)
Samuel Morse’s invention changed the way people communicated. In 1871, Morse, a frail 80-year-old, was honored in a day’s celebration that included the unveiling of a statue of Morse. Telegraph messages congratulating Morse came from around the world. The events of the day were communicated via a series of telegraph instruments, hidden from view of the guests, but connected to every city that had a Morse telegraph. Samuel Morse himself arrived for the end of the ceremonies, and the announcement was made that he would send a final message. A Western Union operator typed Morse’s words, “Greeting and thanks to the Telegraph fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the Highest, on Earth, Peace, Goodwill to men.” Morse finished the message by signing his name, S.F.B. Morse.
In 1848, a Pennsylvania preacher penned this poem about the telegraph:
Along the smooth and slender wires, the sleepless heralds run,
Fast as the clear and living rays go streaming from the sun;
No pearls of flashes, heard or seen, their wondrous flight betray,
And yet their words are quickly caught in cities far away.
Have you ever sent or received a telegraph message? Do you know any Morse code? Most of us at least know the distress signal – SOS – dot dot dot – dash dash dash – dot dot dot. What other messages do you know?
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest and interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.
Very good post, Nancy. I don't know any Morse code, but I guess all I would have to do is look it up.ReplyDelete
I remember taking family trips with no phone...camping without distractions from the outside world was heavenly. It is amazing how far technology has come since the '60s!
Yes, I love camping where there is no cell service. It's so quiet and peaceful. We don't realize the distraction modern technology is until we get away from it for awhile.Delete
Thanks, Nancy! I have a fondness for Mr. Morse as we share an ancestral last name but I have to trace him through geneology lines. Really, it was a world-changer and I appreciate his heart for God as well. I look forward to your July release!ReplyDelete
Samuel Morse was quite a man, and I appreciate his heart for God too. How fun to have a connection to him.Delete
I don't know any Morse code, but my husband used to be a ham operator, so he would occasionally speak Morse code messages to me, then have to translate it. I remember him once telling me he had just said "I love you"! Romance in Morse code! ;)ReplyDelete
I loved Samuel Morse's final message on the day he was being honored! We could all use that kind of humility, to give the glory to God.
How fun - romance in Morse code. I can see that in a book. lol Yes, I loved his humility and giving all glory to God. Very inspiring.Delete
I don't know any Morse code and even though I KNOW the signal for SOS, I'm not sure I could actually do it correctly. How long is a dot? A dash? I've seen it in movies with flashing lights, and it all just looks like ...uh... flashing lights to me! lolReplyDelete
Reading this, Nancy, I wondered if there was any cost to operating the telegraph, other than the upkeep on the lines, the equipment, and paying the operators.
Pam, I've known the SOS signal for years, but still had to look to make sure I was doing the dots and dashes right. I don't know that I would be able to depend on that if I was in trouble. And, yes, they just look like flashes of light to me. I imagine you have to train your ear or eye to distinguish the two.Delete
I know Western Union charged people to send telegrams, or telegraph messages, but I did not find out how much. I'm sure those charges paid for repairs, maintenance and the wages of the telegraph operator. I don't know about other expenses.
You are so right about communication in earlier times. My goodness there are probably not that many people that like to write letters and use the mail. I have an older sister that loves to get mail..does not use computer -no cell phone, she doesn't even have DISH on tv, just regular local channels. not many like her now.I enjoyed reading your post today, thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
Paula, you are right. Letter writing is a lost art these days. Now, we jot off a short email. Younger people prefer to text instead of talk. A couple of years ago we were visiting family and my son texted me. He wanted to send a private message, but I saw it was from him and said, "Why did you text me, I'm right here?" lol I learned then that younger people texting in a room full of people is like whispering in the ear when we were younger. Now I know.Delete
Sometimes I wonder if communication and electronics has gone too far. If we could have the GPS tracking without the constant texting, it might be better. Of course it is so easy to get in touch with someone now, so I guess we are better off. Thanks for the valuable info, Nancy.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Martha. Sometimes I wish people wouldn't feel the need to be so accessible. We have gone to the point of rudeness, and danger at times. My family knows I just won't answer my phone when I'm driving. I'll call back when I stop, but won't talk when I drive.ReplyDelete
Loved this post. My brother had his wedding photos taken at Morse's estate near Poughkeepsie, NY. It is a gorgeous piece of property, with flowering trees and shrubs and lovely old buildings. He must have had some financial success with his invention, unlike Mark Twain who died penniless.ReplyDelete
How interesting, Kathleen. I didn't see anything about his estate. I'll have to look it up and see if there are pictures.Delete
I agree...wow - to see how far we have come it is kinda sad. thanks for the reminder.ReplyDelete
Yep, Eliza. There is good and bad with technology. On the upside, we have 911 and access to help that our ancestors didn't have in the 1800's. Thanks for the comment.Delete
I received telegrams of congratulations when I was in high school and college theater. It is a tradition on opening night to send your favorite actress or or actor a "break a leg" telegram. I was thrilled when I got my first one!ReplyDelete
Karla, I loved the idea of getting a special message for opening night. How fun. Thanks for sharing.Delete
I absolutely love it when I go camping and don't have cell service. The peace and quiet of it is wonderful! Sadly, yes we rely on it so much today that some think they can't live without it. Oh if only they could see that we DID live without that just a short 25 years ago!! I have always been fascinated with Morse code, thanks for a fun post!ReplyDelete
Susan, I love the peace and quiet too. I think it's hard for kids to understand how we can enjoy the time away from technology. Thanks for commenting.Delete