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Short History of the Invention of the Telegraph and Morse Code

Samuel F. B. Morse, (born April 27, 1791, Charlestown, Mass., U.S.—died April 2, 1872, New York, N.Y.), U.S. painter and inventor. The son of a distinguished geographer, he attended Yale University and studied painting in England (1811–15). He returned home to work as an itinerant painter; his portraits still rank among the finest produced in the U.S.  Independent of similar efforts in Europe, he developed an electric telegraph (1832–35), believing his to be the first. He developed the system of dots and dashes that became known internationally as Morse code (1838). Though denied support from Congress for a transatlantic telegraph line, he received congressional support for the first U.S. telegraph line, from Baltimore to Washington; on its completion in 1844 he sent the message “What hath God wrought!” His patents brought him fame and wealth.

The Western Union Telegraph was completed in Missouri on October 24, 1861. This new method of communication ended the short tenure of the Pony Express.

Written by: Carleton Mabee

Fact checked by: The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica

Last Updated: Feb 12, 2023 • Article History

The Western Union Telegraph

The Western Union Telegraph was completed on October 24, 1861. This new method of communication ended the short tenure of the Pony Express.

The Western Union Telegraph was completed on October 24, 1861. This new method of communication ended the short tenure of the Pony Express. Covering the rapid spread of telegraphic communications starting from 1844 and the completion of the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861.

Originally, Morse decided to lay his wire underground in1843, but the project was stopped after 15 km of wire was laid because the line was failing. Morse learned that Cooke and Wheatstone in England were now using poles for their lines, and he decided to follow that lead.

  • 1 April 1844: Work begins in Washington on laying the line to Baltimore using poles. They used chestnut poles of seven meters in height, and 60 meters apart. Two wires were laid, Number 16 copper wire, covered by cotton thread with shellac, and a covering mixture of "beeswax, resin, linseed oil, and asphalt."

There was a charge for sending a telegraph.

The first telegraph office – expense of a telegraph



November 14, 1845 report in New York Herald on telegraph lines coming into operation.

  • 1 April 1845: First public telegraph office opens in Washington, D.C., under the control of the Postmaster-General. The public now had to pay for messages, which were no longer free.

  • 15 May 1845: Morse forms the Magnetic Telegraph Company

  • ·October 1845: Samuel Colt partners with William Robinson (a New York book dealer) to form the New York and Offing Electric Telegraph Association. A line is laid from an observation tower built on Coney Island to Manhattan to get news from shipping traffic to the New York Mercantile Exchange more quickly.

  • ·November 1845: In the fall of 1845, the Magnetic Telegraph Company begins service from Philadelphia to Norristown, Pennsylvania, due to great public interest in the work.

Map shows extent of operational lines by the end of 1846. At the start of the year, there were only four

short lines in operation 5 June 1846: With completion of the line in-between Baltimore and Philadelphia,

line from New York City to Washington, Magnetic Telegraph Company is now operational.


  • 27 June 1846: Commercial line between New York City and Boston completed by F.O.J. Smith. On July 4, the next steamer from Europe to Boston (the Britannia) arrives. Does not appear that telegraph was used, and Herald reports how news traveled from Boston to New York in 10 hours. Next steamer (Cambria) arrives in Boston on July 18 and the New York papers use the new telegraph line.





  • 15 November 1849: First steamer to arrive in Halifax from Europe has news telegraphed directly to New York.


  • 1850: About 12,000 miles of line from 20 companies now exist in the United States.

  • 29 March 1850: Line reaches Danville, Virginia.



The telegraph spread to continental and intercontinental service, rather like an all-encompassing spider web.

20 December 1858: Line west to Kansas City, Missouri from Boonville, Missouri is completed.

Mid 1859: Western United States line reaches east to Carson City and to Virginia City by latter part of the year.

3 April 1860 The Pony Express starts operations, running from St. Joseph, Missouri (where the rail and telegraph lines from the east ended) to San Francisco (Sacramento to San Francisco leg by steamer, rest by horse).

3 April 1860 Line starts operating from Springfield, Missouri to St. Louis, Missouri via Bolivar and Jefferson City. The line was later extended to Fayetteville, Arkansas and Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The road from St. Louis to Springfield to Ft. Smith was known as Telegraph Road or Wire Road, later Old Wire Road.

Mid-October 1860': Western line is extended east to Fort Churchill. This is as far east as line reaches before work to finish transcontinental line start in July 1861.

End of telegraph era 27 January 2006: Western Union discontinues telegram services. Indian company BSNL continues telegraphic service into 2013.

Source: Wikipedia

Additional information can be found at Bellis, Mary. "The History of the Electric Telegraph and Telegraphy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020,

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