Sunday, September 18, 2011

Morse code, an alphabet of dots and dashes named after American painter and inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse

Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) was an American history painter. After his hope, to be chosen to paint historic panels for the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, was disappointed, Morse eventually gave up painting entirely and focused on work with telecommunication devices, based on  electrical signals, in his New York University studio apartment [1,2]. Together with mechanically skilled partners Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail, Morse developed telegraph models in 1837. At the same time he worked out  his own system for transmitting letters of the alphabet by groups of dots and dashes: the Morse code (see International Morse Code).

Earlier used code system for tracking electronically transmitted letters: The first electromechanical telegraph had been constructed in 1833 by the German physics professor Wilhelm Weber and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss in Göttingen, who used a plus-and-minus-sign code system to track signals [3]. The signals were sent over a wire between the Physics Institute and the Astronomical Observatory of the University of  Göttingen. Plus and minus signs were recorded depending on left and right swings of a responding magnet bar. Weber and Gauss used strings of length two, three and four of plus and minus signs to encode letters, which they transmitted in their experiments to demonstrate the feasibility of electromagnetic telegraphy. “Man hat's probiert. Es funktioniert. [It has been tested. It works.] ” was the scientifically minded conclusion by Gauss [3]. Further developments were left to Samuel Morse, his partners and competitors.

Keywords: history of telecommunication, long distance communication, electronic messaging

References and more to explore
[1] David McCullough: Reversal of Fortune. Smithsonian September 2011, 42 (5), 80-88 [].
[2] Internet Archive Wayback Machine: Samuel F. B. Morse [].
[3] Hubert Mania: Gauß Eine Biographie. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbeck bei Hamburg, Juli 2009; pages 282 and 324.

1 comment:

  1. Now, we have less complicated mode of communication such as a 1300 Number. Back then, people need to memorize the codes in order for the message to be understood. :)