The History of Morse Code

Samuel F.B. Morse developed Morse code and the electromagnetic telegraph following the discovery of electromagnetism. With electromagnetism, pulses of electric current can be transported along a conductor to a receiving instrument.  

Samuel Morse photographed in 1857 by Matthew Brady.
Zinc crows foot, an antique-style "gravity cell" used as a telegraph battery.

Though other optical telegraph systems were developed in the 1830s and 40s, Morse was the first to commercialize the electromagnetic telegraph, which he developed alongside Morse code.  

In 1844, after the first telegraph connection was completed between Washington and Baltimore, Morse opened the line with the now famous message:

“What Hath God Wrought”

"How Vancouver Sends word to Austral-Asia." A submarine telegraph cable.
"The Improved Vibroplex" telegraph key.

The telegraph was gradually replaced in everyday life, but Morse code was used for maritime communication until 1999 when it was officially replaced by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). In the United States, the final commercial Morse code transmission mirrored the first, “What Hath God wrought.” The era of Morse code ended using dots and dashes. 

Designed by Langara Design Formation students Asuka Moriwaki, Asya Hemsworth, Manu Leite, Victor Camerino in collaboration with the VMM curatorial team

Images from top:
1857 Morse with his recorder. Digital file, accessed January 26th, 2021. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Morse#/media/File:Samuel_Morse_with_his_Recorder_by_Brady,_1857.png>
VMM item number 984.232.
VMM item number M973.485.4.
VMM item number M975.26.1a.