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All About Morse Code



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Podcast Transcript

In 1838, an American portrait painter by the title of Samuel Morse developed a system whereby alerts could possibly be despatched down {an electrical} wire. 

This technique allowed for info to be despatched virtually immediately over huge distances.

Nonetheless, sending pulses of electromagnetic power down a wire isn’t in and of itself communication. So, he developed a system to encode these pulses in a method that was legible.

Study extra about Morse Code, the way it works and the way it’s really nonetheless used as we speak, on this episode of Every part In all places Each day.


In some methods, the invention of the telegraph was way more profound than the communication applied sciences which got here after it. 

Sure, the phone and the web may do rather more and have been higher than what preceded them, however the telegraph was principally competing with somebody carrying a letter on a horse or a ship. 

Future communications methods which got here after have been incremental enhancements. The telegraph, nonetheless, created your entire class of digital communication. 

The concept of an digital system for communications really dates again to the 18th century when ideas and early prototypes have been constructed. These methods have been actually impractical as they used a separate wire for every letter of the alphabet, and will solely transmit the gap of a single room. 

The invention of the electromagnet furthered issues alongside because it allowed for a mechanical motion to happen on the opposite finish of {an electrical} wire. 

The earliest telegraph methods have been often known as needle telegraphs. A needle telegraph labored by shifting a needle to the appropriate or the left relying on the present despatched down the wire.

The primary needle telegraphs tried to make the needle level to a letter of the alphabet, however ultimately, they settled on a code the place a letter would correspond to a sequence of needle actions.  For instance, left-left was the letter A. Proper-right was the letter N.

Finally, a five-needle system was developed the place you didn’t even want a code. The needles would simply level to the right letter and also you didn’t want a talented operator, however you probably did want 5 totally different wires, which proved troublesome early on. 

Most of the early methods developed in Britain have been multi-wire methods, which was their weak level. Every wire was some extent of failure, and extra wires equaled extra price. 

There was a working theme on this podcast once I discuss innovations. Early variations or prototypes are sometimes constructed or conceived a long time and even centuries earlier than they arrive into common use. The reason being that the primary variations aren’t sensible, or cost-efficient to implement. 

So too was the case with the telegraph. The early multi-wire system labored, however they weren’t sensible.

The primary sensible telegraph was developed by Individuals Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail. 

Their system was a single wire system that didn’t use any needles.  On both finish of the wire was a telegraph key which was a part of {an electrical} circuit. When the important thing was pressed on one finish, it prompted the important thing on the opposite finish to depress making a sound. 

I’m positive when you’ve ever seen a film with a telegraph, you’re aware of the clackity sound of a telegraph key. 

The very first model of the Morse system recorded the important thing coming down on a protracted skinny strip of paper, much like an outdated inventory ticker tape, however that was ultimately deserted.

Morse demonstrated his system on Might 24, 1844, on a connection between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. Morse was in Washington and Vail was in Baltimore, and Morse famously despatched the primary message which was “What hath God wrought!” 

Morse’s telegraph was quite simple and less expensive than something which got here earlier than it. In consequence, it was quickly adopted over the following a number of a long time as telegraph wires unfold round the US and Europe.

If you happen to keep in mind again to my episode on the Trans-Atlantic Cable, the primary telegraph message despatched throughout the Atlantic was in 1858, solely 14 years after Morse’s demonstration. 

This episode, nonetheless, shouldn’t be technically in regards to the telegraph. 

To ship that well-known message, Morse needed to remedy an issue. How may he flip a bunch of clicking sounds right into a understandable message? 

A telegraph operator may solely press down on a single key. It turned out that the answer lay in the truth that you would range the period of time that the important thing was pressed down. 

This led to various kinds of singles that could possibly be despatched based mostly on time. 

The shorter ones grew to become often known as dots and the longer ones grew to become often known as dashes. 

The code that Morse developed was combining these brief and lengthy codes into letters of the alphabet. 

So, for instance, the letter A is dot-dash. The letter B is dash-dot-dot-dot. 

If you happen to discovered this code, then you would each ship and obtain messages. The early needle telegraph methods tried to attain one thing simple to decipher at the price of being advanced and costly.

The Morse system was cheaper and simpler, however the trade-off was the necessity for a talented operator. 

The telegraph system really developed and was improved organically by telegraph operators. 

The early paper system that was deserted was on the behest of operators who discovered it simpler to simply hear. 

The operators developed abbreviations to make transmissions go quicker, a lot of which would appear shockingly acquainted to anybody who makes use of textual content messages. Nineteenth-century telegraph operators would have had no drawback with LOL or OMG. 

A skilled telegraph operator was a high-paying tech job and there was an incredible demand for them. It was the Nineteenth-century equal of a pc programmer.

Telegraph operators have been capable of really inform who was on the opposite finish of a wire-based on how they transmitted code. There have been distinctive types and cadences that operators may establish after sufficient follow. 

The code Morse developed was good, however there have been issues with it that grew to become evident very early on.  For starters, it was designed round American English. Nonetheless, there are different languages which have letters past the 26 utilized in English.

Additionally, the primary system developed by Morse had just a few characters that have been longer than the common sprint. A splash was purported to be twice the size of a dot, however the letter L for instance was 4 occasions so long as a dot, which may get complicated. 

Morse’s authentic code grew to become often known as American Morse Code.  In 1848, the German Friedrich Gerke developed a code based mostly on Morse’s Code to be used in Continental Europe.

Gerke removed the prolonged dashes and restricted every thing to nothing however dots and dashes to make it simple. He additionally created codes for European characters with diacritical marks similar to an umlaut. 

In 1865, a modified model of the Gerke system, which was a modification of the unique Morse system, was adopted into what was referred to as Worldwide Morse Code. 

That’s the Morse Code that everybody on the earth makes use of as we speak.  Individuals didn’t undertake the worldwide code instantly because the overwhelming majority of messages have been despatched domestically, they usually didn’t wish to spend the effort and time to retrain their operators. 

Worldwide Extra Code grew to become crucial as a result of telegraph strains have been now being put in throughout borders and due to a brand new expertise developed within the late Nineteenth century: radio. 

It turned out that Morse Code labored very well with early radio. As an alternative of connecting a circuit, you would simply broadcast the sounds. 

Radio allowed for transmitting and receiving alerts from ships and ultimately airplanes. 

As maritime radio elevated, the Worldwide Radio Telegraphic Conference in 1906 created a misery sign in morse code that you’re in all probability aware of: SOS.

SOS doesn’t imply something. It isn’t an acronym. The letters have been chosen just because they’re easy to recollect in morse code. 

Dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot

In 1904 a proposal was put ahead to make use of CQD as a misery code. The rationale for it was as a result of CQ was the code utilized by telegraph operators when beginning a transmission. 

The letters CQ really symbolize the Frech “secu” which is the primary a part of the phrase “securite”. So, the D in CQD can be for misery. CQ continues to be the code utilized by novice radio operators as we speak when establishing a connection. 

Whereas CQD made sense within the logic of telegraph operators, it wasn’t easy and straightforward to recollect, so SOS gained out. 

The cruise ship RMS Slavonia was the primary ship to ship an SOS sign on 10 June 1909.

When the Titanic sank, the radio operator on board first despatched a CQD sign, then on the recommendation of his assistant, started alternating CQD and SOS.

There have been related methods developed for non-Latin alphabet languages. There’s a Russian morse code that maps to the Cyrillic alphabet, and there’s a Wabun Code, which maps to the Japanese kana characters. 

There’s a telegraph code for Chinese language as properly. The way in which they get round having so many characters is that they assign every character a four-digit quantity. The numbers are transmitted in common morse code. It sounds inefficient, however every Chinese language character is environment friendly in how a lot info a single character can convey, so it form of evens out. You simply have to know 10 morse code characters, however then you’ll want to have a sheet to decode the ten,000 attainable combos. 

With the rise of telephones and voice radio, the demand for morse code operators plummeted. 

Nonetheless, it was nonetheless one thing that was taught to radio operators though it wasn’t usually used. 

The very simple nature of Morse Code means it has been tailored for makes use of far past telegraph and radio. 

Main Alexis Casdagli was a British prisoner of warfare in World Warfare II. Throughout his captivity, he created a small wall hanging that he sewed by hand. The Germans didn’t assume something of it, however alongside the margins in morse code, he stitched the phrase “God Save the King” and “F… Hitler”

In the course of the Vietnam Warfare, American pilot Jeremiah Denton was shot down and captured. On Might 22, 1966, Denton and a number of other different prisoners have been taken to be interviewed by a crew of Japanese reporters. 

He was instructed to inform the reporters that he was being handled properly, nonetheless, together with his eyes he blinked out the letters: T-O-R-T-U-R-E. Torture. 

Novice radio, aka ham radio, operators used to want to be taught morse code to get a license, and ultimately, it was solely crucial simply to function in high-frequency bands. In novice radio, morse code is called steady wave or simply CW.  

In the US, the morse code take a look at for novice radio was eradicated in 2006. The US Air Pressure had its final morse code class in 2015. 

As morse code fell out of favor the quantity of people that knew morse code dropped, rendering it even rarer. 

Identical to the Latin language, it by no means fairly died. There are nonetheless morse code fans on the market. A really proficient coder can transmit 40 phrases a minute, and the easiest can transmit as much as 60.

You possibly can nonetheless purchase hand-built morse code keys, and if you’re considering studying morse code there are a lot of free assets accessible on-line. There are even free smartphone apps that can learn and decode morse code mechanically, even from an audio supply.  

and the Boy Scouts of America launched an interpreter patch for morse code in 2012. 

The Worldwide Radio Union hosts the world’s high-speed telegraphy championships, and nations in Japanese Europe appear to at all times do the very best. 

For essentially the most half, morse code is a useless artwork reserved for hobbyists who maintain it alive principally out of nostalgia. Nonetheless, it did play an essential half within the historical past of digital communications. 


Every part In all places Each day is an Airwave Media Podcast. 

The chief producer is Darcy Adams.

The affiliate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

At present’s assessment comes from listener mbcarpenter81 over at Apple Podcasts in the US. They write, 

Gary by no means disappoints!

I stay up for this podcast on a regular basis! Each episode is so properly accomplished. I’m eternally impressed how a lot data is packed into one single episode- all whereas protecting me intrigued each second. Properly accomplished! I additionally love Gary’s journey pictures on his IG!

Thanks, mbcarpenter!  I’ve to confess that I haven’t up to date my Instagram recently because the podcast is now taking over all my time and I haven’t taken my digital camera out of my bag for the reason that pandemic began.

Nonetheless, if anybody is considering seeing a few of my pictures from my years of touring around the globe, you’ll be able to comply with me on Instagram the place my title is: EverythingEverywhere all one phrase.

Bear in mind, when you depart a assessment or ship me a boostagram, you can also have it learn the present.



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