Samuel Finley Breese Morse or Alfred Lewis Vail - Whose Code is it anyway?

morse
Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born in Charlestown, Mass. on the 27th of April 1791, and died of pneumonia in New York City on the 2nd of April 1872. - He was the eldest son of Reverend Jedidiah Morse and Elizabeth Ann (nee Breese) Morse. Morse entered Yale College in 1805 where he received his first instruction in electricity from Prof. Jeremia Day, also attending the elder Silliman's lectures on chemistry and galvanism. In 1809 he wrote: "Mr. Day's lectures are very interesting,they are upon electricity. He has given us some very fine experiments, the whole class, taking hold of hands, form the circuit of communication, and we all received the shock apparently at the same moment. I never took an electric shock before, it felt as if some person had struck me a slight blow across the arms. - However, his college career was perhaps more strongly marked by his fondness for art than science, and he employed his leisure time in painting. One day, he wrote a letter to his parents from his college saying that he was made to be a painter. He wrote: "My price is five dollars for a miniature on ivory, and I have engaged three or four at that price. My price for profiles is one dollar, and everybody is willing to engage me at that price." - Morse eventually moved to London in 1811 and was accepted as a student at the Royal Academy of Art. He remained in London for four years, but he was obliged to return to the United States in August, 1815.

During 1826-1827 Prof. James F. Dana lectured on electromagnetism and electricity before the New York Athenaeum. Morse was a regular attendant, and being a friend of Prof. Dana, had frequent discussions with him on the subject of his lectures. However, the first ideas of a practical application of electricity seem to have come from Morse while he was in Paris during the winter of 1831-2, where he thought of using the electric spark by way of a telegraph. On the 1st of October 1832, he sailed from Havre on the packet-ship 'Sully' for New York, and among his fellow-passengers was Dr. Charles T. Jackson, then lately from the laboratories of the great French physicists, where he made special studies in electricity and magnetism. A conversation in the early part of the voyage turned on the recent experiments of Ampere with the electromagnet. When the question whether the velocity of electricity is retarded by the length of wire was asked Dr. Jackson, referring to Benjamin Franklin's experiments replied that 'electricity passes instantaneously over any known length of wire.' Morse then said "If the presence of electricity can be made visible in any part of the circuit, I see no reason why intelligence may not be transmitted instantaneously by electricity."

Alfred Lewis Vail, born in Morristown, New Jersey on the 25th September 1807 and died in poverty on the 18th of January 1859. After completing his early schooling, Vail worked for his father who operated the Speedwell Iron Works and became a skilled mechanic. He then returned to school, earning his degree from the University of the City of New York in 1836. At the university in 1837, Vail observed a demonstration by Samuel Morse of his electric telegraph. Vail immediately persuaded Morse to take him on as a partner, which was a great stroke of fortune for Morse, as Vail brought with him his mechanical expertise, a practical inventiveness, and his father's financial resources.

Vail agreed to construct a full set of telegraph equipment (at his father's shop) and finance the American and foreign patent application process in return for an interest in Morse's rights to the telegraph. During 1837 Vail invented a printing telegraph, and in 1838 he made many improvements to Morse's original designs, including Morse's Morse Code. - Morse's code consisted of sending dots and dashes that represented numbers and each number represented a word which required looking up the number in a book to find the word. Vail's 'Morse Code' was a system of representing letters, numbers and punctuation marks.

vail

morse's telegraph recorder

Morse's Telegraph Recorder

vail's telegraph

Vail's Telegraph Recorder

The other improvements which should be credited to Vail included the inventing of a new and better sending key and a printing telegraph, for which, unfortunately for Vail, Morse submitted the patent, which means that Morse received the credit of the new 'Morse Code' and the key and printing machine. So in 1838 the partners were demonstrating their perfected telegraph, with the superb mechanics of the system, and the new code being very largely Vail's contribution.

In the years between 1838 and 1843, while the partners' application for a Congressional grant languished in political limbo, Vail lost interest in the telegraph and began working for his father's firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, when Congress approved funds to construct an experimental telegraph line between Baltimore in Maryland, and Washington D.C. in 1843, Vail returned to become Morse's assistant while the line was built. Vail was the recipient, in Baltimore, of  Morse's famous first message telegraphed along the line, "What hath God wrought!"

Vail remained with Morse for the next four years, publishing 'The American Electro Magnetic Telegraph' in 1845. He retired to Morristown in 1848, intending to manufacture telegraphic equipment, but his plans were never realised. - His first wife, whom he married in 1839, died in 1852, leaving their three sons; Vail remarried in 1855, and died in poverty on the 18th of January 1859.Within ten years after the first telegraph line opened, 23,000 miles crisscrossed America. The invention profoundly affected the development of the West, it made the railroad safer, and allowed businessmen to conduct their operations more profitably.

vail's morse key

Vail's Morse Key

An article you may find interesting:
Press here for an extract from the  New York Times June 30, 1904

Reading the Code by Ear: It was found that as early as 1845, some operators could identify most of the code letters by ear as they listened to the clicking of the recorder. By 1846 many regular operators were doing so, or could. However, there was great reluctance on the part of local office managers to accept this method of copying, and some strictly forbade it. The operators who read by ear had to keep paper tapes as proof of their accuracy. - One example of receiving by ear only is: James F. Leonard who in 1846 entered the service as a messenger boy at the age of 14. Within a year he became an operator at Frankfort, Kentucky, and was reading by sound, and he had also taught himself to send and listen at the same time, writing down an incoming message while sending another. - That same year (1847) a Louisville broker, who had been sitting in a telegraph office, was fined and jailed for listening to market reports coming in and not paying for them (because he had no operator's license)!

The sounder was invented in 1856, and most of the recorders were discarded, it was now officially permitted to copy the code by ear.

How did we arrive at what we now call the Morse Code? Ask almost anyone who invented the telegraph, and the answer will be 'Morse', but having read up to here, you already know that he did NOT create the dot-and-dash Morse code, the Morse key or the stylus recorder. - Morse's ingenuity was in combining a simple electromechanical system with some sort of 'linear' coding as a key to developing a truly practical telegraph system. Like Marconi half a century later, his vision to combine these newly discovered principles and to bring them into use made telegraphy what it became in the field of communication for many decades.

The original Morse code was modified (without authorisation by Morse) by William Robinson when Morse telegraphy was introduced into Germany in 1847. Until then the Marine Dispatch Service between Hamburg and Cuxhaven was using an optical system which of course was useless under bad weather conditions. One of their engineers, Fredrick Clemens Gerke, immediately translated Vail's book on the telegraph into German. This systematic engineer saw how easy it was to confuse the receiving operator using the present code, so he modified the internally spaced characters and the various lengths of dashes. This just left two lengths, a dot and a dash. Even though this would make transmissions longer, it meant less skill was required to achieve the same level of proficiency and accuracy of communication. He retained A B D E G H I K M N P S T U V just as they were, and used I for both I and J and formed new code characters for the deleted letters and numbers.

Other German and Austrian states also adopted the Morse system, but each state modified the Morse code independently, making interstate communication difficult. Finally, in 1852 the German and Austrian state telegraphs convened to unify the codes in use. Their principles were:

(a) Uniform dot and dash elements (and spacings)

(b) Letters to be no more than four elements long

(c) Numbers to be five elements long

(d) Punctuation to be six elements long

They took Gerke's alphabet as a basis, but changed his O P X Y and Z to the present 'International' forms, and developed the present systematic number system etc. They made this code their official standard on the 1st of July 1852.

The present form of J and other European language symbols were added in 1865 at the Paris International Telegraph Convention.

For a long time this 'Morse' Code was called the 'Continental' code, until wireless made it 'International'!

Minor punctuation changes were made on the 1st of September 1939.

Interested in learning Morse Code? - Read On!

Farnsworth Spacing: This is actually an old procedure used by many teachers, but Russ Farnworth (then W9SUV) popularised it. This method (in which the spacing between letters and words is lengthened to facilitate recognition of character patterns and words in the early stages) is obviously excellent. It is not the speed at which a letter is sounded that perplexes a learner, but the rapid succession in which they follow each other. The recommended character speed to use from the very beginning is 18 - 25 wpm (words per minute), that way the letter is perceived as a sound rather than being composed of dits and dahs. Each letter (and word) is at first separated by a wide space, giving the learner time to recognise each letter or number and associate it with its printed equivalent. Then, as the learner progresses, the space between the letters (or numbers) gradually shortens until normal length is achieved and the learner reaches normal telegraph speed.

The Morse Code Alphabet (Do not learn as a visual pattern, learn as Sounds) 'DIT' for dit 'DAH' for dah
A
a
B
b
C
c
D
d
E
e
F
f
G
g
H
h
I
i
J
j
K
k
L
l
M
m
N
n
O
o
P
p
Q
q
R
r
S
s
T
t
U
u
V
v
W
w
X
x
Y
y
Z
z                
1
1
2
2
3
3
4
4
5
5
6
6
7
7
8
8
9
9
0
0        
?
question
.
fullstop
,
comma
/
stroke
@
at    

The standard for measuring Morse Code speed:

Here is the word PARIS to measure to standard length for Morse Code speed

( I.) Each DIT counts for one count

(II.) Each DAH counts for three counts

(III.) Spacing between characters of the letter is one count

(IV.) Spacing between letters is three counts

( V.) Spacing between words is seven counts

     
P
           
A
     
R
       
I
       
S
     
dit
 
dah
 
dah
 
dit
 
dit
 
dah
 
dit
 
dah
 
dit
 
dit
 
dit
 
dit
 
dit
 
dit
 
1
1
3
1
3
1
1
3
1
1
3
3
1
1
3
1
1
3
1
1
1
3
1
1
1
1
1
7

So the word PARIS is exactly 50 counts

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