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"First Telegraphic Message" from Samuel Morse, May 24, 1844

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"First Telegraphic Message" from Samuel Morse, May 24, 1844
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Morse, Samuel, "First Telegraphic Message," 24 May 1844


When decoded, this paper tape recording of the historic message transmitted by Samuel F. B. Morse reads, "What hath God wrought?" Morse sent it from the U.S. Supreme Court room in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to his assistant, Alfred Vail, in Baltimore, Maryland. Morse's early system produced a paper copy with raised dots and dashes, which were translated later by an operator. Across the top of this artifact of his historic achievement Morse has given credit to Annie Ellsworth, the young daughter of a good friend, for suggesting the message he sent, which she found it in the Bible.

The electric telegraph transformed how wars were fought and won and how journalists and newspapers conducted business. Rather than taking weeks to be delivered by horse-and-carriage mail carts, pieces of news could be exchanged between telegraph stations almost instantly. The telegraph also had a profound economic effect, allowing money to be "wired" across great distances.

Source-Dependent Questions

  • Look closely at the message and describe what you see. Why do you think the telegraph machine used long, skinny paper?
  • The messaging system, or Morse code, is made up of raised dots and dashes which were then translated by a person. How did the Industrial Revolution help improve communication? How did this innovation still rely on humans to help with the message?
  • Telegraph stations allowed messages to be shared quickly across great distances. How did the telegraph affect people's lives?

Citation Information 

Morse, Samuel, "First Telegraphic Message," 24 May 1844. Courtesy of Library of Congress