Morse Code Facts

Interesting facts and figures about the Morse code system used for telegraphic communications - everything from the content of the first message sent in Morse code to the date of the last telegraph lines.

Morse Telegraph History Includes:

Morse telegraph history     Morse keys development     Vibroplex & mechanical bug keys     Telegraph sounder     Morse inker     Samuel Morse     Fascinating facts    

The Morse code was in use for many years, and provided an essential means of communication.

Some people have even called it the Victorian Internet because it enabled world-wide communications in a way never before possible.

Along with this it was used to send many historic and interesting messages.

Some interesting Morse code facts and figures have been assembled below.

Camelback Morse key
A camelback key

These Morse code facts and figures have been split into a number of different sections.

Samuel Morse Facts

Details about Samuel Morse the inventor of the Morse code.

Samuel Morse Facts
Morse Code Fact Details
Inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse
Birth date 27 April 1791
Date of death 2 April 1872
Age at death 81
Father Reverend Jedidiah Morse
Place of Birth Charlestown, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Place of Death New York City, U.S.A.
Career Artist & inventor (He was one of the USA's foremost portrait painters)
First wife Lucretia Pickering Walker (married 29 September 1818, died 7 February 1825 at the age of 25 in New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut).
Second wife Sarah Elizabeth Griswold (married 1848)
Children Cornelia Morse, Susan Morse, James Morse, Charles Morse, Edward Morse, William Morse, Samuel Morse.
Steel level Morse key
A steel lever key
This one was manufactured around 1920 but it follows the basic design introduced by James Bunnell in 1881.

Facts about First Morse Code Message

Key details about the first message sent in Morse code and other details about the first Morse code telegraph.

Facts about First Morse Code Message
Morse Code Fact Details
Date of first message. 24 May 1844
What was the first message sent in Morse code "What hath God Wrought"
Why was this first message in Morse code chosen? The message was taken from the Bible: Numbers 23:23, and it wasrecorded on a paper tape. It had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the young daughter of a friend.
First message end points. Washington and Baltimore.
Distance over which message sent. ~40 miles
Funding for first telegraph line. $30 000 from US Congress.
Clipsal Morse Key

Morse Code Speed Facts

Detaisl about records in sending Morse code.

Morse Code Speed Facts
Morse Code Fact Details
Fastest speed 6 May 2003 Andrei Bindasov from Belarus successfully transmitted 216 Morse code marks of mixed text in one minute
Fastest using a straight key Achieved in 1942 by Harry Turner (Radio ham W9YZE) who reached 35 wpm in a demonstration at a U.S. Army base.
Fastest receiving / copying speed July 1939 in Asheville, North Carolina, USA Ted R. McElroy set a for Morse copying, 75.2 wpm which is said to be still standing although some say others have exceeding this figure.

It should be noted that speed records are being broken all the time, and the fastest ever recorded speeds may increase from time to time.

RAF Bathtub Morse Key
RAF Bathtub Morse Key

Morse Code Distress Signal Facts

Morse code was often used for sending distress signals - details about these messages.

Morse Code Distress Signal Facts
Morse Code Fact Details
First distress signal The first distress signal was "CQD" implying a general call to all stations indicating distress. This was first from 1904.
Distress signal The letters "SOS" became the standard distress signal from around 1908 at the International Conference on Morse Code
SOS distress signal The internationally recognized distress signal, SOS, does not stand for any words: the letters were chosen because they are easy to transmit in Morse code: "S" is three dots, and "O" is three dashes and they were easy remember and send.
British Post Office Morse key
British Post Office Morse key
European keys often tended to be heavier than their US counterparts. This British Post office key dates from around 1900 and was manufactured by Walters Electrical.

Morse Code Key Dates

Key dates in the history of the Morse code and Morse telegraph.

Morse Code Key Dates
Morse Code Fact Details
1832 Idea for telegraph first conceived.
1838 First message sent using dots and dashes to represent characters.
1844 American Morse code in final form.
1844 Washington to Baltimore line completed and first message sent.
1850 Sound reading generally replaces tape registers for receiving.
1851 International Morse code adopted in preference to the original American Morse code.
1851 Telegraph first used in train despatching.
1858 First transatlantic cable laid. It failed after 24 days.
1860 Automatic repeaters first used to entend the length over which telegraph lines could operate.
1866 Successful completion of transatlantic cable.
1872 Development of Stearns duplex system enables two messages to be transmitted simultaneously over one line.
1930 Last Morse wire closed by Associated Press.
1989 Western Union Telegraph Co dissolved.
31 Dec 1999 Morse code no longer required for International Distress signals.
14 July 2013 India's state-owned telecom company, BSNL, ended its telegraph service. This was reported to be the World's last true commercial electric telegraph system.

Morse code today

It is an interesting fact to note that Morse code is still widely used today. It is mainly radio hams who use the Morse, or CW as it is often called. Also some Morse telegraph enthusiasts also use it.

Note on Morse Usage Today:

The Morse code or CW as it is often called is still widely used by radio amateurs where it is still able to provide a very effective mode of communication.

Read more about Morse usage today.

Although Morse proficiency is no longer required as a pre-requisite for a ham radio licence, many still prefer to use it as it allows communication over long distances with simple equipment and lower power levels.

In view of this, Morse code is likely to remain in use in some niche areas of radio communication for many years to come.

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