On This Day…

On the 25th May 1844 the first US House vote transmitted via Morse


On this day in 1844 Samuel Morse first successfully transmitted news of a House vote from the U.S. Capitol to a newspaper via telegraph. The initial dispatch on Morse’s invention ushered in a new era of news reporting.


America’s first telegraph line


The day before, Morse had opened the world’s first telegraph line by transmitting the message, “What hath God wrought!” from the U.S. Supreme Court room Washington D.C. to his partner, Alfred Vail, in the Mount Clare station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. Vail responded by retransmitting the same message back to Morse. Thus, Morse formally opened America’s first telegraph line, an event that inaugurated America’s telegraph industry.

Congress had agreed to provide $30,000 in 1843 for a telegraph wire to be strung 80 miles between Washington and Baltimore. Using Morse code – a system that assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet. Morse tapped out news copy to the Baltimore Patriot that the House had voted to reject a proposal that it sit as a Committee of the Whole to debate the formation of a territorial government in Oregon.


A new way for news

Morse subsequently began selling reports on congressional business for a penny a word. News outlets outside Washington, which heretofore had relied on days-old accounts prepared by “letter writers” in the congressional galleries, marvelled at their access to near-instant communication.

Through private funding, Morse soon extended telegraph service to Philadelphia and New York, acquiring more news clients. Meanwhile, small telegraph companies started to connect many cities east of the Mississippi. The practice of dispatching trains by telegraph began in 1851, the same year Western Union was founded. Western Union built its first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, mostly along railroad rights of way. By 1866, a telegraph line had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean bed from the United States to Europe.

Tapping out morse code. Father and son enjoy a day at The Royal Signals Museum.

Transmitting a message using Morse at the Royal Signals Museum, Blandford.