The paper strip moves by a clockwork mechanism, or a weight pushing a string. The marked dashes and dots on the paper strip, show a received message that would be deciphered by the telegraph operator to alphabet characters.


There is a dispute about the person who invented the Telegraph Code that was used with the electromagnetic telegraph of Morse. The common understanding is that Morse invented the characters code table, but Franklin T. Rope (later on, the assistant of Thomas Edison) claimed that Alfred Vail invented the code table, that is wrongly called Morse Code. The code system that was initially suggested by Morse was not  based on dots and dashes as in  Vail's Code Table.


The electromagnetic telegraph of Morse was demonstrated for the first time in 1838 at a New York Exhibition. Samuel Morse demonstrated transmission of messages at a speed of ten words per minute.


In 1844, Morse applied for a patent for the telegraph, after he demonstrated a practical operation on wire line at a short distance. His patent was granted in 1849. 

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum


A federal budget was approved to enable Morse to install a telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington. On May 11, 1844, Morse sent the first message from the Supreme Court in Washington to Alfred Vail at the Baltimore railway station office.


From 1846  private companies began to install telegraph lines along the cities of the East Coast, using the Morse patent.


In 1851, Western Union was established. In 1854, the total length of telegraph lines was 23,000 miles. In 1860, the first Trans-Atlantic telegraph line was completed.




From the first day of the Electromagnetic Telegraph, the job of the Telegraph Operator was to send the text of the telegrams by hand Key and to decipher the line of dots and dashes that were marked on the paper strip of the Telegraph Register.


The experienced Telegraph Operators noticed that they could recognize the characters that were received by the Telegraph Register, from the clicks of the electro-magnet that operates the inker or embosser. This was the trigger for developing a telegraph receiver (Sounder) with improved sound level . The "Sounder" enabled the experienced Telegraph Operators, to write down the characters at "real time", without losing time for deciphering the paper strips.


These Printing Telegraphs used a paper strip similar to the paper strip in the Telegraph Register, but characters were printed in series along the paper.


In the Telegraph Office, the strips were cut into pieces and glued on the TELEGRAM paper form, instead of writing the text by pen. 




Until the mid 1800's (before the TELEGRAPH ERA), the fastest way to send a message from town to town, was by delivering an Express Post or Mail by railway. The new telegraph service caused one of the greatest revolutions in the history of human communications.


The main users were the railway companies, newspapers and later on to deliver stock exchange results, government and business messages. Military units installed portable telegraph stations at the command camps.


A demonstration by the telegraph historian Robert Feeney in the picture, shows a typical Military Telegraph Station that was used in the Civil War. The demonstration includes a spring driven register, paper strip wheel, telegraph relay, Morse key and two battery jars.




Alfred Vail was able to recognize the clicks of the register or sounder and preferred to use sounders in Telegraph Stations. Samuel Morse was more conservative and insisted on using the registers, because they kept records of the received message.




Together with the Electromagnetic Telegraph of Morse and Vail, several inventors worked on a telegraph machine with the ability of printing characters.


In 1843, Royal Earl House applied for a patent for his Printing Telegraph, using a 28 keys keyboard (like a piano). In 1855 David E. Hughes developed a more advanced Printing Telegraph with better synchronization between the sending and the receiving motors.


George M. Phelps combined the properties of the House and Hughes Printing Telegraphs and introduced the Phelps Combination Printer.

HOUSE Printing Telegraph (1845)

 HUGHES Telegraph Printer (1855)

PHELPS Combination Printer and the patent application



A Telegram with printed characters strips (1897)


In 1880 Western Union used more than 30,000 Telegraph Registers from coast to coast in the USA. In 1886, the number of Telegraph Registers at Western Union Telegraph Offices was reduced to only one thousand ! Hundreds of thousands sounders replaced the registers. 

In 1720, Woods of England discovered that "electric fluid" can be conveyed to a long distance, by conducting wires.

In 1746, Whinkler of Germany discharged a Leyden Jar (charged by electrostatic charge), through a long wire.


In 1747, Dr. Watson of England operated an electrical circuit at a distance of 2 miles. Watson is believed to be the first person that suggested using electricity to send messages to a long distance.


During the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, many more scientists continued the experiments with electricity using various techniques. The Electrometer or Galvanometer was the first instrument that enabled indication of electric voltage. It was used with the first Needle Telegraphs, that were designed by Cooke and Wheatstone.

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The stock and gold exchanges required a fast and efficient reporting system. The experience with the printing telegraphs enabled the development and production of a stock telegraph printing instrument. In 1867, E.A. Calahan invented the first stock printing instrument that printed on a paper strip the company name abbreviation, followed by the stock price and the volume. 


The sound of the Clahan Stock Printer created the nickname "Stock Ticker". This name was used in all the future versions of stock printers, that were used over a period of a century by stock agents, banks and brokers.

The number of line wires used by the Needle Telegraph is identical to the number of the display needles. This was not  practical nor was any other telegraph idea, based on multiple wire line and other display methods. In 1832 Samuel Morse began to develop an electric system that would send alphabet messages on a single wire line. He was assisted by Prof. Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail.


In 1837, the team of Morse came out with the first electric telegraph that operated on a single wire line. At the sending side, the transmitter sent pulses of interrupted current through the wire line by a hand key. At the receiving side, an electromagnetic embosser (later on an inker), marks dashes and dots along a moving paper strip. The receiving device was called a Telegraph Register.

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