Morse code

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One of the methods to signal at sea before the introduction of modern satellite communications and radiotelephony. Its system gave the numerals 1–9 and each letter of the alphabet their own code of dots and dashes, e.g. A was dot dash, B dash dot dot dot. Quick and easy to master, the code made it simple for words and sentences, as well as the individual letters of the International Code of Signals, to be transmitted by sound (wireless telegraphy or foghorn), or by light with a searchlight or an Aldis lamp.

It was invented by an American portraitist, Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791–1872), who eventually became professor of painting and sculpture at the University of the City of New York (later New York University). The idea came to him in 1832 while returning from Europe aboard a packet ship, though he only turned his full attention to it in 1837. He endured great poverty while perfecting the code, only to discover that most of the nations to whom he offered it refused to give him a patent for it. However, eventually the US government gave him an appropriation to cover his costs, and the first Morse signals were passed between Washington and Baltimore on 24 May 1844.

However, when the code was introduced into Europe it soon became evident that it was inadequate for transmitting non-English messages, as it did not make allowances for letters with diacritic marks. A variant was therefore devised—among other alterations the length of a dash was made constant not variable—at a European Conference held in 1851, and this came to be known as the International Morse Code. In 1858 most nations in Europe contributed 400,000 francs as payment to Morse for the use they had made of the code.

Some minor alterations were made to the code in 1938 and more recently a new sign, A (dot dash) and C (dash dot dash dot) which stands for @, was added to it to help ham radio operators, its main users today, transmit email addresses in the code.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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