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The Telegraph

By Mir Najabat Ali; Illustrations by Ahmed; Published by National Book Trust, India.

Later, around 1825, another inventor, Baron Schilling, made a magnetic telegraph. The electric current passing through the wire turned a magnetic needle which moved over black and white spaces marked on a card. Schilling used a code in which ‘black-white’ meant one letter, ‘black-black-white’ meant another, and so on.

An English professor, Charles Wheatstone, made a small change in this instrument in 1837. He made the needle move over a dial the rim of which was marked with figures and letters. Messages could be read by watching the needle move from letter to letter. It was slow work, but the Railways found it useful and the instrument was in use for years. Wheatstone made a fortune.

The Telegraph, Features for kids: 8_3.jpg Then came Samuel F.B. Morse, the real inventor of the telegraph in its modern form.

One would hardly have expected Morse to make this invention. He was born in America, and although he studied science at school, he chose to be an artist and became quite famous as a portrait painter. Then he went on a tour of Europe to see famous works of art.

He heard about the telegraph when he was returning from Europe on board a ship. A fellow traveller who was a scientist, spoke to him of the work being done on electricity in France. He also showed Morse a small electromagnet he was taking with him to America.

This set Morse thinking. If an electric current could flow any distance through a wire, why shouldn’t it be made to carry messages?

It was an intriguing thought. He had to paint, however, and so he continued to paint, but the idea stuck in his head. His friend, Dr. Gale, at New York University, was pleased at his enthusiasm and encouraged him to work in the college laboratory.

Gale knew of Joseph Henry, a pure scientist, who had done some work in this field. Joseph Henry always helped anyone who came to him with scientific problems. He helped Morse too and showed him a telegraph line about five kilometres long which he had laid in 1832. It created an electromagnet which swung and struck a gong. A code was used for sending and reading messages from the sound of the gong.

Morse decided to use this device, but had still two problems to solve. The device had only been operated over a distance of five kilometres, and Morse wanted his telegraph to operate over hundreds of kilometres. Besides, Morse did not like the code Henry had used. He wanted to find a better code.

Joseph Henry helped to solve the first problem. A device known as a ‘relay’ was fitted at various points along a line. It was just a coil of wire with a battery placed at the end of each section to boost up the fading signals.

To solve the next problem, Morse invented the famous ‘Morse Code’ which is used even nowadays for all types of signaling, especially in the army and the navy. It consists of dots and dashes and each group of these stands for a letter of the alphabet.

Morse took out a patent for his invention in 1837, and tried to persuade the Government to use it on a large scale. But there were delays and for five years Morse led a life of poverty and neglect. At last, the Government gave him $30,000 for a test to show the value of his invention. Morse laid a line of wire from Washington to Baltimore- a distance of about 65 kilometres. The wires were carried overhead, supported by poles, and a battery of 100 cells was used to supply the current. On May 24, 1844, the first message was sent and received. It read "What hath God wrought?" Indeed, God had wrought a miracle that was fated to the change the world.

A . -             J . - - -         S . . .
B  -. . .         K - . -           T -
C - . - .         L . - . .         U . . -
D - . .           M - -             V . . . -
E .               N - .               W . - -
F . . - .         O - - -           X - . . -
G - - .           P . - - .         Y - . - -
H . . . .         Q - - . -         Z - - . .
I . .              R . - .

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The Telegraph [Features for kids]
By Mir Najabat Ali; Illustrations by Ahmed; Published by National Book Trust, India.


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