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The first successfully operated telegraph was demonstrated by Samuel F.B. Morse for President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet on February 21, 1838. In April, Morse applied for a patent that was granted 10 years later. The demonstration was impressive enough to win a congressional award of $30,000 for further experimental work, and about a year later, a 40-mile telegraph line was established between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.
While its commercial value was evident, Morse's offer of sale to the government for $100,000 was refused by the Post Office Department on the grounds of financial risk. Private capital distributed telegraph lines among the cities of New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. A decade before the Civil War, there were 50 companies in the business. The Western Union Telegraph Company eventually absorbed the vast majority of them.
Modern telegraph depends on codes, of which there are primarily two, both known as Morse Code. The Morse Code in use in the United States and Canada represents characters by dots, dashes, and spaces. Elsewhere in the world, the prevailing Morse Code consists of dots and dashes without spaces.
The advent of the telegraph constituted a major step toward what would become The Information Age.
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Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse by Richard R. John.
In the seven decades from its establishment in 1775 to the commercialization of the electric telegraph in 1844, the American postal system spurred a c...
Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler.
Abraham Lincoln's two great legacies to history –– his extraordinary power as a writer and his leadership during the Civil War –– come together in thi...
Manifest Destinies by Steven E. Woodworth.
A sweeping history of the 1840s that captures America's enormous sense of possibility and shows how the extraordinary expansion of territories forced ...