Beyond Words - Language Blog

Morse Code . _ . | _ _ _ | _ . _ . | _ . _ | …

As you might have guessed from the colorful dots and dashes above the Google search bar today, it’s Samuel Morse’s birthday. Morse code was created by the American painter and inventor in the early 19th century. Morse perfected his electromagnetic telegraph, and by 1836 transmitted the first long-distance message from Washington to Baltimore, which playfully read, “What hath God wrought?”

Morse’s telegraph machine was the first device to convey a messages using electricity; the composer coded the message and tapped it in telegraph key. Then, the telegraph converted the dots and dashes used in coding into electrical impulses carried through telegraph wires. Finally, the recipient of the telegraph received those electrical impulses already converted into dots and dashes on a paper tape.

Morse code played a fundamental role in the history of aviation as a form of plane-to-plane and plane-to-controller communication. The code itself may interest language lovers as one of the most useful international systems of writing and communication.

Though other forms of communication have replaced Morse code in aviation, the system of dots and dashes remains popular with amateur radio operators and aviation enthusiasts. For a look at Morse code, check out the alphabet below: