|In it's simplest form, a telegraph is an electromagnet connected to a battery via a
switch. A telegraph system transmits signals by using an
electrical device called a "key" that consists of a machine to send
signals by a wire to a receiving machine. The signals are sent by
a code to represent the alphabet and numbers. The first Morse keys
arrived at the very beginning of the Morse telegraph system in 1844.
A few weeks before the demonstration of the first telegraph line
between Washington and Baltimore in the USA, Samuel Morse built a very
simple device with two contacts that needed to be pushed together to
close the circuit. It was made using "springy" brass and was mounted on
a wooden base. He called the device a "Correspondent", a name
that had been used for earlier sending devices. This key was used
for the first demonstration, but within six months Morse developed a
new and better type of key using a lever and a fulcrum, and this same
format is still used for manual Morse keys today.
Congess immediately saw the advantage to "instant"
long-distance communication, and funded Samuel Morse in his endeavor.
Not surprisingly, the Morse code was widely used for military
applications. It was widely used in the American civil war and
then for conflicts afterwards, especially for radio communications, and
a whole variety of keys were used.
Today, telegraph keys
are used primarily by Amateur Radio operators for fun, although
in the past many were used in commercial service as well. Before
the Morse telegraph was developed, the speed of sending messages was
limited to the speed of the horses that carried the mail. The
history of the American railroads would be incomplete without Morse's
telegraph. When the transcontinental railroad was linked in the
United States, there was a line of telegraph wires that ran parallel to
the tracks. It immediately put the legendary Pony Express out of
The type of key I made is called a "straight key".
Straight keys use a horizontally-mounted lever that the
operator pushes down to generate the dashes and dots that make up the
Morse Code. In a straight key, the shape of the lever and type of
material that the lever is made of is critical. The straight key
is the most basic type of key. It has a single set of contacts,
and the operator makes dashes and dots by holding down the key for
different lengths of time. I made my Morse key from brass, using
an wooden Oak base. The "three strip" style Morse key is typical of the
design used by the United States Post Office in the 19th century.
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