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 when Samuel Morse sent the first telgraph message from Washington DC to a train station in Maryland, a distance of 48 miles.  That first message was, "What hath God wrought?" 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 used extensively 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 business.

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.

Copyright 2021 kd3y.  All rights reserved.