The First Long-Distance Telegraph Message, Sent This Day in 1844: 'What Hath God Wrought?'

By Alexis C. Madrigal

This strip of paper records the first ever message sent by telegraph, a feat that occurred on this day in 1844. Standing in the chamber of the Supreme Court, Samuel B. Morse sent a 19-letter message to his assistant Albert Vail in Baltimore, who transmitted the message back. Members of Congress watched the demonstration with fascination much like their countrymen did in future demonstrations. 

The piece of paper you see above records three things: a note Morse appended to the top detailing its importance, the actual Morse code marks, and their translation into letters at the bottom.

In most accounts, like the one maintained by the Senate (which used to house the Supreme Court chamber), the words Morse sent get short thrift: "A young woman provided the first message he sent: 'What hath God wrought.'" 

But the telegraph's long-distance application marks the beginning of a new era of communication, in which information can travel faster than any human by any means of conveyance. If you run the videos of the deployments of all the telephone and Internet and social networks around the world in reverse, they'd all wither and contract until there were only two points on the electric-information network: that Supreme Court chamber and the Mount Clair railway depot in Baltimore.

In light of all that, the words of Morse's friend's daughter, Annie Ellsworth, take on more meaning than she probably anticipated: What hath God wrought, indeed.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/05/the-first-long-distance-telegraph-message-sent-this-day-in-1844-what-hath-god-wrought/276226/