Celebration of Morse by Richard Putnam G0ILN

Richard (G0ILN) is well known in the club for being a bit handy with Morse and much like Jakey (G3JKY) and others in the club, were quite keen to hear Richards’s presentation about the historical and fascinating subject.

Part 1 of the evening got underway just past 7.30pm and Richard began with a background on Samuel Morse himself who at the age of just 14 was already developing an interest in electronics around time of the Battle of Trafalgar and the industrial revolution. As was shown in various images displayed through the evening, one sketch represented the civil war 1861-1865 where telegraph poles were being installed by engineers amidst a foreground full of combatants which was taking place around the time of the railroad boom. At this time, signalling was a much needed requirement.

Morse needed help with the development of Morse Code and started talking to a wealthy and knowledgeable entrepreneur and engineer, Alfred Vail, and together they set up a company to develop the system further along with the help of Leonard Vale and Joseph Henry.

Initially Samuel Morse used a numbered system with a fairly complex looking machine.
It was not long before the device was replace by a simple key called a strap key (or as Vail named it The Correspondent), a key which was often used by early telegraph engineers who had to have a lightweight and practical way of sending Morse while in what must have been less than perfect working conditions. While practical, better keys were needed and the result was the  ‘Lever Correspondent’ which were more durable, the latter of which had a basic level of adjustment available.

The first Morse Code demonstration was given in 1838, and the message sent “Patient waiter is no loser” was sent over a distance of 2 miles. Just four years later in 1842, Samuel Morse’s demonstration to congress resulted in a substantial £30,000 award for his efforts.
1844 saw the message “What hath God wrought”, send from Washington to Mont Clare in Ohio which in more recent times became a railway museum.

As one might be able to imagine, the advent of Morse code became as powerful as the Internet is to us today by providing a fast and reliable communication method which garnered the attention of over 70 different companies who were all doing their best to come up with something similar to Morse’s communication system. In the end, Western Union bought most of them out Morse continued to earn money from franchise and patent rights.

One company, Cooke and Wheatstone in England developed a communication system to compete with Morse Code though it was reliant on a 5-cable system which proved to be unreliable and resulted in breakdowns. Over the years C&W’s system was reduced to 2 cables, then one cable to be able to compete and was used until the 1860’s after which in 1869 the whole of thwe telegraph system in UK was taken over by the GPO.

Richard pointed out that there were over 1000 telegraph offices and 2000 train stations in the U.K. using Morse Code by the late 1800’s resulting in huge annual profits with 7000 telegrams being sent in the first year alone earning the GPO £70000?

With Morse being fairly well established in the U.K., heavy marine cables were laid made from standard rubber materials which quickly broken down and failed and these were superseded by cabling constructed using Gutta-Percha, a much harder plastic/rubber compound and proved to be much more durable than the early, failure-prone cables.

The first commercial transatlantic marine cable was laid in 1865 from Ireland to Newfoundland. The main entry point for cables into Britain is Porthcurno in Cornwall and run to all corners of the globe.

Marconi the pioneer of radio transmission sent his first transatlantic message using Morse code from Poldhu in Cornwall a distance of 2200 miles on 900kc in 1901, and finally, long distance Morse communications became a practical reality.

The club took a brief break and was followed in the second half by Richard presented a large Morse key collection which contained various keys including ex-Mod keys, an interesting plastic bodied Czech key which is apparently available through a member of the FISTS CW club in “as new” condition, Navy keys and a Vibroplex ‘Bug’ key amongst others. All of them quite fascinating and each with their own unique story.

Afterwards Richard answered questions given by members and offered friendly and helpful advice for anyone who might be interested in returning to their keys, or like some of us, to start using one. He also offered some suggested reading to those present, and “The Art and Skill of Morse Code” was recommended as being a very good place to start. He also recommended membership to the FISTS CW Club for anyone who is remotely interested in Morse Code.  The FISTS are an excellent and well recognised organisation with annual membership and monthly magazine costing just a few pounds a year.
I would like to thank Richard for bringing the history of Morse to life and presenting it in an entertaining and educational way. It was a very enjoyable evening indeed.


FISTS CW Club: Fists CW U.K.


Richard Putnam G0ILN explaining the operation and story behind one of the many Morse keys he presented during the evening.


A large and very well maintained collection of Morse keys. Which ones can you identify?


Richard captured the imaginations and interest of everyone at the Taplin Centre. It is quite likely that he may have ‘sparked’ some interest in the members and may have accidentally encouraged them to pick up their keys again!

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