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‘What hath God Wrought?’ First Morse message sent on today’s date in 1844

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An old Morse transmitter

An old Morse transmitter


On this day in 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse sent his assistant in Baltimore the first long-distance telegraph message from his location in Washington, D.C. The text asked a simple “What hath God wrought?” The message was attributed to young Annie Ellsworth, who got it from Numbers 23:23 in the Bible, according to History.com.

Ellsworth probably had no inclination how fitting her message would be, as the telegraph opened the door for the digital age. The Atlantic reported, “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.”

Several other sources have commented on the importance of the historic moment.

The American Heritage Society wrote of the significance of the day. “As those who witnessed it understood, this demonstration would change the world.”

The society also noted the telegraph was an invention that helped kickstart the United States’ economy. “Improvements in transportation and communication liberated people from isolation — economic, intellectual, and political — and brought Americans progressively deeper into a global economy.”

History.com provided some background on Morse and his machine. “Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument. During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line.”

The Library of Congress recorded the method Morse used. “Morse's early system produced a paper copy with raised dots and dashes, which were translated later by an operator.” They also posted the video below on their YouTube channel.

The Smithsonian also offered some history. “Congress allocated $30,000 for Morse to build an electric telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore.”

Morse’s system of dashes and dots now seems archaic, but Time highlighted the importance of the invention in its day. “So long as they were linked by telegraphic wires, humans were liberated from the tyranny of distance; Samuel F. B. Morse had, in the saying of contemporaries, 'obliterated time and space.'”

In his book, “What hath God Wrought” Daniel Walker Howe wrote, “The message ‘baptized the American Telegraph with the name of its author’: God.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that the “Scientific achievements, including the Industrial Revolution, the communications revolution, and advancements in medicine” were “precursors to the Restoration,” and cited Morse’s message.

Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Twelve, wrote in an Ensign article, “Surely, we can say with Morse when he sent the first message by telegraph in 1844, over a forty-mile line, ‘What Hath God Wrought!’ The glory of God is intelligence; in other words, light and truth. All intelligence comes from God, and anyone whose mind is opened to the development of inventions for the benefit and blessing of mankind receives that light and truth through study, through research, through inspiration and guidance from the Spirit of the Lord, whether that individual be a Morse, an Edison, an Alexander Graham Bell, an Orville or Wilbur Wright, or whoever he may be.”

To hear how “What hath God Wrought?” sounds in Morse code, click here.