Morse Code

We explain what Morse code is, how it works and where it is used today. In addition, we tell you how it was invented and its history.

morse code history invention
Morse code was useful for telecommunications, especially in the age of the telegraph.

What is morse code?

The morse code, morse key or morse alphabet It is an international system for representing characters through a series of signals emitted intermittently.. These signals can be short or long and are transcribed through periods (.) and hyphens (-) respectively, separated from each other by blank spaces. The characters they represent are essentially letters and numbers.

Since its invention in the 19th century, Morse code has become a useful tool for telecommunications, especially in the age of the telegraph, when a way to transmit information in real time was needed, in the absence of the powerful technologies available today. . Its name pays homage to its inventor, the American Samuel FB Morse (1791-1872).

There are two variants of the Morse code: the traditional variant, adapted to the English language and created by Samuel Morse in the 1830s, and the international variant, created from this first code in 1851, to adapt it to the various characters of the Western European languages. Beyond some changes made in 1938, this second version is still used in different fields.

the morse alphabet can be used for communications through sound, light and other impulses, as long as the distinction between long and short signals, and the pauses between them, can be replicated. For this reason, it is a very versatile technological tool, the use of which is not completely ruled out despite the years.

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Invention and history of the morse code

morse code inventor
Morse code is named after its inventor, Samuel FB Morse.

The invention of the Morse code took place hand in hand with the expansion and popularization of the telegraph.during the first half of the 19th century. Telegraphic communications allowed distant cities to be connected via power lines, but lacked a practical system for converting electrical impulses into information. The first telegraphs used metering needles and very primitive systems that limited what could be communicated.

Thus, in 1837, Americans Samuel FB Morse, Joseph Henry, and Alfred Vail created a system to represent the 28 letters of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet and the numbers 1 through 9.through those same electrical impulses.

Initially, Morse had thought of designing a numerical system, which would count the number of pulses to create a figure that had to be looked up in a code book, and thus find the associated word. But in 1840 Vail extended the code to include letters and special charactersgiving it a more practical and international use.

Morse and Henry then designed a receiver for the code, which consisted of a mechanical clock that moved a paper tape, and on which a pencil fell each time the electrical pulse was received. Thus, short (dots) and long (lines) physical marks could be registered to form what was called the “Fixed Line Morse Code”, “American Morse Code” or “Railroad Morse”.

However, later, the telegraph operators themselves realized that they could only listen to the clicks of the receiving device and know if it was a point or a line, and write them down manually. Thus, the entire framework of the treadmill was unnecessary; they simply had to learn the alphabet like any other language.

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the original morse code it was improved and modified by the German Friedrich Clemens Gerke in 1848. Thus he created the “Hamburg alphabet”, a simpler version that served as the basis for the creation, years later, of the international Morse code.

From then until the abandonment of telegraphy in the 20th century, the Morse code was the basic system for representing writing through electrical, sound and light pulses. It was used in the navy, aviation, railway and numerous fields of the emerging contemporary industrial world.

How does morse code work?

Morse code
Morse code combines a short signal (dot) and a long signal (line).

Morse code operates on the basis of a chain of pulses, that is, of long and short signals, which are received in an orderly manner and in batches, so that whoever receives them can decipher them and recompose a message in natural language. Thus, a short signal (dot) and a long signal (line, equivalent to three points) are combined with the pause, with the purpose of generating a recognizable syntax, as long as the international Morse alphabet is known and the same language is used. natural.

Thus, each letter, number or special character corresponds to an established and universal sequence of pulses, which is simpler or more complex depending on how widely the letter is used in spoken language. For example, the letter A corresponds to point and line (.‒), the letter C corresponds to line, point, line, point (‒.‒.) and the letter S corresponds to point, point, point (. . .). Therefore, to transmit the word “house”, the following lines of pulses, separated by pauses, would have to be communicated:

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‒.‒. (C)

.- (A)

… (S)

.- (A)

There are, however, certain mnemonic rules that allow very long words and complicated meanings to be abbreviated, in order to make decoding more agile and simple. There are also combinations that tell the receiver that there was an error in the transmission and that the message will be rectified next. All of this is taught to those who learn Morse code.

Where is morse code used today?

morse code actuality
Morse code is still used in radio amateur and scout clubs, and in aviation.

The last standard transmission of morse code in the United States took place in 1999., and that event is considered as the symbol of the end of the telegraphic era and of the utility of the morse code. However, the latter continues to be used in very specific fieldssuch as radio amateurs and scouts clubs, and the aviation club, as a mechanism to confirm the correct tuning between the plane and those who communicate with it via radio from the mainland.

online morse code translators

Today there is online software to translate the natural message into Morse code and vice versa. Some examples are:

  • Rodamedia Morse Translator.
  • Morse Decoder.
  • Text Converter Morse Translator.

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  • “Morse code” on Wikipedia.
  • “The incredible history of the Morse code” in Mundo GEO.
  • “Dots and dashes: how the invention of the Morse Code changed the world”in Infobae (Argentina).
  • “Morse Code (communications)”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.