Bidding farewell

The Morse Code, the communication link that held many an empire together, has finally been laid to rest

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

It ran along with the railroad. It was a symbol of the strength of many empires. Binding territory by holding it together with thin wires. It was the telegraph: the communication link between district headquarters, towns and states. When the radio came, a universally accepted combination of dots and dashes became a universally accepted distress signal. Ships used it to communicate with each other on the high seas. "Save Our Souls" became a universally known cry for distress -- an indication that a ship was sinking and needed help from another.

From its beginning in 1832 when Samuel Morse, a citizen of the United States, first put down the code in his diary, the code has had a great innings. It was virtually the e-mail network of its time. Morse was a painter by profession and was inspired to set up the first telegraph.

A new breed of telegraph operators came upon the scene and became part of a new class of urban people that emerged all over the West. It is true that the Morse code had rivals. But these normally required more than one wire. As such Morse beat all of these hands down. There were, however, problems. To use the Morse code, an operator had to master a set of symbols. This hurdle too was soon overcome and professional operators took to it with a vengeance. The press relied heavily upon telegraph as well. The world soon became a global gossiping community on wire.

Since 1992, Morse equipment has been facing decommissioning the world over. In January 31, 1997, even the French said goodbye to Morse. But it will remain, perhaps in the hands of ham operators and as an item of curiosity for interns in the profession. The code, however, will never die but may, like an old soldier, silently fade away.

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