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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Morse Code

John Thomson, telegraph operator at Limerick, Saskatchewan.Samuel Morse, in responding to the demand for an efficient way to transmit messages via telegraph, developed a code he hoped would replace more elaborate message delivery methods.

Initially, this system of dots and dashes, patented by Morse in 1840, required a code book to interpret. Numbers were used to represent different words, and messages were sent in that fashion from operator to operator.

Through his later association with the machinist Alfred Vail, Morse refined this code until series of dots and dashes came to represent individual letters, numbers, and punctuation forms.

Chart In those early days, these dots and dashes were rendered as short and long marks on a tickertape, from which an operator would translate the message. This method quickly fell by the wayside, however, when human telegraph operators were found to be more efficient.

Most industries came to transmit their important business news and updates via Morse code, either by going through a trained operator employed at the telegraph office, or by retaining such an individual for themselves.

Even after the telephone became popular, the rail industry in particular continued to use this code well into the 20th century.

The use of Morse code is now preserved in Alberta and around the world chiefly by amateur radio operators who use it to communicate. Modern code is transmitted in long and short tones, rather than in clicks.


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