Is Morse code used Today? - The Brief History and Importance of Morse Code

8010 US Army WWI Field Induction Telegraph
8010 US Army WWI Field Induction Telegraph | Source

What is Morse Code?

According to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, Morse Code is defined as, "either of two codes consisting of variously spaced dots and dashes or long and short sounds used for transmitting messages by audible or visual signals."

Basically, Morse Code was a means of early communication using dots and dashes or long and short sounds that correlated to each letter of the Latin alphabet. These messages were typically sent by electric telegraph (also known as a straight key) or by light signals.

The first Morse Code is known as the American Morse Code because that is where it originated, but there are now multiple versions of Morse Code, such as the International Morse Code for languages that also use the Latin Alphabet, the Japanese version the Wabun Code, or the SKATS which is the Korean morse code.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse creator of American Morse Code
Samuel Finley Breese Morse creator of American Morse Code | Source

Who Invented American Morse Code?

Samuel Finley Breese Morse is credited with the creation or invention of Morse Code, who it is named after. He was an American inventor who was also a well known painter. He was born on April 27, 1791 in Charlestown. He graduated from Yale in 1810 and began his career as a painter. Samuel Morse helped found the National Academy of Design before he pursued his passion of invention.

In the 1830's, Morse began work on the first electrical telegraph, which was a means of communicating using electricity. He received his first patent for the electrical telegraph in 1837.

8040 Telegraph
8040 Telegraph | Source

How does it work?

Morse Code was used to send messages over long distances. Morse code messages can be sent using light or by pulses. In Samuel Morse's time, the most common way to send a pulse message was via a telegraph. A telegraph, also known as a straight key, sends pulses in the form of electrical current based on the message that was "tapped out" using the telegraph key.

Telegraph operators would then key messages using a series of clicks based on the spelling of the words of the messages. An operator on the receiving end would hear the clicks and translate them back into words.

With Morse Code, each letter of the alphabet was translated into short and long signals (also known as dots and dashes). The pulse length of a dash is equal to the pulse length of three dots. Eventually, when Morse Code was adapted to radio, the dots and dashes began being referred to as "dits" and "dahs" based on the sound of the radio pulses.

Morse Code By Sea

19th Century replica of British Marine Light
19th Century replica of British Marine Light | Source

What was the Importance of Morse Code?

Before the invention of Morse Code and the telegraph, messages were still handwritten and carried by horseback. Morse Code changed the way we communicated. In the time of its invention, it was the fastest long distance form of communication.

Morse Code allowed for ships at sea to communicate over long distances using large lights. Morse Code was especially pivotal during the second World War because it greatly improved the speed of communication. Naval war ships were able to communicate with their bases and provide critical information to each other. War planes also used Morse Code to detail locations for enemey ships, bases, and troops and relay them back to headquarters.

The Universal Code for SOS

The most commonly used signal for distress is SOS in Morse Code. It is represented as

. . . - - - . . .

(Three dots, followed by three dashes, followed by another three dots)

Is Morse Code Still Used Today?

Morse Code is still widely recognized, even if it is not as widely used as it once was. Morse code is still popular among amateur radio enthusiasts, although proficiency in Morse Code is no longer a requirement to obtain your amateur radio license.

Morse Code is most prevalent in Aviation and Aeronautical fields since radio navigational aids such as VOR's and NDB's still identify in Morse Code. The US Navy and Coast Guard still use signal lamps to communicate via Morse Code.

Morse Code has also been used as an alternative form of communication for people with disabilities or whom have their abilities to communicate imparied by stroke, heart attack, or paralysis. There have been several cases where individuals have been able to use their eyelids to communicate in Morse Code by using a series of long and quick blinks to represent that dots and dashes.

How to send an SOS using Morse Code

Do you know Morse Code?

  • Yes
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Comments 9 comments

Nick 3 months ago

I learned morse code in 5 hours.

joe 8 months ago

it was a awesome thing to use for all my needs

Novel Treasure profile image

Novel Treasure 3 years ago from US Author

I wish it was something that was offered as an elective in school. I think it would be interesting.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I was into ham radio growing up, and learned morse well enough to pass my Advanced license test. I still every once in a while find myself whistling the code for messages on signs along the highway. I guess I qualify as an old timer since I'm actually sorry morse is no longer required for amateur licensing. There are still internet sites for learning and practicing the code, so it seems people are still interested. Thanks for your hub. Morse lives!

Novel Treasure profile image

Novel Treasure 4 years ago from US Author

That's a good question. It's probably one of my biggest regrets that I didn't choose to serve my country. I didn't meet my husband til I was older and by that time I was told I was too old to enlist. But as a senior in high school I pursued the marines, passed all the tests and met with the recruiter, but it was right during the time when the movie "General's Daughter" came out and my mom was scared for me and begged me not to. So I didn't. By the time, the desire came around again I was engaged and not wanting to be deployed early in my marriage, so I chose not to.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

I read that your husbands family was military, why didn't you pursue your interest in being a Navy SEAL?

Novel Treasure profile image

Novel Treasure 4 years ago from US Author

That's just too funny...I was also fascinated with being a spy when I was younger. I also wanted to be the first female Navy Seal. I am sad to admit that I did not know any morse code until I started researching this hub.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

The only morse code I now know is the SOS I used to study it when I was a girl b/c the idea of being a spy fascinated me. Nice job with the history: UP and I / U

Novel Treasure profile image

Novel Treasure 4 years ago from US Author

Pretty much my husband's entire family is military representing multiple forms of the armed forces. His grandfather was Navy and would tell us stories of using the ship lights to blink morse code back and forth. I myself don't know it, but think it would be a fun thing to learn. I hope that it is not something that we let go to the wayside, because I think it represents a great advancement in our history of communication.

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