Today in History: June 20

U.S. Patent Number 1647 was granted on this date in 1840 to Samuel Morse for his “Improvement in the mode of communicating information by signals by the application of electro-magnetism.” It was for the signals, the “dots and dashes”—the “Morse Code,” as it was referred to later—that was used in communicating via the telegraph.

The idea of the telegraph, as well as the idea that such a communications invention was needed, was pervasive on both sides of the Atlantic: no one inventor can truly be credited with the invention. Several inventors, Morse included, worked independently of each other in designing and constructing the machines and laying out longer and longer lengths of wire to test them.

Morse, however, spent years attempting to win the sole patent to the telegraph hardware itself. He designed one, but others worked more efficiently or sent clearer signals, and he worked on improving the wires used to send the signals and on building relays and repeaters to strengthen the signal. He won patents for his relays.

But to be the only patent-holder for the telegraph itself, this necessary tool of international communications, would have meant fortune, fame, prestige. Morse spent the 1840s challenging other patents. In 1848, he wrote:

I have been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph! Would you have believed it ten years ago that a question could be raised on that subject?

Well, he wasn’t (the only inventor), so we could (imagine that he wasn’t). But he and an assistant, Alfred Vail, developed a code that was close to perfect, and Morse’s later, more robust, devices earned him some of the patents he sought, and, more importantly, the business he sought: his machines were in use throughout Europe (except in England), Latin America, and the United States. And the code that was used in telegraphy around the world still carries his name: … .- — ..- . .-.. — — .-. … ..

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The 63-year-216-day reign of Queen Victoria began on this date in 1837.

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Floyd Patterson reclaimed the heavyweight crown with a fifth-round knockout of Ingemar Johansson, who had beaten him one year before, on this date in 1960 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Patterson knocked Johansson unconscious.

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The film Jaws was released on this date in 1975. Adjusted for inflation and based on number of tickets sold, it remains the seventh-highest grossing film in North American history.

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Lillian Hellman was born on this date in 1905. Errol Flynn was born on this date in 1909. Chet Atkins was born in 1924 on this date.

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Martin Landau is 88. Olympia Dukakis is 85 today. Danny Aiello is 83. John Mahoney is 76. Brian Wilson is 74 today. “Love and Mercy” (audio):

Anne Murray is 71. André Watts is 70. Transcendental Étude No. 10 (Liszt):

Bob Vila is 70. Lionel Richie is 67. John Goodman is 64. Vikram Seth is 64. Nicole Kidman is 49.

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One comment

  1. loisajay · June 20, 2016

    Lillian Hellman…she of the acid tongue just like Dorothy Parker. Why do I like these gals so much? I’ll send you the answer in code, Mark. 😀 Good morning!


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