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Present day cell phone users who send text messages via their cell phones might think that they are doing something new, but the reality is that they are just the latest in a long line of individuals attempting to speed communications by using abbreviations instead of spelling out the full word. Almost from the very beginning, Morse telegraphers began devising short cuts to speed up their transmissions. There was a great deal of confusion, as abbreviations were made up on the fly, by many different people, much as text messaging has evolved. In 1879, Walter Phillips published a standardized set of several thousand abbreviations, primarily to be used in the transmission of press reports, with some special abbreviations to be used in baseball stories. These became known as The Phillips Code. The beauty of this code was that it established rules for abbreviations and thus eliminated the haphazard nature of previous attempts. Even if a user did not know a particular abbreviation, the meaning could be determined by applying the rules. For example, words ending in “ous” had those letters replaced by the letter “X.” Thus, “famous” became “FMX” in Phillips Code.


It is estimated that a pair of telegraphers, one sending, the other receiving, could increase their productivity by as much as one-third by using the code. Western Union and other telegraph companies forbade the use of Phillips Code by its operators, especially on the “bonus” wires where the telegraphers were paid by the number of messages transmitted, but press telegraphers used it extensively and it quickly became very popular with reporters and editors. Some reporters even began filing their copy written in Phillips Code.


Many of these abbreviations also began to be used by people not involved in communications or news. For example, many people now know that POTUS is the abbreviation for President of the United States. CoP, originally meaning Chief of Police, has become a common term for any member of the police force, while Lt, as the abbreviation for Lieutenant, quickly became part of the English language, as did Fri for Friday, Ed for Editor, Sys for System, Mtg for meeting and Bldg for Building. And, what baseball fan does not know that K stands for strikeout?


While several of the abbreviations may have been in existence prior to being codified by Phillips, their widespread use in Morse telegraphy and in the newspaper industry caused their usage to become embedded in the language, especially the written version. Who, What and When became Wo, Wt, and Wn. You, See and Are easily became U, C and R, and are used today in text messaging. Other, not quite as common, abbreviations are Ax for Ask, Fm for From, Nr for Near, Mk for Make, Tk for Take, Ea for Each and Hr for Here.


Interested viewers may click on either of the two links below to see more complete listings of Phillips Code abbreviations. (first part) (second part) (third part)



Prior to the American Civil War, Horatio J. Perry, an American, had developed close ties with the British and Spanish governments and recognized that profits could be made by linking both countries to their holdings in the Caribbean by telegraph. This would reduce the length of time to communicate with those distant areas from three weeks to one or two days. The trans-Atlantic cable from Ireland to Newfoundland, laid in 1861, had begun the rapid spread of international telegraph service to the western hemisphere. However, at that time, to run cables directly between either Britain or Spain to their holdings in the Caribbean or South America was very risky, due to the vast distance and difficulties encountered in operating long undersea telegraph cables. Perry put together a scheme to use the existing European and trans-Atlantic under sea cable, and the Canadian and U.S. land cables, to link Spain and Britain to their holdings in the Caribbean. Perry's plan required the construction of new lines to link the United States' existing Western Union network to Havana. From there, telegraph lines could eventually extend throughout the Caribbean and to South America. To reach Cuba, a new line would first have to be constructed from some point on the existing Western Union network that served North Florida at that time, down the peninsula, and then by submarine cable to Havana. In 1867 this was accomplished, first with an overland line linking the Western Union office in Lake City, to Punta Rassa, near Ft. Myers. This line passed through Gainesville, Ocala, Sumterville, Bartow, Ft. Meade, Pine Island, and Caloosahatchie. At Punta Rassa, it became a submarine cable to Key West, and then on to Havana. By late 1867, Spain could be in direct telegraphic contact with Havana via Great Britain and Perry's International Ocean Telegraph Company. In the following twenty years a network of submarine cables was laid from Havana to Panama and throughout most of the islands of the Caribbean, as well as ports along the North and East coasts of South America. It wasn't until 1896 that European countries succeeded in reaching the Caribbean, Central and South America by direct submarine cables. It was 1906 before any other U.S. owned cables linked with the Caribbean islands. The Florida-Havana link of the International Ocean Telegraph Company's Florida line provided the world's only telegraphic connection to the Caribbean for 29 years.

(For a more complete and detailed account of the International Ocean Telegraph see the October 1989 issue of the Florida Historical Quarterly. The quarterly has been digitized and is available through the public universities of Florida. Unfortunately, work on the site prevents a direct link to the site from functioning. However, it can be accessed by following these directions: Go to Scroll down to find the Florida Historical Quarterly collection, click on the icon to the left. On the following page, enter the search term “Carter Brown The International Ocean Telegraph” In the upper right hand corner of the following page, click on “page 2.” On page 2 scroll down to find the issue [No.28] Click on the FHQ icon which will bring up the issue in PDF format. The article is the first article in that issue. We regret this inconvenience.)



Former MTC member A. D. Burnett, one-time manager of GM office in Roanoke, provides the following bit of history: The last telegraph wire in GM office on N&W Ry, Roanoke,VA was discontinued March 16, 1960. This wire was known to operators in GM as the Cincinnati circuit. Business was handled between: GM N&W Ry Roanoke and PD NYC RR Cincinnati SG B&O RR Cincinnati GC CUT RR Cincinnati Union Terminal. GM office handled communications for the General Manager of the N&W.



According to Smithsonian Magazine, in the summer of 1859, intense solar flares shut down the telegraph network across North America and Europe. During this solar storm, the Northern Lights could be seen as far south as Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Read first hand accounts of its effect on the telegraph wires at:






John Munro, in his book "Heroes of the Telegraph," published in 1891, wrote: "The Rosicrucians also believed that if two persons transplanted pieces of their flesh into each other, and tattooed the grafts with letters, a sympathetic telegraph could be established by pricking the letters." No word on whether or not anyone ever tested this belief.



The Russian government has hitherto found it impossible to keep in touch with Kamschatka during two-thirds of the year, owing to severe winter storms. Now, however, by the aid of wireless telegraphy, this region may be kept in communication with the rest of the world all the year round. A series of stations has been established, and special inducements are offered to operators who will take charge of these isolated points.



Phillipine Daily Inquirer, Dec 23, 2008 MORSE CODE STILL DASHING THROUGH THE CORDILLERA BAGUIO CITY—There is no mountain high enough to block a Christmas greeting because highland communities that have no mobile telephone signals can still be reached by Morse Code. In this day and age, the Commission on Information and Communication Technology (CICT) in the Cordillera Administrative Region is still operating a telegraph system that serves clients here. Nothing beats the old technology, according to telegraph operators working at the Baguio City Post Office, never mind that each word transmitted costs a customer P2.40. (Mobile or landline telephone calls cost P10 a minute.) Customers who use the telegraph to send Christmas greetings use “broken English” to shorten their messages, rather like today’s text messages, according to samples obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. STILL PROFITING Remarkably, the Baguio telegraph station still earns P3,000 a month, said Aurea Bilag, acting chief operator at the CICT. Bilag said the station’s profits used to reach P10,000 a month—until almost every resident in the Cordillera acquired a mobile telephone. But the highlands are not always hospitable to Internet satellite or cellular phone signals, so the CICT continues to maintain 80 telegraph stations in Benguet, Ifugao, Abra and Kalinga, said CICT operator Helen Damasco. The telegraph machines were purchased way back in the 1960s but the government has kept them working, Damasco said. To facilitate communication among these towns when mobile telephones are inaccessible, local officials reach each other by Morse Code using these machines, she said. According to Damasco, the machines are also active during typhoons, when more sophisticated facilities fail to operate. ‘CW’ MACHINES This Christmas, the telegraph office offers straight holiday message packages. “Our Christmas telegrams are categorized [as] social telegrams,” Damasco said. She said they used to send out telegram cards as their special Christmas message package, except that these had been phased out. “Our visitors from Manila would see our [old technology] and they would laugh. And then they’d ask, ‘You still use CW (continuous wave) machines?’” she said. Continuous wave is the most common medium for transmitting messages to telegraph stations by Morse Code—a sonic alphabet composed of dots (shorts) and dashes (longs). The code was named after its inventor, American artist Samuel Morse, who developed the first successful electric telegraph in 1838. The telegraph offices in the mining town of Itogon in Benguet province still use a World War II telegraph model called the “straight key,” which is known in the United States as J-38. MORSE CODE COURSES Damasco, a telegraph operator for the past 39 years, said the telegram began to descend into obscurity in the 1990s because of the mobile phones and the Internet. But vocational schools continue to keep Morse Code courses alive because the demand for the telegram has not disappeared completely, she said. “Other operators learn Morse Code from the Internet” or by enrolling in the Telecommunication Training Institution in Valenzuela City in Metro Manila, Damasco said. Christmas card sales are also brisk, indicating that the postal service remains busy during the Yuletide season. A Baguio bookstore has sold 200 cards daily.


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Scientific American began publication in August 1845. That very first issue contained this regarding Professor Morse's invention: "This wonder of the age, which has for several months past been in operation between Washinbgton and Baltimore, appears likely to come into general use through the length and breadth of our land. It is contemplated by the merchants of our Western states, to communicate their orders for goods, etc. by means of the telegraph, instead of abiding the slow and tedious progress of railroad cars."



Job 38:35: "Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, 'Here we are?' " Early Morse telegraphers latched on to that as a perfect description of what they were doing with the new invention.



In Leo Mark's book 'Between Silk and Cyanide,' the author relates the story of his involvement with the British S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) during World War II. SOE was charged with infiltrating British agents into the German occupied countries to assist in the establishment and equipping of Resistance movements, organizing 'secret armies' for activation on "D" Day, and gathering intelligence for the Allied forces. Communications with these agents was by clandestine wireless, using coded messages transmitted in Morse code. Marks was the person who developed the codes and procedures each individual agent used, and who verified all the messages sent and received, looking for any signs that something wasn't as it should be. In 1943 Marks began to suspect that something wasn't right with the agents who had been infiltrated into Holland. Unlike agents that had been trained in England and smuggled into the other German occupied countries, the Dutch agents never made any encoding mistakes in their messages. Could they have been compromised? After all, the British had captured a number of German agents who had found their way to England, and turned them. Had the Germans been successful at doing the same thing? Marks devised some simple coding 'traps' to try and determine if the Dutch agents might have been compromised and were under German control. Those 'traps' seemed to indicate that they had been compromised, but still there was no conclusive proof. They could have been flukes. After all, agents were often under a lot of pressure to encode and transmit messages quickly, the encoding methods were complex and easy to foul up, and when transmitting messages they had to get off the air quickly before the skilled German radio direction finding units could locate the source of the transmission. The British had gone to a lot of effort to set up these clandestine networks of agents in occupied countries and they really did not want to believe that any of them had been compromised. Coincidentally, a British signals officer who was in charge of a site in England that transmitted and received the coded messages to infiltrated secret agents in Europe began to notice two interesting things. In monitoring the German's military radio communications, he noticed that the more proficient German military radio operators had the habit of ending their transmissions with the Morse letters "HH". This would immediately be followed by the receiving station sending an "HH" back, to confirm the message had been received. He guessed that "HH" probably stood for "Heil Hitler". He also noticed that in all the transmissions from the Dutch agents the Morse was perfectly sent, as if by well trained radio operators, whereas, the British trained agents sent to the other occupied countries often struggled to send their radio message in Morse code. This officer took it upon himself to set a 'trap' of his own. He happened to be on hand to receive a message that was coming in from one of the Dutch secret agents. The Morse was fast and perfect, as usual. When it had been received in England, instead of sending the usual pre-arranged conformation signal, this sharp British officer responded with the Morse letters "HH". Apprently without thinking, the Dutch Morse operator also responded with "HH". The officer had proved his theory. No British trained agent would ever respond to an "HH" with an "HH". That was purely a German thing. The SOE now had the proof of what they had suspected, but had hoped wasn't true: The entire clandestine secret agent network in Holland, which they had so carefully constructed, had actually been in the hands of the Germans for a considerable length of time.



Thodore R. (Ted) McElroy held the world record for Morse code reception from 1920 until 1939, when the international competition was discontinued, due to World War II.  His fastest speed was 75.2 words per minute, established in the last competition.  During the time of his dominance, he began manufacturing his own version of a sending machine, or speed key, which rivaled that of Vibroplex.  As World War II broke out, he obtained a government contract to produce this speed key and other Morse code instruments to be used by the military.  Among those instruments was a code generator which used a photo-electric cell to read the position of a wavy printed line on a paper tape and from it produce perfect Morse code at the desired speed.  It was the standard training device for military Morse code operators.  But McElroy was having problems in obtaining the AC powered electric motors used in the machine.  His regular supplier was now producing them for another government contract and there were none availabale for Ted's machine.  Then he learned that a company producing jukeboxes had been using the identical electric motor in its older model jukeboxes.  He was able to purchase a warehosue full of the retired jukeboxes and salvage the motors for use in his machine to fulfill his government contract.

McElroy also gained some notoriety by his use of incentives, such as free beer for his workers, and the use of trumpets instead of factory whistles in his factory.  He died in 1963

Source:  McElroy, World's Champion Radio Telegrapher, by Tom French, published by Artifax Books.

NOTE:  The webmaster of this site, Florida Chapter member Warren McFarland, recalls that while attending the U. S. Navy Aviation Radioman's School in Millington, TN in 1944, he had the opportunity to see and hear a speed demonstration by a man who was introduced as "The World's Fastest Radio Operator."  The school instructor used a tape to send International Morse at high speed and the man sat there and copied it by hand, using a draftsman's pen with a very fine point.   The characters he hand printed were about one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch high.  The finished copy, which the students were allowed to examine, was so uniform that it could have been printed by a machine.  The demonstrator could very well have been Ted McElroy.




The U.S. Civil War is known as the first in which military commanders were able to receive real-time information while engaged in battle and maneuvers, thanks to the rapid development of Morse telegraphy after 1844.  What is not so well known is the role of Morse telegraphy in intelligence-gathering and deception on both sides of that conflict.  General John H. Morgan, of the famous Morgan Raiders, was one of the first to actively employ telegraphy as an integral part of military operations..
    Morgan had heard of a Canadian telegraph operator, George "Lightning" Ellsworth, who was working in the South when the war broke out, and enlisted him in his Raiders.  There are different versions of how Ellsworth received his nickname.  One has it being derived from his "lightning" speed in sending and receiving Morse code.  The other holds that it was given to him after he was observed operating his telegraph instruments, seated on a railroad crosstie, during a furious thunderstorm.  In either version, Ellsworth is also credited with being able to listen to another telegraph operator for just a few minutes and then mimicking that other operator's "fist" to a perfection.  (Every telegrapher sends with a distinct style, known as his fist, which other telegraphers can recognize as easily as they might recognize a familiar voice.)  In any event, General Morgan took full advantage of "Lightning's" abilities.
    One of Ellsworth's more common activities was to tap into a telegraph wire used by Union forces and copy all of the military dispatches transmitted on that line.  For those viewers not familiar with Morse telegraphy, an explanation might be in order.  A telegraph line is similar to an old-fashioned telephone party line where anybody can pick up a receiver and listen to what is being said.  Similarly, on a telegraph line, every dot or dash is heard on every telegraph instrument connected to that line.  Thus, by tapping the line, Ellsworth's instruments became a part of the line and he could hear everything that was transmitted.  See the photos in the Album section of this web site to see a modern reconstruction of possible wire-tapping equipment.
    Morgan delighted in taking chances and in taunting his opponents.  On one occasion he sent a telegram to Union General Jeremiah Boyle, who was in command at Louisville, Kentucky:

          "Good Morning Jerry.  This telegraph is a great institution.  You should destroy it
         as it keeps me posted too well.  My friend Ellsworth has all your dispatches since
         July 10 on file.  Do  you want copies?"

Many have thought that he would have been better served if he had kept his interceptions secret, but he enjoyed living life on the edge.
    On another occasion, also in Kentucky, Ellsworth forced a captured Union telegrapher to send so that he could mimic his sending, then sent a fake dispatch to Union General William Thomas Ward in Lexington.  Accepting the fake dispatch as genuine, General Ward then ordered his forces away from the town of Midway, where Morgan's troops were located, and moved them to Frankfort, where the false dispatch said that Morgan was headed.
    Eventually, Union officers learned that they had to encrypt their dispatches so that they could not be fooled by Morgan and "Lightning."
    Two books, Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan, by James A. Ramage and 
The Civil War In Kentucky: Battle for the Bluegrass State, by Kent Masterson Brown, both contain many more stories of Morgan's Raiders and George Ellsworth's part in their raids.  See also the entry for George "Lightning" Elsworth at for more details of Ellsworth's life.



ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH --- "On the evening of the 16th of August, the people of the United States were startled by the intelligence that Queen Victoria's message had been received. Crowds assembled around the bulletin boards and the news spread like wildfire. Considerable disappointment was felt, however, in the first instance, caused by a portion only of the Queen's message being sent, but on the following day the succeeding paragraphs were received. The royal message began 'To the President of the United States, Washington: The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work.' President James Buchanan included in his reply: 'May the Atlantic Telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument designed by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty and law throughout the world.'" [NOTE: The cable had severe technical problems and completely failed two months later.]



                                              NAVY FINDS A USE FOR OLD TECH 

By Bob Brewin  Thursday, June 28, 2007  04:04 PM Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va. 

     When the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group deploys this fall it will use communications that have a high-tech twist on one of the oldest forms of radio communications that the Navy used in the days of Morse Code, said officials of headquartered here. Instead of the "dits" and "dahs" transmitted by Morse Code, the Truman, along with the nine other ships in the strike group, will communicate over high frequency (HF) by sending Internet Protocol-based traffic such as text messages, said Paul Dixon, allied coalition networks action officer for the Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM). The highest levels of the Navy have endorsed the use of high frequency IP communications for intra-strike group communications for one simple reason, Dixon said: It’s much cheaper than satellite communications systems that the Navy embraced in the late 1980s, when the service all but abandoned high frequency as its standard means of communications. Dixon also said its makes no sense to use expensive and often leased satellite communications systems that require a 44,400 mile trip – from a ship to a satellite and then back down to another ship five to ten miles away – when high frequency can easily bridge that gap over free spectrum in the 3 to 30 Megahertz frequency band, Dixon said. Dixon said that high frequency has roughly the same speed as dial-up modems used in the 1980s compared with satellite bandwidth that is as much as 100 times greater. But it is fast enough to meet the command and control needs of today’s strike groups, which are run by text messages and over chat groups based on Internet Relay chat standards. The Navy also has provided the Truman strike group with the ability to send IP traffic over UHF channels, which provides better throughput than the high-frequency band, about 64 kpbs, or slightly more than the dial-up modems built-into most personal computers. Eric Johnson, a professor at New Mexico State University whose specialty is high frequency and wireless networking, said the high frequency’s low throughput is due to the noise inherent on that spectrum band, which is apparent to anyone who has listened to the short wave spectrum. The high-frequency modems the Navy uses – which New Mexico State University helped develop – punches data through that noise with a stable signal thanks to sophisticated error checking protocols, Johnson said. Dixon said that the Navy plans to outfit 25 ships with high-frequency IP systems through 2008 under a “fast track” project backed by the Chief of Naval Operations. Much of the work involves adding computer servers and firewalls to work with high-frequency radios already on the ships, Dixon said. The high-frequency IP project will also make it easier to communicate with allied navies, which rely heavily on high frequency because they cannot afford satellite communications, Dixon said. The Navy’s trip back to high frequency will require going back to offering high-frequency training to the service’s school curriculum, said Chuck Tabor with the NETWARCOM spectrum management division. It’s been so long time since the Navy has used high frequency “hardly anyone [in the Navy] even knows what it is anymore,” Tabor said.



The Boston Fire Alarm Telegraph System

                                                                                                                                             By Joe Maurath, Jr.

Soon after the invention of the telegraph by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844, the concept of utilizing this method of communication for reporting fires by means of fire alarm signal boxes, wired to the nearest fire station, was realized. This meant that the fire dispatch teams could know of the citizen’s call for help immediately and respond to the location much more rapidly. Fire alarm telegraph systems soon were installed in the larger United States cities and by 1900 had spread to many other communities, especially in the East. The introduction of this system revolutionized communications by permitting messages to be transmitted instantly over long distances.

On May 30, 1845 Dr. William F. Channing of Boston and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University published an article in the Boston Daily Advertiser describing in general terms how a practical fire alarm telegraph system in the city of Boston could be constructed.

He convinced the Boston City Government in 1851 and funds were appropriated for the construction of such a system, based upon plans he devised with his associate, Moses G. Farmer, a telegraphic engineer. This was to be the first fire alarm telegraph system of its type in the world.

The completed system was placed in service April 28, 1852. Staff included a superintendent, fire alarm operators and repairmen. These were the first positions of their type in the world

This system embodied all of the principles of fire alarm telegraphy in use today; namely, a closed electrically supervised assembly of circuits, street fire alarm boxes with code wheels and key breaks determining the number of current interruptions which produced coded signals on local instruments at a central office where an operator transmitted signals received over separate fire alarm circuits to the appropriate fire house. The system also featured telegraphic communication by key and sounder between individual street boxes and the central office.

Adapted from the August 1997 Yankee Pole Cat Insulator Club Newsletter.   Used by permission. 

E = MC2 ?


The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand.
The ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat.
You pull the tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles.
The wireless is the same, only without the cat.

                       - Albert Einstein



Morse Code helped to save a stranded UK fisherman on 20 October 2006 when his boat ran aground near Hayling Island after it began taking on water. The incident took place at night. The unidentified boater had no modern safety aids, no radio and no cellular telephone. What he did have was a flashlight that he used to send the three letters, SOS, in International Morse Code.

UK Coast Guard rescue officer Steve Mann saw his call for help and arranged for the stricken fisherman to be picked up by a Coast Guard inshore lifeboat.

The stranded mariner was luckier than he might have thought. Mann told the press that he had only been with the Coast Guard for the past two years and had never formally been schooled in CW. He says that he just picked up bits of Morse along the way. ARNewsline, World Radio Magazine, January, 2007

Christmas Eve 1906


December 24, 1906 - The North Atlantic - Marconi wireless operators aboard ships of the United Fruit Company sat quietly at their lonely posts in the
wireless room, listening intently to the random crackle of the static of distant electrical storms coming from their headphones, their eyes staring blankly at
the slowly turning reels of the Magnetic Detector on this cold, dark night.  Earlier in the week they had been notified by company headquarters to be
listening at 2000 hours GMT, Christmas Eve, for a special message.  No other details had been given.

Suddenly, the dedicated operators were amazed to hear the sound of the human voice on their headphones for the very first time, and then violin music,
replacing the normal static of the ether and the Morse coded buzz of spark transmissions.  No doubt, disbelief of what they were hearing was their first thought.

The signal originated from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, near Boston, the home of Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian who had previously worked closely with Thomas
Edison, at Edison's Menlo Park research laboratory.  The voice was that of Fessenden, who was also the violinist.  He welcomed his listeners, played a wax
cylinder recording of Handel's Largo on an Ediphone, then played 'Oh Holy Night' on his violin, singing along to the last verse.  Following that he read
several seasonal Bible verses including, "Glory to God in the highest - and on earth peace to men of good will", followed by giving everyone listening a
holiday greeting ...... everyone being, at that time, only the wireless operators aboard ships in the cold, lonely North Atlantic, for they were the only ones
with the equipment needed to listen for wireless signals. 

Until that moment in time, the fledgling wireless technology, then only ten years old, had been used almost exclusively for business and shipping
communications, using Morse code.  Then, in an instant, entertainment by wireless was possible, and soon became a driving force behind the rapid expansion of
wireless technology and the broadcast industry.  Twenty years later radio stations around the world were broadcasting entertainment programs routinely, thanks to
Reginald Fessenden and his adaptation of Marconi's electro-magnetic wireless system.

It happened one hundred years ago tonight, Christmas Eve, 1906, and the world was once again, in a small way, forever changed.



During the American Civil War, wiretapping, signal interception, code making and code breaking brought about the organization of a corps of trained communicators which had great impact on the armies of both the North and the South and eventually, on those of the world. This corps became known as the United States Military Telegraph Corps.

In the Confederacy, simple ciphers, code names, and book codes called "dictionary ciphers" were in constant use until a cipher known as the "polyalphabetic vignere" became the standard for both military and government. In the North, a route or word transposition system was used to protect telegrams transmitted by the Military Telegraph Corps, which was under the control of the Secretary of War

The exciting technology of the electra-magnetic telegraph and the telegraph cable brought a surge of secret writing and code breaking. These new techniques created a need for more sophisticated codes and ciphers. The Confederacy never attempted a study of code breaking. However, in the North, Lincoln’s telegraph operator, David Bates and two fellow telegraphers, Charles Tinker, and Albert Chandler, became so expert at code breaking that they were known as "The Sacred Three," and were given special status by Lincoln, who ordered that they were never to be disturbed when deciphering intercepted Confederate messages -

The use of ciphers and encryption continued after the Civil War. "The story of the election of 1876 as told by the translation of captured cipher dispatches is not a pleasant one for any American to read," reported a Republican newspaper, The New York Daily Tribune, on October 8, 1878. The Tribune reported, "It is correspondence in secret cipher --- the language familiar to conspirators in crime who dare not face the daylight.

Targeted were all the encoded messages sent and received by Samuel Tilden’s political advisors and confidants in New York. Portions translated prove that agents were instructed to buy an electoral vote and wore furnished with the money to do it. Telegraph operators were bound to secrecy. The angry editors failed to mention merchants, bankers, foreign diplomats and journalists who also used ciphers and codes to protect their confidential messages in peacetime. That practice was widespread.

Angry Democrats charged that there were few encoded Republican telegrams because William Orton, a Republican and President of Western Union, permitted party associates to extract some of these telegrams before the remainder were turned over to the Senate Committee which had subpoenaed them. So the controversy continues to this day, "Who was really elected to the presidency in 1876, Rutherford Hayes, who won the electoral vote, or Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote?"

Although Western Union no longer transmits telegrams, the use of encryption continues to the present time for e-mails forwarded over the Internet as well as for voice transmissions.  Someone always has something that they do not wish for others to know about.  Telegraphy had a major part in those efforts for more than 100 years.

                                                                                                                Submitted by L. A. Bailey


Cryptology-1876 (436 x 600).jpg

Copies of encrypted telegrams from the files of the Western Union office, Tallahassee, Florida.  These telegrams were transmitted in 1876.    Copies Courtesy of L. A. Bailey