The Telegraph

While traveling in Maine, Ezra Cornell met F.O.J. Smith, editor of the Maine Farmer. When Congress appropriated $30,000 for the laying of a test telegraph cable between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Smith had taken a contract from the inventor, Samuel F.B. Morse, to lay the lead pipe which enclosed the telegraph wires. In the summer of 1843, on his second trip to Maine, Cornell visited Smith's office and found him struggling to design a machine to lay the cable underground. At Smith's request, Cornell created a plow that would both dig the trench and lay the cable. Morse came to Maine for a demonstration of the machine, approved it, and hired Cornell to lay the cable for the test line. In October 1843, Cornell went to Washington to begin work on laying the telegraph line. As the work proceeded, he became concerned that the insulation of the wires was defective. He notified Morse, who ordered the work stopped. Cornell then devised a machine for withdrawing the wires from the pipes and reinsulating them.

Cornell spent that winter in Washington studying works on electricity and magnetism in the Patent Office library and the Library of Congress. His reading convinced him that underground wiring was impractical and that the wires should be strung on glass-insulated poles. He was retained as Morse's assistant at the pay of $1000 per year. In the spring of 1844, Cornell built the overhead line from Washington to Baltimore, and on May 24, Morse tapped out the historic message: "What hath God wrought." Some of Cornell's earliest telegraph communications relayed the results of the 1844 Whig and Democratic Conventions, which nominated Henry Clay and James K. Polk, respectively.

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patentpatent Patent to Ezra Cornell for "a new and useful Machine for cutting trenches and laying pipes," February 28, 1844. A drawing and detailed description of the machine are attached to the certificate.(Collection Finding Aid)
Samuel F.B. Morse to Archibald L. Linn, January 23, 1843.
Autograph letter signed.

Annotated with Morse code by Ezra Cornell, February 18, 1873.
(Collection Finding Aid)

letterP2 letterP3
letterP1 Samuel F.B. Morse to Ezra Cornell, January 10, 1846.
Autograph letter signed.

I have just rec'd a letter from Mr. Vail who is desirous of having us communicate with him from Newark, but I shall write him by to-day's mail that we will try through Fort Lee, and if possible to New York. I have written him the following regulations.
(Collection Finding Aid)

Morse code abbreviations, transcribed by Ezra Cornell from Dunham's Abbreviation Book.
(Collection Finding Aid)
telegraph Original telegraph receiver, used in Baltimore for the receipt of the first telegraph message, May 24, 1844.

On loan from the Cornell University College of Engineering.

Telegraph messages.

(Collection Finding Aid)

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