Instructograph Tapes

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Fri Sep 11 10:20:38 EDT 2015

Mr. Frank Akers
"AY" Telegraph Office,
Rural Retreat, Va. 

I have an Instructograph and will be glad to donate it to the Rural Retreat Museum. You will also get eight or so paper tapes with it. Contact me off-list at 
pravoslavna2 at yahoo dot com 

Instructographs were made in two versions. One was electric, running off 110/120 volts. The other was driven by a spring which was cranked up by hand, for those who did not have access to electricity. The one I have is the old hand-cranked version. It belonged to an old fellow who telegraphed for the pipelines. (Yes, pipelines were dispatched by telegraph, too, until the late 1950s when the radio-thingie became popular.) 

You have to be careful in acquiring instructograph tapes, as they were made for two different codes. The first and original code was the 1830s/1840s "American Morse" code, or "railroad Morse," which was used in "landline" telegraphy. The other code is the later European code, called "Continental Code" (sometimes called "International" code,) which is used by the radio people. The dot and dash combinations are entirely different, and the Continental code has many, many more dashes in it than American Morse, and is therefore a much slower code. The radio people hear their code in tones (beeps,) whereas we hear our code by the clicks of a simple magnetic sounder. If your tapes came from the son of the Agent at Rural Retreat, you can be assured that they are in original "American Morse." 

One might ask, Why are there two codes?  Well, when Morse patented the telegraph, he patented both the equipment and the code.  The Europeans didn't want to pay royalties, so they changed the dot-dash combinations for 13 or so of the letters, and for all the numerals, and claimed they had invented a new and different code.  Morse sued them in the European courts and, of course... lost.  Now, comes along Gulielmo Marconi, who invented the radio around 1900.  He was Italian, which meant he grew up knowing the Continental Code.  So which code did Marconi employ in working his newfangled radio thingie (which, at the time, was called an "atmospheric telegraph") ?   The Continental Code, of course.  The usage stuck as the radio industry developed.

One epilogue to my rant...  Morse did not invent the so-called "Morse Code."  The idea of using dots and dashes was the brainchild of his young assistant, Alfred Vail, of Morristown, NJ, in the 1830s.  Morse was an unsuccessful portrait painter in New York and a "promoter" in the true sense of the word, with some influential friends, but totally devoid of mechanical and practical skills. Professor Joseph Henry of Princeton showed Morse how to wind a magnet, and Professor Leonard Gale of New York City College showed him how to make a battery.  Alfred Vail's father bankrolled the development of the telegraph and gave use of his machine shop, and young Alfred built the machinery and invented the dot-and-dash code.  (Before his association with the Vails, Morse's idea for a "sending machine" was a weight suspended from one side of a picture frame, rubbing over moveable jagged pieces of metal.  No joke.)  But Morse, a "Mine, all mine" type person, finagled the entire invention to his own fame and profit, excluding the others from their share of credit and reward.  He ended up wealthy and his partners in the patent were largely maneuvered out of any profit and came to rue the day they became associated with Samuel F.B. Morse.  The one person, besides Morse, who was able to line his pockets was a wind-bag, influence peddling New Hampshire politician named Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith (nicknamed "FOG" Smith,) who was shrewd enough to out-maneuver Morse's manipulations.  So, what is called the "Morse Telegraph" might really be called the Vail Telegraph, and the so-called "Morse Code" should without doubt be called the "Vail Code."  End of rant.  Thanks for listening.  The truth never hurts...

The Instructograph is yours.  I'm glad it will be find a loving home.

-- abram burnett 
"SW" Telegraph Office 

Sent to You from my Telegraph Key 
... better than AT&T 4G LTE 

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