A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects, Dan Hunter & Claudy Op de Kamp eds. (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
9 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2018 Last revised: 25 Apr 2018
Date Written: April 6, 2018
This chapter, written for the forthcoming monograph A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects, discusses the scientific, technological, and social context of Samuel F.B. Morse's invention of the telegraph in the 1830s in New York City. Morse’s invention was called the “Lightning Line” and he was called the “Lightning Man,” because of its use of electricity to operate an electro-magnet in making tics on a strip of paper—the dots and dashes also invented by Morse to use on his telegraph and eponymously called Morse Code. Lightning is an apt metaphor if only because it captures perfectly the communications revolution sparked by Morse’s invention, which is still occurring today via the Internet (its undersea fiber optic cables follow the same paths of the telegraph cables first laid in the 1850s). In making possible instantaneous communication of all information the world over, the telecommunications revolution wrought by Morse’s telegraph has impacted everything—industry, commerce, education, and even the English language. In its survey of this wide-ranging impact of Morse’s telegraph, it brings some added color to a man and his invention that most patent lawyers know only via a lawsuit that resulted in a famous Supreme Court decision in 1851, and that many others today know only as the creator of Morse Code.
Keywords: electro-magnetic telegraph, Samuel Finely Breese Morse, O'Reilly v. Morse, Samuel Colt, Joseph Henry, Leonard Gale, Alfred Vail, Amos Kendall, Ezra Cornell, American Magnetic Telegraph Company, garage inventor, flash of genius, franchise
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