'Professor, I have come to congratulate you.'
'Congratulate me!' replied Morse; 'on what ?'
'Why,' she exclaimed,' on the passage of your Bill by the Senate!'
It had been voted without debate at the very close of the session. Years afterwards Morse declared that this was the turning-point in the history of the telegraph. 'My personal funds,' he wrote,' were reduced to the fraction of a dollar; and had the passage of the Bill failed from any cause, there would have been little prospect of another attempt on my part to introduce to the world my new invention.'
Grateful to Miss Ellsworth for bringing the good news, he declared that when the Washington to Baltimore line was complete hers should be the first despatch.
The Government now paid him a salary of 2,500 dollars a month to superintend the laying of the underground line which he had decided upon. Professors Gale and Fisher became his assistants. Vail was put in charge, and Mr. Ezra Cornell, who founded the Cornell University on the site of the cotton mill where he had worked as a mechanic, and who had invented a machine for laying pipes, was chosen to supervise the running of the line. The conductor was a five-wire cable laid in pipes; but after several miles had been run from Baltimore to the house intended for the relay, the insulation broke down. Cornell, it is stated, injured his machine to furnish an excuse for the stoppage of the work. The leaders consulted in secret, for failure was staring them in the face. Some 23,000 dollars of the Government grant were spent, and Mr. Smith, who had lost his faith in the undertaking, claimed 4000 of the remaining 7000 dollars under his contract for laying the line. A bitter quarrel arose between him and Morse, which only ended in the grave. He opposed an additional grant from Government, and Morse, in his dejection, proposed to let the patent expire, and if the Government would use his apparatus and remunerate him, he would reward Alfred Vail, while Smith would be deprived of his portion. Happily, it was decided to abandon the subterranean line, and erect the conductor on poles above the ground. A start was made from the Capitol, Washington, on April 1, 1844, and the line was carried to the Mount Clare Depot, Baltimore, on May 23, 1843. Next morning Miss Ellsworth fulfilled her promise by inditing the first message. She chose the words, 'What hath God wrought?' and they were transmitted by Morse from the Capitol at 8.45 a.m., and received at Mount Clare by Alfred Vail.
This was the first message of a public character sent by the electric telegraph in the Western World, and it is preserved by the Connecticut Historical Society. The dots and dashes representing the words were not drawn with pen and ink, but embossed on the paper with a metal stylus. The machine itself was kept in the National Museum at Washington, and on removing it, in 1871, to exhibit it at the Morse Memorial Celebration at New York, a member of the Vail family discovered a folded paper attached to its base. A corner of the writing was torn away before its importance was recognised; but it proved to be a signed statement by Alfred Vail, to the effect that the method of embossing was invented by him in the sixth storey of the NEW YORK OBSERVER office during 1844, prior to the erection of the Washington to Baltimore line, without any hint from Morse. 'I have not asserted publicly my right as first and sole inventor,' he says, 'because I wished to preserve the peaceful unity of the invention, and because I could not, according to my contract with Professor Morse, have got a patent for it.'
The powers of the telegraph having been demonstrated, enthusiasm took the place of apathy, and Morse, who had been neglected before, was in some danger of being over-praised. A political incident spread the fame of the telegraph far and wide. The Democratic Convention, sitting in Baltimore, nominated Mr. James K. Polk as candidate for the Presidency, and Mr. Silas Wright for the Vice-Presidency. Alfred Vail telegraphed the news to Morse in Washington, and he at once told Mr. Wright. The result was that a few minutes later the Convention was dumbfounded to receive a message from Wright declining to be nominated. They would not believe it, and appointed a committee to inquire into the matter; but the telegram was found to be genuine.