It must be remembered that in those days almost everything they wanted had either to be made by themselves or appropriated to their purpose. Their first battery was set up in a box of cherry-wood, parted into cells, and lined with bees-wax; their insulated wire was that used by milliners for giving outline to the 'sky-scraper' bonnets of that day. The first machine made at Speedwell was a copy of that devised by Morse, but as Vail grew more intimate with the subject his own ingenuity came into play, and he soon improved on the original. The pencil was discarded for a fountain pen, and the zig-zag signals for the short and long lines now termed 'dots ' and 'dashes.'
This important alteration led him to the 'Morse alphabet,' or code of signals, by which a letter is transmitted as a group of short and long jets, indicated as 'dots' and 'dashes' on the paper. Thus the letter E, which is so common in English words, is now transmitted by a short jet which makes a dot; T, another common letter, by a long jet, making a dash; and Q, a rare letter, by the group dash, dash, dot, dash. Vail tried to compute the relative frequency of all the letters in order to arrange his alphabet; but a happy idea enabled him to save his time. He went to the office of the local newspaper, and found the result he wanted in the type-cases of the compositors. The Morse, or rather Vail code, is at present the universal telegraphic code of symbols, and its use is extending to other modes of signalling-for example, by flags, lights, or trumpets.
The hard-fisted farmers of New Jersey, like many more at that date, had no faith in the 'telegraph machine,' and openly declared that the judge had been a fool for once to put his money in it. The judge, on his part, wearied with the delay, and irritated by the sarcasm of his neighbours, grew dispirited and moody. Alfred, and Morse, who had come to assist, were careful to avoid meeting him. At length, on January 6, 1838, Alfred told the apprentice to go up to the house and invite his father to come down to see the telegraph at work. It was a cold day, but the boy was so eager that he ran off without putting on his coat. In the sitting-room he found the judge with his hat on as if about to go out, but seated before the fire leaning his head on his hand, and absorbed in gloomy reflection. 'Well, William ?' he said, looking up, as the boy entered; and when the message was delivered he started to his feet. In a few minutes he was standing in the experimental-room, and the apparatus was explained. Calling for a piece of paper he wrote upon it the words, 'A PATIENT WAITER IS NO LOSER,' and handed it to Alfred, with the remark, 'If you can send this, and Mr. Morse can read it at the other end, I shall be convinced.' The message was transmitted, and for a moment the judge was fairly mastered by his feelings.
The apparatus was then exhibited in New York, in Philadelphia, and subsequently before the Committee of Congress at Washington. At first the members of this body were somewhat incredulous about the merits of the uncouth machine; but the Chairman, the Hon. Francis O. J. Smith, of Maine, took an interest in it, and secured a full attendance of the others to see it tried through ten miles of wire one day in February. The demonstration convinced them, and many were the expressions of amazement from their lips. Some said, 'The world is coming to an end,' as people will when it is really budding, and putting forth symptoms of a larger life. Others exclaimed, 'Where will improvements and discoveries stop?' and 'What would Jefferson think should he rise up and witness what we have just seen?' One gentleman declared that, 'Time and space are now annihilated.'
The practical outcome of the trial was that the Chairman reported a Bill appropriating 30,000 dollars for the erection of an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore. Mr. Smith was admitted to a fourth share in the invention, and resigned his seat in Congress to become legal adviser to the inventors. Claimants to the invention of the telegraph now began to spring up, and it was deemed advisable for Mr. Smith and Morse to proceed to Europe and secure the foreign patents. Alfred Vail undertook to provide an instrument for exhibition in Europe.
Among these claimants was Dr. Jackson, chemist and geologist, of Boston, who had been instrumental in evoking the idea of the telegraph in the mind of Morse on board the Sully. In a letter to the NEW YORK OBSERVER he went further than this, and claimed to be a joint inventor; but Morse indignantly repudiated the suggestion. He declared that his instrument was not mentioned either by him or Dr. Jackson at the time, and that they had made no experiments together. 'It is to Professor Gale that I am most of all indebted for substantial and effective aid in many of my experiments,' he said; 'but he prefers no claim of any kind.'
Morse and Smith arrived in London during the month of June. Application was immediately made for a British patent, but Cooke and Wheatstone and Edward Davy, it seems, opposed it; and although Morse demonstrated that his was different from theirs, the patent was refused, owing to a prior publication in the London MECHANICS' MAGAZINE for February 18, 1838, in the form of an article quoted from Silliman's AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SCIENCE for October, 1837. Morse did not attempt to get this legal disqualification set aside. In France he was equally unfortunate. His instrument was exhibited by Arago at a meeting of the Institute, and praised by Humboldt and Gay-Lussac; but the French patent law requires the invention to be at work in France within two years, and when Morse arranged to erect a telegraph line on the St. Germain Railway, the Government declined to sanction it, on the plea that the telegraph must become a State monopoly.
All his efforts to introduce the invention into Europe were futile, and he returned disheartened to the United States on April 15, 1839. While in Paris, he had met M. Daguerre, who, with M. Niepce, had just discovered the art of photography. The process was communicated to Morse, who, with Dr. Draper, fitted up a studio on the roof of the University, and took the first daguerreotypes in America.