It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and not just because of Christmas. Are you aware of how many great inventions we celebrate during December? December 3 was Telescope Day, to commemorate Galileo’s 1621 invention. December 21 is Crossword Puzzle Day, since that’s when the first one appeared in the New York World in 1913. The transistor, texting, the clip-on tie, Chiclets… all invented during this month. But much of what we know about the world’s most important inventions is “patently” false. We’ve asked Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings to use 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration in tracking down the truth.
The Debunker: Was “What Hath God Wrought?” the First Message Sent by Telegraph?
Samuel Morse’s invention of the single-wire telegraph in 1838 was the watershed event in mass communications that eventually led to today’s information-saturated world. On May 24, 1844, Morse sat in the Supreme Court room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, surrounded by curious members of Congress. He carefully tapped out, in his namesake code of dots and dashes, the short sentence “What hath God wrought?”, a quote from Numbers 23:23 which a family friend had suggested. Forty miles north, in Baltimore, Morse’s assistant Alfred Vail (the unsung hero of the telegraph’s invention) waited at a train station. The large pendulum of the telegraph receiver began to swing, marking Morse’s sentence onto a piece of paper.