Telegraph Key

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Description (Brief)
Telegraph keys are electrical on-off switches used to send messages in Morse code. The message travels as a series of electrical pulses through a wire. The operator pushes the key’s lever down briefly to make a short signal, a dot, or holds the lever down for a moment to make a slightly longer signal, a dash. The sequence of dots and dashes represent letters and numbers. This key has a switch on the side called a circuit-closer that takes the key off-line when not in use. The straight lever was used in the mid nineteenth century. This key was used in the 1870s on the Railroad Overland Telegraph Line.
date made
United States: California
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
rubber (handle material)
overall: 3 in x 3 1/2 in x 6 1/2 in; 7.62 cm x 8.89 cm x 16.51 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
from A. E. Roone
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Telegraph Keys
America On The Move
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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