Telegraph Key

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: 1869

Used: United States: California

See more items in: Work and Industry: Electricity, Telegraph Keys, Communications, America on the Move, Transcontinental Railroad

Exhibition: America On The Move

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Credit Line: from A. E. Roome

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: EM.231787Catalog Number: 231787Accession Number: 43532

Object Name: telegraph key

Physical Description: brass (overall material)rubber (handle material)Measurements: overall: 3 in x 3 1/2 in x 6 1/2 in; 7.62 cm x 8.89 cm x 16.51 cm


Record Id: nmah_706530

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.