Telegraph Register


This telegraph register, manufactured in accord with the Morse patent, was installed in 1848 in South Bend, reputedly the second telegraph office in Indiana. Stamped on the base is "J. Burritt & Son ithaca." Pulses of electricity caused the two vertical electromagnets to pull against an iron bar attached to the horizontal brass lever arm. The other end of the arm then pressed a metal stylus against a strip of paper (not shown) which was pulled through a pair of rollers by the clockwork mechanism. This caused short and long marks (dots and dashes) to be embossed on the paper. Morse specified this embossing process because he found that pens tended to clog when he tried to use ink. The apparatus also made a clicking noise, and operators soon found that they could "read" messages by ear, making the tape unnecessary. By the 1850s, "sounders" began to replace registers. These simple, rugged instruments were ideally suited to the American situation, where many offices were in isolated locations without easy access to repair facilties.

The donor reported in 1902 that: "these instruments were first put in use at South Bend, Indiana, in March 1848 on the Erie & Michigan Telegraph line, the first line that ever touched the states of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. This line was constructed under the immediate direction of Ezra B. Cornell (founder of Cornell University) and Col. John F. Speed, with W. B. Wood as superintendent of construction of the Western Division, which extended from Detroit to Milwaukee. Construction began at Detroit and Milwaukee. The builders from the Western end came over into Indiana and established the first office in the state at Michigan City. A few days later the builders from Detroit struck the state at South Bend and there established the second office ever in Indiana. The instruments ... were put in use, my father being operator from March 1848 to June 1861. From the latter date to March 1865 [in] war operation. The instruments remained in use until about 1872 with Thoe. D. Baird as operator since which they were in our family as relics until the date they [came to the Smithsonian]."

Date Made: 1848

Patentee: Morse, Samuel F. B.Maker: J. Burritt & Son

Location: Currently not on view

Made: United States: New York, IthacaUsed: United States: Indiana, South Bend

Web Subject: Communication, telegraph


See more items in: Work and Industry: Electricity, Telegraph Registers, Communications


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: from Charles M. Heaton, Jr.

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: EM.215496Catalog Number: 215496Accession Number: 39777

Object Name: telegraph registertelegraph receiver

Physical Description: wood (overall material)brass (overall material)iron (overall material)copper (overall material)Measurements: overall: 7 1/4 in x 4 in x 11 1/2 in; 18.415 cm x 10.16 cm x 29.21 cm


Record Id: nmah_706644

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.