Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Perfection of the Telegraph and Morse Code in Puerto Rico

By Tony Flores for La Revista Hispana

Samuel F. B. Morse and His Perfection of the Telegraph and Morse Code in Puerto Rico.

Let’s retrace the modes of early communication history in past centuries and how people interacted in person with diverse spoken languages. Early civilizations interacted in different ways. History shows Greeks used runners to deliver written messages. Throughout Europe, the military used horns, trumpets, church bells, flags signal, and messenger pigeons to send coded messages. In Africa, conga drums were used to send messages over land. In the far west, America’s indigenous tribes used smoke signals to send messages. Then in the 1450, German printer and craftsman Johannes Gutenberg invented the moving printing press which begins the print industry.

In the mid-1830’s, an American inventor set off to introduce his telegraphic communication device. It became a reality on US soil, in the island of Puerto Rico.  For many people, this is an unknown fact. Samuel Finely Breese Morse, the inventor of the telegraphy and Morse Code, perfected his invention in Arroyo, Puerto Rico over 178 years ago. Arroyo is located in the region known as the Southern Coastal Valley, a very dry region. Bordering the Caribbean Sea, east of Guayama and northwest of Patillas

This short story featured in La Revista Hispana is to inform our online readers on the origins of Samuel Morse and his joint venture with Alfred Vail that led to this great mechanical invention. The perfection of the telegraph took place during 1834 to 1844 in Arroyo, Puerto Rico. Morse’s daughter married into the Eduardo Lind family, where he spent most of his experimental time on their sugar plantation. 

Who was Samuel Morse?

Samuel F. B. Morse was an American painter who graduated from Yale University and went on to the Royal Academy in England where he studied painting. Yes, it was him who invented the telegraph and Morse code, which allowed for the laying of the Transatlantic cable in 1858 and greatly affected the outcomes of both the Mexican-American and Civil War. Disappointed with his success as a painter, Morse became an inventor.

Morse had many friends in America and Europe that helped him finance the experiments and the years of secret work on the telegraph and the developing the Morse Code. American History records those famous words transmitted by Morse back in 1844, “What hath God wrought!”. With this new communication apparatus called the telegraph, he made it possible for mankind to finally conquer the barrier of time and distance with a speedy new mode of communication. News and messages were transmitted by the telegraphy.

These ‘Morse Code’ messages traveled on a single electric line installed on wooden poles. Most of these were located along the right of way of American railroad companies. They were used for telegraphic transmission of messages delivered over land to faraway places, from town to town. The workshop were this invention was born was located on the grounds of the Puerto Rican Hacienda “La Enriqueta” in rural Arroyo, owned by his son-in-law Eduardo Lind. Arroyo was known as a sugar and tobacco farming area.

The Origin of The Invention

John Henry was the person that supported Morse with the invention. He became too busy with another project and sent Morse to The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  He later agreed to let Morse and his assistant Alfred Vail take over the invention. Their work continued and Alfred Vail agreed to share the profits with Samuel Morse. Nevertheless, the joint venture required hands on technical assistance and financing in order to be completed.

To many people’s surprise, Samuel Morse knew very little or nothing about science, particularly electricity. However, he was willing to learn a new field.  Morse was actually an accomplished painter of fine arts. Morse is credited with many great works of fine art in Europe and the United States. In the 19 the mid-1970s, Samuel Morse’s 1832 masterpiece “Gallery of the Louvre” sold for $3.25 Million, the highest price ever paid for an American Painting. (See illustration).

The development of the telegraphy and Morse Code in Arroyo, Puerto Rico.

This didn’t happen overnight, nor did he do alone! Credit goes to both co-authors of the Morse Code, Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail. They had collaborated for over 12 years working hard to refine and perfect the operational use of the device that Joseph Henry had invented in 1832. The American physics teacher John Henry gave it to Morse and his assistant Vail to keep and work out commercial usage. Mr. Henry was a dedicated school teacher in physics and found little time to devote to his invention, the electromagnet device.

The renowned American artist (Morse) gave up painting because of mixed feelings and indifferences of his artwork by the public. Eager to change his career and knowing the long and expensive task in making this electron-magnet device commercially feasible, he set off to a remote Caribbean Island where he often sailed. The island of Puerto Rico became the secret site for the long work ahead with his associates. More than 10 years were spent in Arroyo, a seaport town on Puerto Rico’s southern coast.  That’s where Morse tackled the technical aspects and problems. He received additional help from his son-in-law Eduardo Lind, a business man and sugar industrialist in Arroyo, PR. The Lind Family provided Morse with money and cooperation needed to successfully complete the first morse prototype telegraph machine that Vail and Morse had worked. Vail is credited with the invention of the combination of the horizontal-lever motion to actuate the styles, the alphabet dots, spaces, and dashes necessary in the mechanicals and coding system. In 1844 they finally built the automatic devices and ground roller that embossed the characters on paper.

As time went on, Morse’s daughter Susan Walker, married Mr. Eduardo Lind’s son.  They became parents to Charles Lind Morse (1857-1923). They owned and operated one of the largest plantations in the southern part of Puerto Rico. La Hacienda Harietta produced sugar cane for the rum distillers and shipped products to Europe and the United States.  Unfortunately, Lind’s Hacienda was the first plantation to have had a Black slave rebellion during 1868.

During that time, local leader Dr. Ramon Emetario Betances, the Fredrick Douglas of the Caribbean, was a strong and religious man who advocated against slavery in the colonial empire of Spain. Betances believed in separating from Spain and letting Puerto Rico become free and independent.  Many battles were fought, and lives lost for this struggle that went on for years. “Arriba Puertorriqueños” became a familiar battle cry. Neighboring islands Santo Domingo and Cuba planned to unite and rebel against colonial European powers and formed a federation. In 1873, the slave issue was settled and abolished by Spain. Puerto Rico still continued to build its economy and strived toward independence in alliance with Spain, its mother country.

During the early 1890s, many Spanish loyalists then came to Puerto Rico from Central and South America in the wake of several pro-independence revolutions. By 1898, many ethnic groups like Germans, Italians, Irish, Scots, Corsicans, and Lebanese spiced the melting pot. Puerto Rico was then handed over to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War.

Early 1840’s to present day Arroyo, Puerto Rico

Many Hispanic historical facts, particularly Samuel Morse’s great contribution to the field of telecommunication, can still be noticed on landmarks in the little coastal town of Arroyo, Puerto Rico. Arroyo’s main street carries the name “Calle Samuel Morse”. The town’s plaza bears a bronze plaque donated by The Daughters of the American Revolution in Samuel Morse’s honor. Locals and visitors can see the gigantic Samuel Morse statue in downtown plaza. The flag of town of Arroyo has the telegraph lines. Susan Morse Lind, Samuel Morse’s daughter, is buried in a massive tomb in the town’s old cemetery, just yards away from my in-laws.

La Revista Hispana suggests that you venture into the past by visiting The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It is a lovely island with 78 cities and towns and over 100 public beaches. If you visit Puerto Rico, don’t just stay in the tourist area of San Juan. Be a modern-day conquistador and venture to the quiet side of the island. You may discover peace and tranquility, just as Samuel Morse did many, many, years ago. Always remember that Puerto Rico was part of the industrial revolution that introduced telecommunication to the World!

Arroyo and Coat of Arms

Cut into the upper blue field is a church, then a rosary to the right and a flower to the left. At the base, there is a tower between two silver telegraph poles on green hills. At the bottom are blue and silver waves, and below these, a fish. Above the shield, lies a crown of three towers filled in with purple. Below there’s a banner with the motto, Arroyo Pueblo Grato (Arroyo Pleasing Town).

We hope La Revista Hispana was able to enlighten you with education topics not taught in American school systems.  It’s up to you to enhance your knowledge of Latin American countries histories, cultures and contributions associated with American history and Puerto Rico under Spanish rule. 

Lastly, I take pride in writing this feature story because my wife Carmen was born in Arroyo and her parents, as well as my relatives, come from the surrounding area of Guayama and Patillas. We all share a European lineage with Spanish, French, African and Taino Indian heritages.

Antonio Flores is a Relationship Marketing and Business Development Advisor. Tony Flores is a seasoned veteran business consultant the advises companies and industries on multi-ethnic marketing strategies with a strong interest in reaching business goals and objectives in the USA and Caribbean markets. Tony was President of Vargas Flores & Amigos, Georgia’s first Hispanic advertising agency that earned many awards for advertising excellence during the 1990s in Atlanta. To. learn more visit Flores Consulting.


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