Weekly Story: What Hath God Wrought?

Weekly Story

Samuel Morse relates the story of the first use of his invention.


I need only add that no words could have been selected more expressive of the disposition of my own mind at that time, to ascribe all the honor to Him to whom it truly belongs.

telegraph key

What Hath GOD Wrought?
(May 24, 1844)


To the Rt. Rev. Bishop Stevens.


PARIS, November, 1866.

I CHEERFULLY comply with the request you made last evening, to give you in writing the incidents I related to you connected with the first telegram transmitted by the Electro-Magnetic Recording Telegraph, the first ever practically in public use, on the first line constructed in the United States, or indeed in the world.

I had spent at Washington two entire sessions of Congress, one in 1837-’38, the other in 1842-’43, in the endeavor so far to interest the Government in the novel Telegraph as to furnish me with the means to construct a line of sufficient length to test its practicability and utility.

The last days of the last session of that Congress were about to close. A bill appropriating thirty thousand dollars for my purpose had passed the House, and was before the Senate for concurrence, waiting its turn on the calendar. On the last day of the session (3d of March, 1843), I had spent the whole day and part of the evening in the Senate-chamber, anxiously watching the progress of the passing of the various bills, of which there were, in the morning of that day, over one hundred and forty to be acted upon, before the one in which I was interested would be reached; and a resolution had a few days before been passed, to proceed with the bills on the calendar in their regular order, forbidding any bill to be taken up out of its regular place. As evening approached, there seemed to be but little chance that the Telegraph Bill would be reached before the adjournment, and consequently I had the prospect of the delay of another year, with the loss of time, and all my means already expended. In my anxiety, I consulted with two of my senatorial friends—Senator Huntington, of Connecticut, and Senator Wright, of New York—asking their opinion of the probability of reaching the bill before the close of the session. Their answers were discouraging, and their advice was to prepare myself for disappointment. In this state of mind I retired to my chamber, and made all my arrangements for leaving Washington the next day. Painful as was this prospect of renewed disappointment, you, my dear sir, will understand me when I say that, knowing from experience whence my help must come in any difficulty, I soon disposed of my cares, and slept as quietly as a child.

In the morning, as I had just gone into the breakfast-room, the servant called me out, announcing that a young lady was in the parlor, wishing to speak with me. I was at once greeted with the smiling face of my young friend, the daughter of my old and valued friend and classmate, the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth, the Commissioner of Patents. On expressing my surprise at so early a call, she said, ‘I have come to congratulate you.’ ‘Indeed, for what?’ ‘On the passage of your bill.’ ‘Oh, no, my young friend, you are mistaken; I was in the Senate-chamber till after the lamps were lighted, and my senatorial friends assured me there was no chance for me.’ ‘But,’ she replied,’ it is you that are mistaken. Father was there at the adjournment, at midnight, and saw the President put his name to your bill; and I asked father if I might come and tell you, and he gave me leave. Am I the first to tell you?’ The news was so unexpected that for some moments I could not speak. At length I replied: ‘Yes, Annie, you are the first to inform me; and now I am going to make you a promise: the first dispatch on the completed line from Washington to Baltimore shall be yours.’ ‘Well,’ said she, ‘I shall hold you to your promise.’

In about a year from that time, the line from Washington to Baltimore was completed. I was in Baltimore when the wires were brought into the office, and attached to the instrument. I proceeded to Washington, leaving word that no dispatch should be sent through the line until I had sent one from Washington. On my arrival there, I sent a note to Miss Ellsworth, announcing to her that every thing was ready, and I was prepared to fulfill my promise of sending the first dispatch over the wires, which she was to indite. The answer was immediately returned. The dispatch was, ‘What hath God wrought!’ It was sent to Baltimore, and repeated to Washington, and the strip of paper upon which the telegraphic characters are printed, was claimed by Governor Seymour, of Hartford, Connecticut, then a member of the House, on the ground that Miss Ellsworth was a native of Hartford. It was delivered to him by Miss Ellsworth, and is now preserved in the archives of the Hartford Museum, or Athenaeum.

I need only add that no words could have been selected more expressive of the disposition of my own mind at that time, to ascribe all the honor to Him to whom it truly belongs.

With sincere respect, your most obedient servant,




Courtesy of Democratic Thinker