The Development of Morse Code

The Development of Morse Code
Anna Harrison: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two class periods

Required Documents
American Progress
Morse Code Key Worksheet


Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison, the wife of President William Henry Harrison was born on July 5, 1775 just after the start of the American Revolution. She died on February 25, 1864, before the end of the Civil War. To say that she lived during the formative years of our nation’s existence would be an understatement. She lived during the writing of the U.S. Constitution, the War of 1812, and the westward expansion of our nation as well as it’s eventual division. She witnessed not only the good American policies but also the bad such as the Indian Removal Act, and The Fugitive Slave Act. She saw the migration from rural to urban life in the northern states as well as the growth of the cotton industry in the south that eventually provided 3/4 ‘s of the cotton produced in the world. In the field of communication, she saw the development of the first postal systems by Benjamin Franklin, the creation of the Pony Express, and the building of the Erie Canal as well it’s replacement as railways began to crisscross America. In 1837 three years before her husband was elected president Alfred Lewis Vail, Samuel Morse’s assistant, developed the “Morse Code” of dots and dashes that has been used ever since by telegraphers everywhere. It will be this code that will be investigated in this lesson.


1        The students will be able to identify Morse Code as a form of communication and explain how it was used.

2        The students will be able to create and decipher short messages using Morse Code and a key to assist them.

3        The students will be use an online Morse Code translator to create longer more detailed messages.

Materials Required:

1        Computer and Internet access with smart board or projector for the video and painting, or computer lab. 2        American Progress Word Doc. 3        Morse Code Key Worksheet 4        Paper and Pencil



1        This lesson can stand alone or would be good in a unit on westward expansion. The teacher can begin the lesson by using a technique called visual discovery. The teacher will project the painting American Progress by John Gast 1872. This picture is included with this lesson on a MS Word Doc. Or, it can be found easily on the Internet. Begin by having the students just tell you various things they see in the picture. Then spiral the questions to make them more difficult. You may ask things like: What groups of people do you see in the painting? What forms of transportation do you see? Why is the painting dark on the left hand side and bright on the right? What is the woman holding in her hand? Why is she carrying wire?  The goal is to get the students to realize that as the country moved west the telegraph went with them as the primary form of communication.

 2        The teacher will then conduct a short discussion to see what the students know about the telegraph and Morse Code. The YouTube video (see below) will give some background to the students.

 3        The students will then begin some translations themselves. The teacher will pass out the Morse Code Key Worksheet. This handout has the Morse alphabet on the front and some short translations on the back. The students can work individually or in small groups to solve the translations. The Answers are: 1. Merry Christmas 2. The Cat In The Hat 3. Happy Birthday 4. Never Give Up  5. This Takes a Long Time


Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by increasing practice in using Morse Code. In the Website section below, there is a link to an online Morse Code translator that can be used to create more lengthy practice items. Students could also write notes to each other or their teacher by using the code key from their Morse Code Key Worksheet.

Sources & Resources:


The Man Behind Morse Code 

Hila Code Key 

Morse Code Translator 



This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District.