The Telegraph, Private Investigators, Spies And Telegraph Eavesdropping
Pictured above, Telegraph Key And Sounder, 1850s, 1860s

The above photo is an old telegraph key and sounder. A short push on the button was a dot and a longer push on the button was a dash. A morse code was invented that contained a series of dots and dashes for every letter and every number which was known as the morse code. The telegraph has a rich history connected with it that goes along with investigative communication and spying.

Watch A Video On The Telegraph

Prior to telephones, the telegraph was the only instant long distance communication device there was. Letters could take months to get to someone. Travel often took weeks. Allen Pinkerton used telegraph communication very successfully in running his investigative agency. Before he passed on, the telephone had been invented but he wouldn't really use it. The Actual message that was sent with the telegraph was called a telegram. The first one was sent on May 24, 1844 by inventor Samuel Morse. The message, "What hath God wrought," was transmitted from Washington to Baltimore. Telegraph lines quickly spread throughout the nation. Lines where often placed next to the rapidly expanding railroad tracks. By the late 1850's all major cities of the nation were wired for telegraph service. It became a high tech method of communication.

To avoid rumors of the attempted assassination of Lincoln, Pinkerton was put in charge of getting him to Washington DC to get sworn in as President. Pinkerton had telegraph lines cut going into Baltimore. Right before the civil war, telegraph lines going into and coming out of Washington DC had been cut. It was a Pinkerton detective Timothy Webster who first secretly smuggled dispatches out of the White House in a hollow cane. He would travel on horse back to get to another location and then dispatch important Presidential telegraph messages to military personnel. One message from Lincoln was sent to Allen Pinkerton who had traveled back to Chicago to come at once to the White House. Without the telegraph, communication could only be as fast as a horse could travel or a train could get somewhere in those days.

What conversion looks like:


In Morse Code The Above Converts to:

.--. .. -. -.- . .-. - --- -. / -.-. --- -- . ... / - --- / - .... . / .-- .... .. - . / .... --- ..- ... . / .- - / --- -. -.-. . .-.-.- / .- .-.-.- / .-.. .. -. -.-. --- .-.. -.


Telegraph Bugging And Telegraph Ciphers
During the Civil War, telegraph bugging was quite common on both sides. It was, of course done without a warrant as there was actually no laws pertaining to that. It's important to remember that the telegraph, which quickly spread from 1844 on and the telephone which was invented in 1876, required multiple operators to relay messages and patch calls and dispatches through. There just was just no way to guarantee privacy. At the telegraph office, there was a person who sent it and another person who received and decoded it. It was Allen Pinkerton who developed methods of encrypting telegraph messages using various ciphers that would then be decoded on the other end.An interesting article on telegraph ciphers can be found online by reading F. W. Chesson's article titled Secret Wires, Civil War Cryptology - Origins of Secret Messages on Open Wires . Another good article you can find online is CPT Kevin Romano's article titled The Stager ciphers and the U.S. military's first cryptographic system.

Above are old blank forms used to write out messages for sending a telegram.

Listen to An Actual Morse Code Telegraph Message!

Click on the link below:

The Morse Code Online Translator

If The Above Link doesn't Work, Click Here for Another One.

This is a web page where you can input a message and listen to what the dispatch sounds like in morse code just like Allen Pinkerton used. Input the words:

"Pinkerton come to Washington At Once, President Lincoln"

and this page will translated that into morse code so you can hear it and understand how many dots and dashes it took to send such a message.

In order to finish a sentence, telegrams would spell out the word "period." Since telegraph services charged per letter, people started using the word "STOP" at the end of each sentence to save money. Up until the advent of the Internet, many successful investigative agencies had their own cable address which was for sending cable or telegram messages to them.

Two Old Telegraph Keys with Sounders. Note How Stuff Used To Be Built To Last Forever.

1899 Insurance Badge To ID Me Telegraph this Number, 1899

The Fraternal Protective Association came up with a unique use of the telegraph. They kept ID files on people and gave them a badge to use such as the one above. If they were hurt or injured and could not speak, they would just hand over the badge. A special telegraph was made and information would then be returned concerning the identification of the person. Badge is 2 1/2" by 1 1/2" and is dated 1899.

Most telegraph offices had delivery messengers. That is, when you sent a telegram to someone, it was sent to the nearest telegraph office. The telegraph office would then covert the morse code to a written message and hand deliver the telegram to the person it was addressed to on foot.

Unknown to many, telegrams actually reached their peak in popularity and use after the telephone had been invented and put in use. In the 1920's and 1930's it was much cheaper to send a telegram than to make a long distance telephone call. After that period of time, telegrams started to descend in their use. It's just been in the last few months that Western Union has stopped sending them. Here is the Western Union announcement on that:

"Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage."

Right before the advent of the Internet, Western Union used it's existing telegraph lines offering a service for computer users in which email could be sent and special groups created. At one time, Leroy Cook had a group of information brokers using the Western Union Network and NAIS was a member of that for a short time.It was called Investigator's Online Network. Leroy Cook's old Western Union Network turned into a nationwide investigative referral service called ION. A highly rated service for investigators today.

It is reasoned that email has caused the death of the telegraph and telegram system. As an interesting side note, you can use various online services to Cipher or encrypt an email and pick a code so the other party can decide it. To see and use on on the NAIS web site, click here.

Other Interesting Telegraph Links

Brief History Of The Telegram from Retro-Gram. Com
The Telegraph Office
The Morse Code Alphabet
Morse Code from The Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia
Learn Morse Code In One Minute


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