April 27, 2020
Day 118 of 366
April 27th is the 118th day of the year. It is National Veterans’ Day in Finland.
Historical items of note:
- In 1667, John Milton was blind and impoverished, so he sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for £10.
- In 1805, the United States Marines and Berbers attacked the Tripolitan city of Derna during the First Barbary War. This was where the “shores of Tripoli” part of the Marines’ Hymn came from.
- In 1865, the New York State Senate created Cornell University as the state’s land grant institution.
- In 1891, Russian pianist, composer, and conductor Sergei Prokofiev was born.
- In 1922, actor Jack Klugman was born.
- In 1927, activist and author Coretta Scott King was born. She was the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.
- In 1959, singer, songwriter, and actress Sheena Easton was born.
- In 1963, screenwriter and producer Russell T. Davies was born.
- In 1974, ten thousand citizens marched in Washington, D.C., calling for the impeachment of United States President Richard Nixon.
- In 1976, actress Sally Hawkins was born.
- In 1981, Xerox PARC introduced the computer mouse.
- In 1986, actress Jenna Coleman was born.
- In 1992, Betty Boothroyd became the first woman to be elected Speaker of the British House of Commons in its 700-year history.
In 1791, painter, co-inventor of the telegraph, and co-inventor the Morse code Samuel Morse was born.
Following the discovery of electromagnetism by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1820 and the invention of the electromagnet by William Sturgeon in 1824, the technology of electromagnetic telegraphy developed in Europe and the United States. Pulses of electric current were sent along wires to control an electromagnet on the other end. The early instruments used a single-needle system, but an operator had to alternate between watching the needle and transcribing the message.
The advent of Morse code allowed for a system with varying deflections. A deflection to the left corresponded to a dot and a deflection to the right to a dash, and with different stops, the device became audible.
The electrical telegraph was developed by Morse, physicist Joseph Henry, and machinist Alfred Vail. Alongside the invention, they also developed a forerunner to the Morse code. Meanwhile, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented the first commercial electrical telegraph in Britain, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, Wilhelm Eduard Weber, and Carl August von Steinheil developed codes with varying word lengths.
The code used from 1844 was the Morse landline code or American Morse code. The international Morse code was refined using a proposal from German writer Friedrich Clemens Gerke. The code uses an audible series of dots and dashes, representing letters and numbers, to transmit messages.
Used extensively from its conception in wartime and peacetime, Morse code was used as an international standard for maritime distress until 1999 when it was replaced by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.
Despite his contributions to the world, it should also be noted that Samuel F. B. Morse was anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and pro-slavery. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York under the anti-immigrant Nativist Party’s banner, and he allegedly refused to take his hat off in the presence of the Pope while visiting Rome.
He worked to unite Protestants against Catholic institutions (including schools), wanted to forbid Catholics from holding public office, and promoted changing immigration laws to limit immigration from Catholic countries. He was also well known as a defender of slavery, considering it to be sanctioned by God. He considered it a social condition “ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom,” considering the owning of slaves to be on the same level as being a parent or an employer.
He died in New York City on April 2, 1872.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
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