This Arduino Morse Telegraph Uses a 3D-Printed Replica of an Original Alfred Vail Key From the 1800s

Clever project uses a 3D model released by the Smithsonian as part of its digitization initiative for a link to the past.

Pseudonymous FwieFabri has built an Arduino telegraph designed to display Morse code — input into the system, unusually enough, using a functional 3D-printed replica of an original 1844 telegraph key from the Smithsonian collection.

"Alfred Vail made this key, believed to be from the first Baltimore-Washington telegraph line, as an improvement on Samuel Morse's original transmitter" the Smithsonian explains of the original key, which was scanned into a 3D model as part of a larger digitization efort. "Vail helped Morse develop a practical system for sending and receiving coded electrical signals over a wire, which was successfully demonstrated in 1844."

This Arduino Morse telegraph uses a 3D-printed replica of an original Alfred Vail key from 1844. (📹: FwieFabri)

Vail's original key might be kept safe at the National Museum of American History, as part of the exhibition on American enterprise, but the existence of a 3D model means that replicas can easily be printed — and FwiFabri's replica goes a stage further than most, adding in the missing components required to create a functional key alongside a microcontroller to display input Morse.

In its current incarnation, the connected microcontroller, running an Arduino sketch, simply displays the input as the dots and dashes of Morse code. FweiFabri has indicated that a future revision will decode the Morse into text, too, "and also […] send the data to another Arduino to communicate" — creating, in effect, a fully-functional Morse telegraph.

More details are available on the project's Reddit thread, while those interested in trying to build their own can download the STL file from the Smithsonian under a permissive public domain license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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