Who Am I?

From 1863 to 1867 this tall and gaunt young man drifted around the Midwest as a “tramp telegrapher.” He bounced along, moving through larger and larger cities, using telegraphy jobs as a means of support — and also as laboratories for his experiments.

In the fall of 1864, he arrived in Indianapolis and approached John F. Wallick, superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company, for a job. Wallick hired him for the night shift operator position at Union Depot. His wages were to be $75 a month and the young man who was perceived as “just an ordinary operator,” kept mostly to himself.

He had developed an unusually small, vertical handwriting style for the rapid copying of telegraph messages — but since reports often came in at up to 40 words per minute, he still found it difficult to keep up. Necessity being, as always, the mother of invention, our hero came up with an idea; by adjusting two embossing Morse registers, one to repeat the press matter, the other to repeat the dots and dashes upon a revolving disc of paper, telegraphic reports could be slowed to a pace that allowed for easier and more legible copying.

The local newspapers were impressed with his neat work and even requested that he be given both the day AND the night shifts. However, this led to an investigation by his Western Union superior and, for some unknown reason, the device was prohibited. Though often as not in his past, this young man left jobs when he was fired for misbehaving or for sloppy work, this time he left in a cloud of frustration and disgust — never to return to Indianapolis again.

Therefore, it is our city’s dubious claim to fame that our mystery man produced what he called “his first invention” (the Morse Repeater) right here — only to have it banned from use.

Have you figured out who he is yet?