This carved ivory object, recovered from a Baltimore privy filled in the mid-19th century, is an inkhorn and once formed part of a traveling writing kit known as a penner. In the age before the instant communication of telephone and email, the best way to reach out to people who were far away was to write and post a letter. This mode of communication, while effective, had some drawbacks. It required an ability to read and write (or a friend willing to pen your letter) and the delivery took time. These missives could take days, weeks or even months to reach their intended audience.
Rapid communication took an enormous leap forward in the year 1844, when Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first long distance telegraph message from Washington DC to the Mount Clare Railway Station in Baltimore. The year prior, Congress had allocated a sum of $30,000 for Morse to construct an electric telegraph line stretching forty miles between these two cities, after he successfully demonstrated the system between the Senate and House wings of the US Capitol (Chamber 2016). Upon its completion in May of 1844, Morse and his partner, Alfred Vail, sent the first official telegraphic transmission. They used a quote from the book of Numbers (23:23) in the Bible: “What hath God wrought?” That same day, messages sent from the Democratic convention in Baltimore let members of Congress know that James K. Polk had received the Democratic presidential nomination. Baltimore newspapers became the first in the nation to include news stories sent by telegraph. Continue reading