The Hill on The Net

March 3, 1843

Samuel Morse has demonstrated his telegraph for Congress by stretching a line between two committee rooms in the Capitol building. Now, he awaits word on whether the Senate will vote to support the development of his invention. His demonstration within the Capitol had shown that the telegraph did indeed work, but to prove its practical use as a means of long distance communications, a much larger demonstration would be required.

That evening, the Senate passed a bill appropriating $30,000 for Morse to construct a telegraph line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland. More than a year after that vote permitted Morse to proceed, the first inter-city telegraph message was sent. From a room in the Senate side of the Capitol building, Morse tapped out his message to Baltimore, a line from the bible, "What hath God wrought!". The reply revealed a more practical concern, "What is the news from Washington?".


Almost one hundred and fifty years later, the Internet had become an established communications medium that was growing at tremendous rates. The binary code of computers that carry text, sound, video and computer programs across the net, strings of zero's and one's, is reminiscent of the dots and dashes that carried information from Washington, DC on Morse's Telegraph. Spanning the globe it carried amounts of data that Morse could never in his wildest dreams have imagined.

Recognizing the importance of further research and development of high-speed data networking, the Senate voted to create a new national program as part of the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. The National Research and Education Network (NREN) sponsored by Senator Albert Gore, Jr. of Tennessee would help "catalyze the development of a general purpose high speed communications infrastructure for the nation", better known today as the Information Superhighway.

But this time Congress wasn't itself leading the way. The Internet had already been around for twenty-three years by this time. But in 1992 the Senate couldn't even get an e-mail message to the House.

Introduction | Chapter 1

Table of Contents

Return to The Hill on the Net