Harrison Gray Dyar

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Harrison Gray Dyar
Resting placeNew York City
Known forInventor of the telegraph
Spouse(s)Eleonora Rosella Hannum
ChildrenSon born February 14, 1866
Harrison Gray Dyar Jr.
Daughter born January 2, 1868
Nora Perle
Parent(s)Jeremiah Dyar
Susanna Wild
RelativesGenealogy of the Dyar Family[1]

Harrison Gray Dyar (1805–1875) was an American chemist and inventor.[1]

Early life[edit]

Dyar grew up in Concord, Massachusetts. As a young man he initially made a living as an apprentice watchmaker, working for the Concord clockmaker Lemuel Curtis from 1818 to 1825. For many years he lived in Paris where he made a good living as a chemist. In 1858 he returned to America and settled in New York City. He married May 9, 1865.[1]


Alfred Munroe in Concord and the Telegraph records that Dyar and his brother Joseph were interested in the newly developed technology of electricity.[2] They came up with the idea of transmitting a message over electrical wire. Dyar experimented and finally concluded that he had discovered how a message could be transmitted over a single wire.[3] In 1826 he and his brother laid a wire line along the "Causeway", later called Lowell Road and the Red Bridge Road, that proved the technique viable.[4] According to Colonel Whiting of Concord, the telegraph wire was strung from the trees along the Red Bridge Road over the Concord River at Hunt's Bridge and went all the way to Curtis's residence. Dyar used apothecary vial jars as glass insulators for the bare iron wire.[2]

Dyar erected the first telegraph line and dispatched over it the first telegraph message ever sent in America[5] — as determined by Levi Woodbury of the Supreme Court of the United States.[6] Dyar had used over half a mile of bare electrical wire to transmit the message. He employed mechanical and electrical means that Samuel Morse used many years later for the telegraph system he patented in 1847.[2] The author Munroe explains that Dyar made his telegraph line at least eighteen years before the actual materialization of the first practical Morse telegraph line that was made between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland.[7]

According to Munroe it was Dyar, not Morse, who erected the first real telegraph line at the race track in Long Island in 1826[8] and dispatched the first message ever sent.[9] This was years prior to the joint patent of electric telegraphy by William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone taken out in 1837 in England. Alfred Munroe writes in his book Concord and the Telegraph, "This may seem strange to most of our readers. The credit of this great discovery has been generally conceded to Professor Morse, but the latter deserves credit only for combining and applying the discoveries of others." Dyar had erected his telegraph line some six years before Morse even began his investigation on telegraphy and some ten years before he began to talk about the subject.[2] Because of threats with prosecution for "Conspiracy to send Secret Communications in advance of the Mail" Dyar abandoned his work.[8]

Dyar's telegraph technology[edit]

Dyar recorded the sparks generated by the electrical current of his telegraph on a ribbon of moistened litmus paper[10] on a spool that revolved mechanically by a clockwork apparatus. The nitric acid that was formed on the litmus paper by the action of the electricity left appropriate legible small red marks for designated letters. Dyar's method was of frictional electrolytic[10] nature where Morse's was an electromagnetic usage.[2]

Dyar's early experiments using this method worked quite well. In fact his experiments proved his theory would work and impressed several investors. He was able to get an advanced loan in New York to run a line at the Long Island race course in 1827.[10] Dyar then proposed to string a wire across New Jersey from New York to Philadelphia. However, the New Jersey legislature was skeptical on the issue because of security reasons. They even condemned Dyar as being dangerous because they thought he was some kind of a "wizard". They refused permission for this experiment of Dyar's because of fear of sending secret communications in advance of the mail.[2]

There is an argument amongst historians that Morse got several of Dyar's plans for the telegraph from him. Morse married the sister of one of Dyar's associates named Charles Walker. Walker had worked with Dyar on the telegraph and had retained many of Dyar's sketches. Historians speculate that either Charles Walker or his sister (Lucretia Pickering Walker) might well have shown those sketches to Morse.[2] One idea supposedly "borrowed" was that Dyar used batteries and had the idea of sending electric impulses along a single wire. Dyar also had the idea of spacing the sparks in such a way as to form an alphabetic code and developed out this code years before Morse developed his Morse code.

Later life[edit]

Dyar moved to Paris because of so much opposition to his telegraph technology.[1] He was the father of Harrison Gray Dyar Jr.


  1. ^ a b c d Dyar, p. 18.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Swayne, pp. 241–43.
  3. ^ Lane, p. 31: Harrison Gray Dyar, is the name of the American who first conceived the idea of sending messages over a wire by means of electric fluid.
  4. ^ Lane, p. 32
  5. ^ Swayne, p. 241: "Harrison Gray Dyar of Concord erected the first real line and despatched the first message over it by electricity ever sent by such means in America. This may seem strange to most of our readers," says Alfred Munroe in Concord and the Telegraph, "as the credit of this great discovery has been generally conceded to Prof. Morse, but the latter deserves credit only for combining and applying the discovery of others."
  6. ^ Crew, p. 465: "On this point, too, it may be well to state that, according to the decision of Levi Woodbury, when a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, messages were sent by means of electricity so long ago as in 1827, the inventor of the telegraph being Harrison Gray Dyar."
  7. ^ Swayne, p. 241: "Among the earliest of 'those others' was a young man once a resident of this town. At least eighteen years before the actual materialization of the first Morse telegraph line, a message had been transmitted over half a mile of wire in Concord by means that in many respects are identical with those employed by Morse."
  8. ^ a b Telegraphic History - Open Origins of Secret Wire
  9. ^ Lane, pp. 33–34.
  10. ^ a b c Depew, p. 126.


  • Crew, Harvey W. (1892). Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C. United brethren publishing house.
  • Depew, Chauncey Mitchell (1895). 1795–1895. One Hundred Years of American Commerce. D.O. Haynes.
  • Dyar, Harrison Gray (1903). A Preliminary Genealogy of the Dyar Family. Gibson Brothers printers.
  • Lane, Albert (1902). Concord Authors at Home. The Erudite.
  • Munroe, Alfred (1906). Concord and the Telegraph. Concord, Massachusetts: Antiquarian Society / Concord Museum.
  • Prescott, George Bartlett (1860). History, Theory, and Practice of the Electric Telegraph. Ticknor and Fields.
  • Swayne, Josephine Latham (1906). The Story of Concord Told by Concord Writers. Boston: E.F. Worcester Press.