Samuel F. B. Morse

Samuel F. B. Morse books and biography


Samuel F. B. Morse

Samuel Morse
Born: April 27, 1791
Charlestown, Massachusetts
Died: April 2, 1872
5 West 22nd Street, New York, New York
Occupation: inventor and painter

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) was an American, the inventor of the Morse Code and a painter of portraits and historic scenes.


Early years

Samuel Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the first child of geographer and pastor Jedidiah Morse and Elizabeth Ann Breese Morse. After attending Phillips Academy as a child, he started attending college at 14. He devoted himself to art and became a pupil of Washington Allston, a well known American painter. While at Yale University, he attended lectures on electricity from Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day. He earned money by painting portraits. In 1810, he graduated from Yale University. Morse later accompanied Allston to Europe in 1811.

Morse in his youth.
Morse in his youth.

Middle years

In 1832, Morse adapted magnetism to electromagnetic telegraphy, and a signaling alphabet known as Morse Code in his sketchbook during conversations with Dr. Charles Thomas Jackson. It was the concept of a binary code (only a long or a short signal) to represent letters that was his invention (or that of Alfred Vail). He did not invent the electromagnetic (or "electric") telegraph, but successfully won a trial on the ownership of the US Patent of his Morse Code. His fame stems from the success his Morse Code had inside and outside the USA.

Since Claude Chappe, telegraphs were being enhanced, though Chappe's invention of 1792 was an optical telegraph system that required many skilled workers progressing a signal combination from a post to the next. It was used throughout Europe. Although the electrical telegraph would probably not have been the sudden success it was without the Code by Samuel Morse, in 1837 he could never acknowledge not to have been the inventor of the electrical telegraph, after the successful electromagnetic telegraph by Carl Friedrich Gauß and Wilhelm Eduard Weber in Göttingen, 1833, and the invention of a needle telegraph by Carl August von Steinheil in München, Germany, in 1837, which both were discussed in the scientific magazines throughout Europe. Also, he did not understand electricity enough to build a prototype until 1836. Joseph Henry had built a prototype before Morse as well, working in what today is Princeton University. Henry also had scientific papers, which Morse could not produce even when he was sued--Morse vs. O'Reilly. During the patent trial, Morse's lawyer claimed that the scientific papers that Morse put in writing with his own hand, were burned in a recent fire. Joseph Henry was the open source promoter of the time and Morse took advantage of the openness and patented the devices in 1837.

When studying in Rome in 1830, he became acquainted with the Danish/Icelandic sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen; the two artists would sometimes take walks at night among the ancient ruins. Morse also painted Thorvaldsen's portrait.

In 1834, he published Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States, in which he said that Irish immigrants threatened the American republican institution. He believed that an influx of Irish Catholics would end up with the pope leading America.

In the fall of 1835, Morse built and demonstrated a recording telegraph with a moving paper ribbon. At the beginning of 1836, Morse demonstrated his recording telegraph to Dr. Leonard Gale. Also in 1836, Morse ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York on a Nativist ticket, receiving 1,496 votes.

In 1836, Morse finished his first own working telegraph prototype. It used a one-element battery and a simple electromagnet. This prototype worked only over short distances of about 40 feet or less. In the winter of 1836-1837 Morse showed his prototype to Leonard Gale, professor of chemistry at New York University, where Morse taught painting. Gale was aware of the works of Joseph Henry on electromagnetic relays. Based on this knowledge Gale suggested several improvements and also urged Morse to read Henry's 1831 paper, which described these improvements. With these improvements Morse and Gale were able to record messages through ten miles of wire. In September of the same year, Alfred Vail, then student at New York University, witnessed a demonstration of Morse's telegraph. Vail's father Stephen Vail was a well-connected tinkerer, inventor, lawyer, community leader, and technology investor. He helped to finance the work on the telegraph.

In 1838, Morse changed the telegraphic cipher, from a telegraphic dictionary with number code to a code for each letter. Whether Alfred Vail was the actual inventor of this simpler code has been debated since the earliest days. According to much of the literature on the subject, Vail was indeed the actual inventor of the Code, although Morse and his descendants claimed otherwise. In any case, the code was named after Morse and continues to be known as "Morse Code" to this day.

On January 24, Morse demonstrated the telegraph to colleges. On February 8, 1838, Morse first publicly demonstrated his electric telegraph to a scientific committee at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (The first time it worked was on January 6). On February 21, Morse demonstrated the telegraph to President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet. Shortly afterwards, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Commerce chairman F. O. J. Smith of Maine became a partner with Morse and proposed a bill in Congress, which didn't pass, for a $30,000 telegraph line project.

Later years

Portrait of Samuel F. B. Morse by Mathew Brady, between 1855 and 1865
Portrait of Samuel F. B. Morse by Mathew Brady, between 1855 and 1865

In 1839, Samuel Morse published (from Paris) the first American description of daguerreotype photography by Louis Daguerre.

In the 1850s, Morse went to Copenhagen and visited the Thorvaldsens Museum [1], where the sculptor's grave is in the inner courtyard. He was received by King Frederick VII, who decorated him with the Order of the Dannebrog. Morse expressed his wish to donate his portrait from 1830 to the king. The Thorvaldsen portrait today belongs to Margaret II of Denmark.

In the 1860s, Morse became well-known as an active defender of America's institution of slavery, considering it to be divinely sanctioned. In his treatise "An Argument on the Ethical Position of Slavery," he wrote:

My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having per se nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler.[1]

Morse also at one time adopted Charles Wheatstone and Carl August von Steinheil's idea of broadcasting a telegraph signal through a body of water or down steel railroad tracks or anything conductive.

He died in April 1872 at his home at 5 West 22nd Street, New York, New York, at the age of eighty, and was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


  • Morse invented a marble-cutting machine that could carve three dimensional sculptures in marble or stone. Morse couldn't patent it, however, because of an existing 1820 Thomas Blanchard design.
  • New York University's core curriculum and list of requirements is know as the Morse Academic Plan (MAP).
  • A letter to a friend describing the challenge of defending his patents. (1848).[2]
I have been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph!! Would you have believed it ten years ago that a question could be raised on that subject?
  • There is a blue plaque commemorating him at 141 Cleveland Street, London, where he lived 1812-15.
  • The first text transmitted by telegraph is "What hath God wrought".

See also

  • Morse Code
  • American Morse code

External articles and references

Statue of Samuel F. B. Morse by Byron M. Picket, New York's Central Park, dedicated 1871
Statue of Samuel F. B. Morse by Byron M. Picket, New York's Central Park, dedicated 1871
  1. ^ From An Argument on the Ethical Position of Slavery in the social system, and its relation to the politics of the day (New York, Papers from the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, no. 12, 1863) in Slavery Pamphlets # 60, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Quoted in "Yale, Slavery, & Abolition," an online report on Yale honorees, at
  • Jonathan Dunder, "Samuel Morse".
  • Morse Telegraph Club, Inc. (The Morse Telegraph Club is an international non-profit organization dedicated to the perpetuation of the knowledge and traditions of telegraphy.)
  • Works by Samuel F. B. Morse at Project Gutenberg
  • " Samuel F. B. Morse Papers". LOC.
    • "Morse Timeline". LOC.
  • "Samuel Finley Breese Morse: 1791 - 1872". Adventures in Cybersound.
  • Calvert, J. B., "Hear American Morse: how it sounded on a sounder". September 20, 2000
  • "Samuel F. B. Morse". National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • "Samuel F. B. Morse". Unit 2: Those Inventive Americans. Smithsonian Institution, 2001.
  • "Morsum Magnificat, The magazine". Wistanswick, Market Drayton, Shropshire.
  • Katz, Eugenii, "Samuel Finley Breese Morse". Biosensors & Bioelectronics.
  • Jones, R. Victor, "Electromagnetic Telegraphy The Morse-Vail-Henry Telegraph". Deas.harvard.
  • Casale, John, "Signature of the Father". W2NI. Troy, New York.
  • Samuel Morse - the inventor of the Morse Telegraph System Radio-Electronics.Com
  • Morse College, Yale
Court Cases
  • "O'Reilly, et al. v. Morse, et al.", 56 U.S. 62 (1853).
  • Reinhardt, Joachim, "Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) Cambodcha, 2001", Physics-Related Stamps. March 27, 2004.
  • Reinhardt, Joachim, "Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) Congo, 1988". Physics-Related Stamps. March 27, 2004.
  • Mac OS X's Morse Translator Widget

Further reading

  • Paul J. Staiti, Samuel E. B. Morse (Cambridge 1989).
  • Lauretta Dimmick, "Mythic Proportion: Bertel Thorvaldsen's Influence in America", Thorvaldsen: l'ambiente, l'influsso, il mito, ed. P. Kragelund and M. Nykjær, Rome 1991 (Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, Supplementum 18.), pp. 169-191.
  • Tom Standage, "The Victorian Internet", pp. 21-40.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters And Journals V. 1

Samuel F. B. Morse, Hisletters And Journals Vo. 2

Samuel F. B. Morse, Hisletters And Journals Vo. 2

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