|Born:||April 27, 1791 |
|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.
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.
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.
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 , 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:
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.
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain