Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) was an
American painter and inventor. After having established his reputation
as a portrait painter, in his middle age Morse contributed to the
invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European
telegraphs. He was a co-developer of the
Morse code and helped to
develop the commercial use of telegraphy.
1 Birth and education
3 Attributed artworks
6 Federal support
8 Political views
10 Later years
10.1 Litigation over telegraph patent
10.2 Foreign recognition
10.3 Transatlantic cable
10.4 Last years and death
11 Honors and awards
15 Further reading
16 External links
Birth and education
Birthplace of Morse, Charlestown, Massachusetts, c. 1898 photo.
Samuel F. B. Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the first
child of the pastor
Jedidiah Morse (1761–1826), who was also a
geographer, and his wife Elizabeth Ann Finley Breese (1766–1828).
His father was a great preacher of the Calvinist faith and supporter
of the American Federalist party. He thought it helped preserve
Puritan traditions (strict observance of Sabbath, among other things),
and believed in the Federalist support of an alliance with Britain and
a strong central government. Morse strongly believed in education
within a Federalist framework, alongside the instillation of Calvinist
virtues, morals, and prayers for his first son.
Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Samuel
Morse went on to
Yale College to receive instruction in the subjects
of religious philosophy, mathematics, and science of horses. While at
Yale, he attended lectures on electricity from
Benjamin Silliman and
Jeremiah Day and was a member of the Society of Brothers in Unity. He
supported himself by painting. In 1810, he graduated from Yale with
Phi Beta Kappa
Phi Beta Kappa honors.
Self-portrait of Morse in 1812 (National Portrait Gallery)
Morse expressed some of his Calvinist beliefs in his painting, Landing
of the Pilgrims, through the depiction of simple clothing as well as
the people's austere facial features. His image captured the
psychology of the Federalists; Calvinists from England brought to
North America ideas of religion and government, thus linking the two
countries. This work attracted the attention of the notable artist,
Washington Allston. Allston wanted Morse to accompany him to England
to meet the artist Benjamin West. Allston arranged—with Morse's
father—a three-year stay for painting study in England. The two men
set sail aboard the Libya on July 15, 1811.
In England, Morse perfected his painting techniques under Allston's
watchful eye; by the end of 1811, he gained admittance to the Royal
Academy. At the Academy, he was moved by the art of the Renaissance
and paid close attention to the works of
Michelangelo and Raphael.
After observing and practicing life drawing and absorbing its
anatomical demands, the young artist produced his masterpiece, the
Dying Hercules. (He first made a sculpture as a study for the
Dying Hercules, Morse's early masterpiece.
To some, the Dying
Hercules seemed to represent a political statement
against the British and also the American Federalists. The muscles
symbolized the strength of the young and vibrant United States versus
the British and British-American supporters. During Morse's time in
Britain, the Americans and British were engaged in the War of 1812.
Both societies were conflicted over loyalties. Anti-Federalist
Americans aligned themselves with the French, abhorred the British,
and believed a strong central government to be inherently dangerous to
As the war raged on, Morse's letters to his parents became more
anti-Federalist in tone. In one such letter, Morse wrote:
"I assert that the Federalists in the Northern States have done more
injury to their country by their violent opposition measures than a
French alliance could. Their proceedings are copied into the English
papers, read before Parliament, and circulated through their country,
and what do they say of them... they call them [Federalists] cowards,
a base set, say they are traitors to their country and ought to be
hanged like traitors."
Jonas Platt, New York politician, by Morse. Oil on canvas, 1828,
Jedidiah Morse did not change Samuel's political views, he
continued as an influence. Critics believe that the elder Morse's
Calvinist ideas are integral to Morse's Judgment of Jupiter, another
significant work completed in England. Jupiter is shown in a cloud,
accompanied by his eagle, with his hand spread above the parties and
he is pronouncing judgment. Marpessa, with an expression of
compunction and shame, is throwing herself into the arms of her
husband. Idas, who tenderly loved Marpessa, is eagerly rushing forward
to receive her while
Apollo stares with surprise.
Critics have suggested that Jupiter represents God's
omnipotence—watching every move that is made. Some call the portrait
a moral teaching by Morse on infidelity. Although
victim, she realized that her eternal salvation was important and
desisted from her wicked ways.
Apollo shows no remorse for what he did
but stands with a puzzled look. Many American paintings throughout the
early nineteenth century had religious themes, and Morse was an early
exemplar of this. Judgment of Jupiter allowed Morse to express his
support of Anti-Federalism while maintaining his strong spiritual
Benjamin West sought to present the Jupiter at another
Royal Academy exhibition, but Morse's time had run out. He left
England on August 21, 1815, to return to the United States and begin
his full-time career as a painter.
The decade 1815–1825 marked significant growth in Morse's work, as
he sought to capture the essence of America's culture and life. He
painted the Federalist former President
John Adams (1816). The
Federalists and Anti-Federalists clashed over Dartmouth College. Morse
painted portraits of Francis Brown—the college's president—and
Judge Woodward (1817), who was involved in bringing the Dartmouth case
before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Morse maintained a studio at 94 Tradd St., Charleston, South Carolina
for a short period.
Morse also sought commissions among the elite of Charleston, South
Carolina. Morse's 1818 painting of Mrs. Emma Quash symbolized the
opulence of Charleston. The young artist was doing well for himself.
Between 1819 and 1821, Morse went through great changes in his life,
including a decline in commissions due to the Panic of 1819. Unable to
stop the rift within Calvinism, his father was forced to resign from
his ministerial position, which he had held for three decades. The new
branch that formed was the Congregational Unitarians, Morse considered
them to be anti-Federalists, as their beliefs were related to
Samuel Morse respected his father's religious opinions, he
sympathized with the Unitarians. Among the converts to Unitarianism
were the prominent Pickerings of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, whom Morse
had painted. Some critics thought his sympathies represented his own
anti-Federalism. Morse was commissioned to paint President James
Monroe in 1820. He embodied Jeffersonian democracy by favoring the
common man over the aristocrat.
Morse had moved to New Haven. His commissions for the Hall of Congress
(1821) and a portrait of the
Marquis de Lafayette
Marquis de Lafayette (1825) engaged his
sense of democratic nationalism. The Hall of Congress was designed to
capitalize on the success of François-Marius Granet's The Capuchin
Chapel in Rome, which toured the United States extensively throughout
the 1820s, attracting audiences willing to pay the 25-cent admission
The Chapel of the Virgin at Subiaco, 1830
The artist chose to paint the House of Representatives, in a similar
way, with careful attention to architecture and dramatic lighting. He
also wished to select a uniquely American topic that would bring glory
to the young nation. His subject did just that, showing American
democracy in action. He traveled to
Washington D.C. to draw the
architecture of the new Capitol and placed eighty individuals within
the painting. He chose to portray a night scene, balancing the
architecture of the Rotunda with the figures, and using lamplight to
highlight the work. Pairs of people, those who stood alone,
individuals bent over their desks working, were each painted simply
but with faces of character. Morse chose nighttime to convey that
Congress' dedication to the principles of democracy transcended day.
The Hall of Congress failed to draw a crowd when exhibited in New York
City in 1821. By contrast, John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
had won popular acclaim the previous year. Viewers may have felt that
the architecture of The Hall of Congress overshadows the individuals,
making it hard to appreciate the drama of what was happening.
Morse was honored to paint the Marquis de Lafayette, the leading
French supporter of the American Revolution. He felt compelled to
paint a grand portrait of the man who helped to establish a free and
independent America. He features Lafayette against a magnificent
sunset. He has positioned Lafayette to the right of three pedestals:
one has a bust of Benjamin Franklin, another of George Washington, and
the third seems reserved for Lafayette. A peaceful woodland landscape
below him symbolized American tranquility and prosperity as it
approached the age of fifty. The developing friendship between Morse
and Lafayette and their discussions of the Revolutionary War affected
the artist after his return to New York City.
In 1826, he helped found the
National Academy of Design
National Academy of Design in New York
City. He served as the Academy's President from 1826 to 1845 and again
from 1861 to 1862.
From 1830 to 1832, Morse traveled and studied in
Europe to improve his
painting skills, visiting Italy, Switzerland, and France. During his
time in Paris, he developed a friendship with the writer James
Fennimore Cooper. As a project, he painted miniature copies of 38
of the Louvre's famous paintings on a single canvas (6 ft. x
9 ft), which he entitled The Gallery of the Louvre. He completed
the work upon his return to the United States.
On a subsequent visit to Paris in 1839, Morse met Louis Daguerre. He
became interested in the latter's daguerreotype—the first practical
means of photography. Morse wrote a letter to the New York Observer
describing the invention, which was published widely in the American
press and provided a broad awareness of the new technology.
Some of Morse's paintings and sculptures are on display at his Locust
Grove estate in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Captain Demaresque of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Princeton University
Portrait of John Adams
The Gallery of the
Portrait of James Monroe, 5th President of the United States (c. 1819)
Eli Whitney, inventor, 1822. Yale University Art Gallery
Chart of Colors, drawn to illustrate his palette of colors
Latham Avery (c. 1820), oil on canvas (attributed to Samuel F. B.
Subject: lived 1775–1845; husband of Betsey Wood Lester (m. 1816).
Mrs. Latham Avery (c. 1820), oil on canvas (attributed to Samuel F. B.
Subject: Betsey Wood Lester (1787-1837). IAP 8E110006
Samuel Morse telegraph
As noted, in 1825
New York City
New York City had commissioned Morse to paint a
portrait of Lafayette in Washington, DC. While Morse was painting, a
horse messenger delivered a letter from his father that read, "Your
dear wife is convalescent". The next day he received a letter from his
father detailing his wife's sudden death. Morse immediately left
Washington for his home at New Haven, leaving the portrait of
Lafayette unfinished. By the time he arrived, his wife had already
been buried. Heartbroken that for days he was unaware of his wife's
failing health and her death, he decided to explore a means of rapid
long distance communication.
While returning by ship from
Europe in 1832, Morse encountered Charles
Thomas Jackson of Boston, a man who was well schooled in
electromagnetism. Witnessing various experiments with Jackson's
electromagnet, Morse developed the concept of a single-wire telegraph.
He set aside his painting, The Gallery of the Louvre. The original
Morse telegraph, submitted with his patent application, is part of the
collections of the
National Museum of American History
National Museum of American History at the
Smithsonian Institution. In time the Morse code, which he
developed, would become the primary language of telegraphy in the
world. It is still the standard for rhythmic transmission of data.
Meanwhile, William Cooke and Professor
Charles Wheatstone had learned
of the Wilhelm Weber and
Carl Gauss electromagnetic telegraph in 1833.
They had reached the stage of launching a commercial telegraph prior
to Morse, despite starting later. In England, Cooke became fascinated
by electrical telegraphy in 1836, four years after Morse. Aided by his
greater financial resources, Cooke abandoned his primary subject of
anatomy and built a small electrical telegraph within three weeks.
Wheatstone also was experimenting with telegraphy and (most
importantly) understood that a single large battery would not carry a
telegraphic signal over long distances. He theorized that numerous
small batteries were far more successful and efficient in this task.
(Wheatstone was building on the primary research of Joseph Henry, an
American physicist). Cooke and Wheatstone formed a partnership and
patented the electrical telegraph in May 1837, and within a short time
had provided the
Great Western Railway
Great Western Railway with a 13-mile (21 km)
stretch of telegraph. However, within a few years, Cooke and
Wheatstone's multiple-wire signaling method would be overtaken by
Morse's cheaper method.
In an 1848 letter to a friend, Morse describes how vigorously he
fought to be called the sole inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph
despite the previous inventions.
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?
— S. Morse.
Leonard Gale, who helped Morse achieve the technological breakthrough
of getting the telegraphic signal to travel long distances over wire
Morse encountered the problem of getting a telegraphic signal to carry
over more than a few hundred yards of wire. His breakthrough came from
the insights of Professor Leonard Gale, who taught chemistry at New
York University (he was a personal friend of Joseph Henry). With
Gale's help, Morse introduced extra circuits or relays at frequent
intervals and was soon able to send a message through ten miles
(16 km) of wire. This was the great breakthrough he had been
seeking. Morse and Gale were soon joined by Alfred Vail, an
enthusiastic young man with excellent skills, insights, and money.
Speedwell Ironworks in
Morristown, New Jersey
Morristown, New Jersey on January 11,
1838, Morse and Vail made the first public demonstration of the
electric telegraph. Although Morse and
Alfred Vail had done most of
the research and development in the ironworks facilities, they chose a
nearby factory house as the demonstration site. Without the
repeater,[a] the range of the telegraph was limited to two miles
(3.2 km), and the inventors had pulled two miles (3.2 km) of
wires inside the factory house through an elaborate scheme. The first
public transmission, with the message, "A patient waiter is no loser",
was witnessed by a mostly local crowd.
Morse traveled to
Washington, D.C. in 1838 seeking federal sponsorship
for a telegraph line but was not successful. He went to Europe,
seeking both sponsorship and patents, but in
London discovered that
Cooke and Wheatstone had already established priority. After his
return to the US, Morse finally gained financial backing by Maine
congressman Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith.
Morse made his last trip to Washington, D.C., in December 1842,
stringing "wires between two committee rooms in the Capitol, and sent
messages back and forth" to demonstrate his telegraph system.
Congress appropriated $30,000 in 1843 for construction of an
experimental 38-mile (61 km) telegraph line between Washington,
Baltimore along the right-of-way of the
Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad. An impressive demonstration occurred on May 1, 1844,
when news of the Whig Party's nomination of
Henry Clay for U.S.
President was telegraphed from the party's convention in
the Capitol Building in Washington.
The first telegraph office
On May 24, 1844, the line was officially opened as Morse sent the
now-famous words, "What hath God wrought," from the Supreme Court
chamber in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington,
D.C., to the B&O's Mount Clare Station in Baltimore. Annie
Ellsworth chose these words from the
Bible (Numbers 23:23); her
Patent Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, had
championed Morse's invention and secured early funding for it. His
telegraph could transmit thirty characters per minute.
In May 1845, the Magnetic
Telegraph Company was formed in order to
build telegraph lines from
New York City
New York City toward Philadelphia; Boston;
Buffalo, New York; and the Mississippi. Telegraphic lines rapidly
spread throughout the United States in the next few years, with 12,000
miles of wire laid by 1850.
Morse at one time adopted Wheatstone and Carl August von Steinheil's
idea of broadcasting an electrical telegraph signal through a body of
water or down steel railroad tracks or anything conductive. He went to
great lengths to win a lawsuit for the right to be called "inventor of
the telegraph" and promoted himself as being an inventor. But Alfred
Vail also played an important role in the development of the Morse
code, which was based on earlier codes for the electromagnetic
Morse with his recorder, photograph taken by
Mathew Brady in 1857
Morse received a patent for the telegraph in 1847, at the old
Beylerbeyi Palace (the present
Beylerbeyi Palace was built in
1861–1865 on the same location) in Istanbul, which was issued by
Sultan Abdülmecid, who personally tested the new invention. He
was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences in 1849. The original patent went to the Breese side of
the family after the death of Samuel Morse.
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 Margrethe
II of Denmark.
The Morse telegraphic apparatus was officially adopted as the standard
for European telegraphy in 1851. Only the
United Kingdom (with its
extensive overseas empire) kept the needle telegraph of Cooke and
In 1858, Morse introduced wired communication to
Latin America when he
established a telegraph system in Puerto Rico, then a Spanish Colony.
Morse's oldest daughter, Susan Walker Morse (1819–1885), would often
visit her uncle Charles Pickering Walker, who owned the Hacienda
Concordia in the town of Guayama. During one of her visits, she met
Edward Lind, a Danish merchant who worked in his brother-in-law's
Hacienda La Henriqueta in the town of Arroyo. They later married.
Lind purchased the Hacienda from his sister when she became a widow.
Morse, who often spent his winters at the Hacienda with his daughter
and son-in-law, set a two-mile telegraph line connecting his
son-in-law's Hacienda to their house in Arroyo. The line was
inaugurated on March 1, 1859, in a ceremony flanked by the Spanish and
American flags. The first words transmitted by Samuel Morse
that day in
Puerto Rico were:
"Puerto Rico, beautiful jewel! When you are linked with the other
jewels of the Antilles in the necklace of the world's telegraph, yours
will not shine less brilliantly in the crown of your Queen!
There is an argument amongst historians that Morse may have received
the idea of a plausible telegraph from
Harrison Gray Dyar
Harrison Gray Dyar some
eighteen years earlier than his patent.[c]
Cover of Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States
by Samuel F.B. Morse, 1835 edition
Morse was a leader in the anti-Catholic and anti-immigration movement
of the mid-19th century. In 1836, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of
New York under the anti-immigrant Nativist Party's banner, receiving
only 1496 votes. When Morse visited Rome, he allegedly refused to
take his hat off in the presence of the Pope.
Morse worked to unite Protestants against Catholic institutions
(including schools), wanted to forbid Catholics from holding public
office, and promoted changing immigration laws to limit immigration
from Catholic countries. On this topic, he wrote, "We must first stop
the leak in the ship through which muddy waters from without threaten
to sink us."
He wrote numerous letters to the
New York Observer
New York Observer (his brother Sidney
was the editor at the time) urging people to fight the perceived
Catholic menace. These were widely reprinted in other newspapers.
Among other claims, he believed that the
Austrian government and
Catholic aid organizations were subsidizing Catholic immigration to
the United States in order to gain control of the country.
In his Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United
States, Morse wrote:
Surely American Protestants, freemen, have discernment enough to
discover beneath them the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy.
They will see that
Popery is now, what it has ever been, a system of
the darkest political intrigue and despotism, cloaking itself to avoid
attack under the sacred name of religion. They will be deeply
impressed with the truth, that
Popery is a political as well as a
religious system; that in this respect it differs totally from all
other sects, from all other forms of religion in the country.
In the 1850s, Morse became well known as a defender of slavery,
considering it to be sanctioned by God. This was a position held by
many Southerners and others. 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.
Morse married Lucretia Pickering Walker on September 29, 1818, in
Concord, New Hampshire. She died on February 7, 1825, shortly after
the birth of their third child (Susan b. 1819, Charles b. 1823, James
b. 1825). He married his second wife, Sarah Elizabeth Griswold on
August 10, 1848, in
Utica, New York
Utica, New York and had four children (Samuel b.
1849, Cornelia b. 1851, William b. 1853, Edward b. 1857).
Litigation over telegraph patent
In the United States, Morse held his telegraph patent for many years,
but it was both ignored and contested. In 1853, The
O'Reilly v. Morse
O'Reilly v. Morse came before the
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court where,
after very lengthy investigation, Chief Justice
Roger B. Taney
Roger B. Taney ruled
that Morse had been the first to combine the battery,
electromagnetism, the electromagnet, and the correct battery
configuration into a workable practical telegraph. However, in
spite of this clear ruling, Morse still received no official
recognition from the United States government.
The Supreme Court did not accept all of Morse's claims. The O'Reilly
v. Morse case has become widely known among patent lawyers because the
Supreme Court explicitly denied Morse's claim 8 for any and all
use of the electromagnetic force for purposes of transmitting
intelligible signals to any distance.
Morse's "repeater" circuit for telegraphy. Basis for Supreme Court's
holding some claims of Morse's patent valid.
The Supreme Court sustained, however, Morse's claim to such
telecommunication when effectuated by means of Morse's inventive
"repeater" apparatus. This was an electrical circuit in which a
cascade of many sets comprising a relay and a battery were connected
in series, so that when each relay closed, it closed a circuit to
cause the next battery to power the succeeding relay, as suggested in
the accompanying figure. This caused Morse's signal to pass along the
cascade without degrading into noise as its amplitude decreased with
the distance traveled. (Each time the amplitude of the signal
approaches the noise level, the repeater [in effect, a nonlinear
amplifier] boosts the signal amplitude well above the noise level.)
This use of "repeaters" permitted a message to be sent to great
distances, which was previously not feasible.
Effect of repeaters
The Supreme Court thus held that Morse could properly claim a patent
monopoly on the system or process of transmitting signals at any
distance by means of the repeater circuitry indicated above, but he
could not properly claim a monopoly over any and all uses of
electromagnetic force to transmit signals. The apparatus limitation in
the former type of claim limited the patent monopoly to what Morse
taught and gave the world. The lack of that limitation in the latter
type of claim (i.e., claim 8) both gave Morse more than was
commensurate with what he had contributed to society and discouraged
the inventive efforts of others who might come up with different
and/or better ways to send signals at a distance using the
The problem that Morse faced and how he solved it is discussed in
more detail in the article O'Reilly v. Morse. In summary, the
solution, as the Supreme Court stated, was the repeater apparatus
described in the preceding paragraphs.
The importance of this legal precedent in patent law cannot be
overstated, as it became the foundation of the law governing the
eligibility of computer program implemented inventions (as well as
inventions implementing natural laws) to be granted patents.
Portrait of Samuel F. B. Morse taken by Mathew Brady, in 1866. Medals
worn (from wearer's right to left, top row: Nichan Iftikhar (Ottoman);
Order of the Tower and Sword
Order of the Tower and Sword (Portugal); Order of the Dannebrog
(Denmark); Gold Medal of Art and Science (Württemberg); Legion of
Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus
Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italy). Bottom
Order of Isabella the Catholic
Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain)
Assisted by the American ambassador in Paris, the governments of
Europe were approached about their long neglect of Morse while their
countries were using his invention. There was a widespread recognition
that something must be done, and in 1858 Morse was awarded the sum of
400,000 French francs (equivalent to about $80,000 at the time) by the
governments of France, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Piedmont,
Russia, Sweden, Tuscany, and Turkey, each of which contributed a share
according to the number of Morse instruments in use in each
country. In 1858, he was also elected a foreign member of the
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Morse lent his support to Cyrus West Field's ambitious plan to
construct the first transoceanic telegraph line. Morse had
experimented with underwater telegraph circuits since 1842. He
invested $10,000 in Field's Atlantic
Telegraph Company, took a seat on
its board of directors, and was appointed honorary "Electrician".
In 1856, Morse traveled to
London to help
Charles Tilston Bright
Charles Tilston Bright and
Edward Whitehouse test a 2,000-mile-length of spooled cable.
After the first two cable-laying attempts failed, Field reorganized
the project, removing Morse from direct involvement. Though the
cable broke three times during the third attempt, it was successfully
repaired, and the first transatlantic telegraph messages were sent in
1858. The cable failed after just three months of use. Though Field
had to wait out the Civil War, the cable laid in 1866 proved more
durable, and the era of reliable transatlantic telegraph service had
In addition to the telegraph, Morse invented a marble-cutting machine
that could carve three-dimensional sculptures in marble or stone. He
could not patent it, however, because of an existing 1820 Thomas
Last years and death
Samuel Morse gave large sums to charity. He also became interested in
the relationship of science and religion and provided the funds to
establish a lectureship on "the relation of the
Bible to the
Sciences". Though he was rarely awarded any royalties for the
later uses and implementations of his inventions, he was able to live
He died in
New York City
New York City on April 2, 1872, and was interred at
Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. By the time of his death,
his estate was valued at some $500,000 ($10.2 million today).
Honors and awards
Statue of Samuel F. B. Morse by Byron M. Picket, New York's Central
Park, dedicated 1871
Morse was honored on the US Famous Americans Series postal issue of
Morse was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in
Despite honors and financial awards received from foreign countries,
there was no such recognition in the U.S. until he neared the end of
his life when on June 10, 1871, a bronze statue of
Samuel Morse was
unveiled in Central Park, New York City. An engraved portrait of Morse
appeared on the reverse side of the United States two-dollar bill
silver certificate series of 1896. He was depicted along with Robert
Fulton. An example can be seen on the website of the Federal Reserve
Bank of San Francisco's website in their "American Currency
A blue plaque was erected to commemorate him at 141 Cleveland Street,
London, where he lived from 1812 to 1815.
According to his The
New York Times
New York Times obituary published on April 3,
1872, Morse received respectively the decoration of the Atiq
Nishan-i-Iftikhar (English: Order of Glory) [first medal on wearer's
right depicted in photo of Morse with medals], set in diamonds, from
Sultan Abdülmecid of
Turkey (c.1847), a "golden snuff box
containing the Prussian gold medal for scientific merit" from the King
of Prussia (1851); the Great Gold Medal of Arts and Sciences from the
King of Württemberg (1852); and the Great Golden Medal of Science and
Arts from Emperor of
Austria (1855); a cross of Chevalier in the
Légion d'honneur from the Emperor of France; the Cross of a Knight of
Order of the Dannebrog
Order of the Dannebrog from the King of Denmark (1856); the Cross
of Knight Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, from the
Queen of Spain, besides being elected member of innumerable scientific
and art societies in this [United States] and other countries. Other
Order of the Tower and Sword
Order of the Tower and Sword from the kingdom of
Portugal (1860), and
Italy conferred on him the insignia of chevalier
Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus
Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus in 1864. Morse's telegraph
was recognized as an IEEE Milestone in 1988.
In 1975, Morse was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
On April 1, 2012, Google announced the release of "Gmail Tap", an
April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day joke that allowed users to use Morse Code to send
text from their mobile phones. Morse's great-great-grandnephew Reed
Morse—a Google engineer—was instrumental in the prank, which
became a real product.
Coat of Arms of Samuel Morse
Patent 1,647, Improvement in the mode of communicating information
by signals by the application of electro-magnetism, June 20, 1840
Patent 1,647 (Reissue #79), Improvement in the mode of
communicating information by signals by the application of
electro-magnetism, January 15, 1846
Patent 1,647 (Reissue #117), Improvement in electro-magnetic
telegraphs, June 13, 1848
Patent 3,316, Method of introducing wire into metallic pipes,
October 5, 1843
Patent 4,453, Improvement in Electro-magnetic telegraphs, April 11,
Patent 4,453 (Reissue #118), Improvement in Electro-magnetic
telegraphs, June 13, 1848
Patent 6,420, Improvement in electric telegraphs, May 1, 1849
^ Morse devised a system of electromagnetic relays. This was the key
innovation, as it freed the technology from being limited by distance
in sending messages.
^ "It was in the month of J, a century ago, that Franklin made his
celebrated experiment with the Electric Kite, by means of which he
demonstrated the identity of electricity and lightning".
Harrison Gray Dyar
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
^ Mabee 2004.
^ Bellion 2011, p. [page needed].
^ McCullough 2011, p. [page needed].
^ Natale, Simone (2012-11-01). "
Photography and Communication Media in
the Nineteenth Century". History of Photography. 36 (4): 451–456.
doi:10.1080/03087298.2012.680306. ISSN 0308-7298.
^ Morse 2006, Letter.
^ "The Collection at Locust Grove". Archived from the original on
2010-12-06. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
^ Lightning Man
^ Bellis 2009.
^ Bellis 2009a.
^ Standage 1998, pp. 28–29.
^ "Morse's Original Telegraph". National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
^ McEwen 1997.
^ Morse 2013.
^ Standage 1998, p. 40.
^ a b McCullough 2011, p. 80–88.
^ Standage 1998, p. 47.
^ a b Stover 1987, pp. 59–60.
^ Wilson 2003, p. 11.
^ Gleick 2011, p. 144.
^ Standage 1998, p. 54.
Istanbul City Guide: Beylerbeyi Palace". Archived from the original
on 10 October 2007.
^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter M" (PDF). American Academy of
Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
^ NYT staff 1852.
^ a b NY/ Rafael Merino Cortes, "Taking the PE Out of PRT", NY Latino
Journal, 20 July 2006 Archived 3 September 2009 at the Wayback
^ "150th. Anniversary of the Foundation of Arroyo, Puerto Rico".
Elboricua.com. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
^ "Welcome to Puerto Rico". Topuertorico.org. Retrieved
^ Swayne 1906, p. 241.
^ Jstor.org Billington, Ray A. "nti-Catholic Propaganda and the Home
Missionary Movement, 1800–1860", The Mississippi Valley Historical
Review, Vol. 22, No. 3, (December, 1935), pp. 361–384
^ Curran, Thomas J. International Migration Digest, Vol. 3, No. 1,
(Spring, 1966), pp. 15–25 Published by The Center for Migration
Studies of New York, Inc. Jstor.org
^ "''Foreign conspiracy against the liberties of the United States''
(1835)". Archive.org. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
^ Terry Golway (2007-02-09). "America The National Catholic Weekly
– Return of the Know-Nothings". Americamagazine.org. Retrieved
^ Morse, Samuel (1863), "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 (12) in Slavery Pamphlets # 60, Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript library, Yale University Quoted in Yale, Slavery,
& Abolition — an online report about Yale honorees and
their relation to slavery
^ Standage 1998, p. 172–173.
^ Morse's actual language in his claim 8 was: "Eighth. I do not
propose to limit myself to the specific machinery or parts of
machinery described in the foregoing specification and claims, the
essence of my invention being the use of the motive power of the
electric or galvanic current, which I call electro-magnetism, however
developed, for marking or printing intelligible characters, signs, or
letters, at any distances, being a new application of that power of
which I claim to be the first inventor or discoverer."
^ The Supreme Court said: "Professor Morse has not discovered that the
electric or galvanic current will always print at a distance, no
matter what may be the form of the machinery or mechanical
contrivances through which it passes. You may use electro-magnetism as
a motive power, and yet not produce the described effect, that is,
print at a distance intelligible marks or signs. To produce that
effect, it must be combined with, and passed through, and operate
upon, certain complicated and delicate machinery, adjusted and
arranged upon philosophical principles, and prepared by the highest
mechanical skill. And it is the high praise of Professor Morse, that
he has been able, by a new combination of known powers, of which
electro-magnetism is one, to discover a method by which intelligible
marks or signs may be printed at a distance. And for the method or
process thus discovered, he is entitled to a patent. But he has not
discovered that the electro-magnetic current, used as motive power, in
any other method, and with any other combination, will do as well."
^ See O'Reilly v. Morse, 56 U.S. 62, 113, 120 (1853).
^ The Supreme Court said, "The great difficulty in their way was the
fact that the galvanic current, however strong in the beginning,
became gradually weaker as it advanced on the wire; and was not strong
enough to produce a mechanical effect, after a certain distance had
been traversed." 56 U.S. at 107.
^ See, for example, Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd v CLS Bank
International, 573 U.S. __, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014); Mayo Collaborative
Services v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 566 U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 1289
(2012); Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593, 130 S. Ct. 3218 (2010);
Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63 (1972) – all building on the Morse
case as the seminal case in the field.
^ Standage 1998, p. 174.
^ Carter 1968, p. 104.
^ Carter 1968, p. 123.
^ Carter 1968, p. 149.
^ Standage 1998, p. 189.
^ Invent Now staff 2007.
^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project.
"Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of
Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
^ "MemberListM". American Antiquarian Society.
^ "American Currency Exhibit: Silver Certificate, $2, 1896".
Frbsf.org. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
^ According to Turkish PTT e-telegraph page history section Archived
2009-09-11 at the Wayback Machine., the Ottoman ruler was the first
head of state to award a medal to Morse and it was issued after the
demonstration in Istanbul.
^ "Milestones:Demonstration of Practical Telegraphy, 1838". IEEE
Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
^ Introducing Gmail Tap. Mail.google.com. Retrieved on 2013-10-06.
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Inventor profile: Samuel F. B.
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McCullough, David (September 2011), "Reversal of Fortune",
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Invent the Code as We Know it Today?, The
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Morse, Samuel
Finley Breese". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge
Reinhardt, Joachim, Samuel F. B. Morse (1791–1872), Congo, 1988.
Mabee, Carleton, The American Leonardo: A Life of Samuel F. B. Morse,
(1943, reissued 1969); William Kloss, Samuel F. B. Morse (1988); Paul
J. Staiti, Samuel F. B. Morse (1989) (Knopf, 1944) (Pulitzer Prize
winner for biography for 1944).
Samuel F. B. Morse, Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the
United States: The Numbers Under the Signature (Harvard University
Press 1835, 1855)
Kenneth Silverman, Lightning Man – The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B.
Morse (De Capo Press 2004)
Paul J. Staiti, Samuel F. 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.
Samuel I. Prime, Life of S. F. B. Morse (New York, 1875)
E. L. Morse (editor), his son, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, his Letters
and Journals (two volumes, Boston, 1914)
Iles, George (1912). "Leading American Inventors". New York: Henry
Holt and Company: 119–157
Andrew Wheen, DOT-DASH TO DOT.COM: How Modern Telecommunications
Evolved from the
Telegraph to the
Internet (Springer, 2011) pp. 3–29
James D. Reid, The
Telegraph in America: Its Founders, Promoters and
Noted Men New York: Arno Press, 1974.
Robert Luther Thompson, Wiring A Continent, The History of the
Telegraph Industry in the United States 1832–186 Princeton
University Press, 1947.
Vail, J. Cummings (1914). Early History of the Electro-Magnetic
Telegraph, from Letters and Journals of Alfred Vail: Arranged by his
Son, J. Cummings Vail. New York: Hine Brothers.
Wolfe, Richard J. / Patterson, Richard (2007). Charles Thomas Jackson
– "Head Behind The Hands" – Applying Science to Implement
Invention in Early Nineteenth Century America. Novato,
California: Historyofscience.com. CS1 maint: Multiple names:
authors list (link)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Samuel Finley Breese Morse.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Morse, Samuel Finley Breese
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Samuel F. B. Morse
Art and the empire city: New York, 1825–1861, an exhibition catalog
from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF),
which contains material on Morse (see index)
Samuel Morse at Find a Grave
Speech of Morse given at the National Academy of Design, 1840,
regarding the daguerreotype
Reminiscence by Morse regarding the early days of the daguerreotype
Samuel Finley Brown Morse Papers, 1911–1969 (call number JL016; 42.5
linear ft.) are housed in the Department of
Special Collections and
University Archives at Stanford University Libraries
Booknotes interview with
Kenneth Silverman on Lightning Man: The
Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse, February 22, 2004.
Locust Grove (official site)
Works by Samuel Finley Breese Morse at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Samuel Morse at
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