Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born on April 27, 1791 in Charlestown, right outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Jedidiah Morse, a pastor who was famous for his geography, and his wife Elizabeth Ann Breese. Samuel Morse attended Yale College and was an indifferent student but was aroused by lectures on the topic of electricity. He also became interested in painting miniature portraits. Morse was in a position to be married after opening a studio in South Carolina.
On October 1, 1818, he was united to Lucretia P. Walker, of Concord, New Hampshire, a beautiful and accomplished lady. After college, Morse became more enthusiastic about painting and studied it in England.
He settled down in New York City in 1825 and became a very respected painter of his time. He was very sociable and ardent in conservative politics. Morse was a founder and the first president of the National Academy of Design. He was a natural leader but lost in his campaigns to become the mayor of New York or a Congressman. In 1832, Morse overheard a conversation about the newly discovered electromagnet. This gave him the idea of creating an electric telegraph. He built his first working model in 1835 at the New York University. He was poor and used crude materials to build it such as a homemade battery and a clockwork to move the piece of paper on which the message was written.
In 1837, Morse gained two partners to help him develop the telegraph. One was Leonard Gale who was a professor of science at New York University. He advised him on many things such as how to increase voltage by increasing the number of turns around the electromagnet. The other was Alfred Vail, a young man who volunteered his mechanical skills and his family's New Jersey iron works to help construct better models of the telegraph. With the help of his partners, Morse applied for a patent for his new telegraph. He described it to include a dot and dash code which represented numbers, a dictionary to translate the numbers into words, and a set of sawtooth type for sending signals. Morse was giving nearly all of his time to the new telegraph.
At an exhibition of his telegraph in New York in 1838, Morse was able to transmit ten words per minute. He had gotten rid of the number to word dictionary. He instead used the dot-dash code directly for letters. Though changes were made later, the Morse code that we know throughout the world had essentially come into being.
During the next couple of years, Morse exhibited his telegraph before businessmen and committees of Congress hoping to find the funds to give his telegraph a large-scale test. He met with much skepticism that a message could be sent from city to city over a wire. In 1843, Morse finally obtained funds from Congress to construct the first telegraph line in the U. S. from Baltimore to Washington D.C.
By May 1844, the first inter-city electromagnetic telegraph line in the world was ready. From the Capitol building in Washington, Morse sent a Biblical quotation as the first formal message on the line to Baltimore, a message to reveal his own wonderment that God had chosen him to show the use of electricity to man: "What Hath God Wrought!" After a long wait of skepticism from Americans, Morse quickly became a hero to them. By 1846 private companies had built telegraph lines from Washington reaching to Boston and Buffalo and were still going.
In 1847, Morse made enough money from the telegraph to bring his family together in an ample country home of his own. He bought a house with one hundred acres of land just outside of Poughkeepsie and named it Locust Grove.
In 1848, Morse was married a second time to a poor cousin who was 26 years old and considerably deaf and dumb. Morse explained that he chose her because she would be dependent on him. Morse's family grew with several more children. He later rebuilt the Locust Grove house in an Italian villa style.
In his later
years, Morse gained recognition at home and abroad. Morse was now a
wealthy man and was generous in giving funds to colleges, including Yale
and Vassar, benevolent societies and to poor artists. Samuel Morse died in
New York City on April 2, 1872, at the age of 81.
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