[Elizabeth, Samuel, Sidney]
Samuel Finley Breese Morse
(23 May 1737, NYC)
(16 Apr 1800, NYC)
+ Lucretia Walker 7 Jan 1768
(14 Nov 1745)
(27 Jan 1767, NY)
Susan Walker Morse
[married Edward Lind]
Charles Walker Morse
Samuel Finley Breese Morse, Jr.
[illness stopped mental development at age 8]
+ Sarah Elizabeth Griswold 9 Aug 1848
(25 Dec 1822, Sault Ste Marie MI)
(14 Nov 1901, Berlin, GER)
Samuel Arthur Breese Morse
[died unmarried at age 27]
[married Franz Rummel, Jr.]
William Goodrich Morse
[married Catherine Augusta (Kate) Crabbe]
Edward Lind Morse
[married Charlotte Dunning Wood]
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The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans]
MORSE, Samuel Finley Breeze, inventor, was born in Charlestown, Mass., April 27, 1791; son of the Rev.
Jedediah and Elizabeth Ann (Breese) Morse; grandson of Dea. Jedediah and Sarah (Child) Morse of Woodstock,
Conn., and of Samuel and Rebecca (Finley) Breese; great-grandson of John and Sarah Morse, of Benjamin and
Patience (Thayer) Child, and of the Rev. Samuel and Sarah (Hill) Finley; great2grandson of Benjamin and Grace
(Morris) Child, and a descendant of John Morse, who came from Marlborough, England, in 1635, and, settled in
He attended the public schools of Charlestown and was graduated from Yale, A.B., 1810, A.M.,
1816. While in college he attended Professor Silliman's lectures on electricity and became especially interested in
natural philosophy, chemistry and galvanism. He decided to become an artist, and in 1811
Washington Allston to London, where he studied [p.482] painting under Allston, West and Copley.
In 1813 he
exhibited a colossal painting of the "Dying Hercules" at the Royal academy, where it received honorable mention,
and the same year presented a model in clay of the same subject to the Society of Arts in competition, and received
the prize medal for the best original cast of a single figure. In July, 1814, he completed a painting of "The
Judgment of Jupiter in the Case of Apollo, Marpesa and Idas," and sent it to the Royal Academy for exhibition. He
returned to America in 1815, and his picture was rejected on account of his absence.
He engaged in portrait
painting in Boston, Mass., and in Charleston, S.C. He was married, Oct. 6, 1818, to Lucretia, daughter of Charles
Walker of Concord, N.H., by whom he had children, Charles Walker, Susan and James Edward Finley.
In 1819 he
painted a portrait of James Monroe at Washington, D.C., which was placed in the City Hall at Charleston. He
removed to New York city and established a studio on Broadway, opposite Trinity church, where he painted
portraits of Chancellor Kent, Fitz Greene Halleck and a full length portrait of General Lafayette for the city of New
York. He founded the New York Drawing association and was elected its first president; was the first president of
the newly established National Academy of Design, 1826-42; was president of the Sketch club, and delivered a
course of lectures on "The Fine Arts" before the New York Athenæum.
In 1829 he traveled and studied in London,
Paris and Italy. While in Paris he produced a canvas on which he depicted in miniature fifty of the finest pictures in
the Louvre. He returned to the United States in 1832, on the packet-ship Sully, and on the voyage the subject of
electromagnetism and the affinity of magnetism to electricity became a frequent topic of discussion, several of the
passengers being well versed in science. Mr. Morse became impressed with the idea that signs, representing figures
and letters, might he transmitted to any distance by means of an electric spark over an insulated wire, and on his
arrival in New York city, making use of the electromagnet invented by Prof. Joseph Henry (q.v.) of Princeton, N.J.,
he began to develop the use of his proposed alphabet. He devised a system of dots and spaces to represent letters
and words, to he interpreted by a telegraphic dictionary.
He was professor of the literature of the arts of design in
the University of the City of New York, 1832-72, and it was in the University building on Washington square that
he completed his experiments, with the help and advice of Professor Henry, with whom he was in correspondence.
The models were made of a picture frame, fastened to a table; the wheels of a wooden clock moved by a weight
carried the paper forward; three wooden drums guided and held the paper in place; a wooden pendulum containing
a pencil at its power end was suspended from the top of the frame and vibrated across the paper as it passed over
the center wooden drum. An electro-magnet was fastened to a shelf across the frame opposite an armature made
fast to the pendulum; a type rule and type for breaking the circuit rested on an endless bank which passed over two
wooden rollers moved by a crank, this rule being carried forward by teeth projecting from its lower edge into the
band; a lever with a small weight attached, and a tooth projecting downward at one end was operated on by the
type, and a metallic form projected downward over two mercury cups. A short circuit of wire embraced the helices of
the electro-magnet and connected with the poles of the battery, and terminated in the mercury cups. By turning the
wooden crank the type in the rule raised one end of the lever and by bringing the fork into the mercury it closed the
circuit causing the pendulum to move and the pencil to mark upon the paper. The circuit was broken when the
tooth in the lever fell into the first two cogs of the types, and the pendulum swinging back made another mark. As
the spaces between the types caused the pencil to make horizontal lines long or short, Mr. Morse was able, with the
aid of his telegraphic dictionary, to spell out words and to produce sounds that could he read.
The perfected idea was
heartily endorsed by those to whom he exhibited it, and after many improvements in the details he published the
results of his experiments in the New York Observer, April 15, 1837. In the summer of 1837 Alfred Vail (q.v.)
became interested in the instrument and advanced the means to enable Morse to manufacture a more perfectly
constructed apparatus. In September, 1837, Horse filed an application for a patent and endeavored to obtain from
congress the right to experiment between Washington and Baltimore. He went to Europe to obtain aid, but did not
meet with success. He returned to the United States in May, 1839, and it was not until March 3, 1843, just before
the close of the session that he obtained from the 47th congress an appropriation of $30,000 for experimental
purposes, the first vote standing 90 ayes to 82 nays.
He at once began work on his line from Washington to
Baltimore, which was partially completed May 1, 1844, and the first message transmitted a part of the way by wire
was the announcement of the nomination of Henry Clay for President by the Whig convention at Baltimore,
By May 24 the line was practically completed, and the first public exhibition was given in the chamber of the
U.S. supreme court in the capitol at Washington, his associate, Mr. Vail, being at Mount Claire depot, Baltimore,
Md. Anna G. Ellsworth, daughter of the U.S. commissioner of patents, selected the words, "What God hath
wrought," and the message was transmitted to Mr. Vail and returned over the same wire. The news of the
nomination of James K. Polk for President was sent to Washington wholly by wire, and the news was discredited in
Washington until the nomination of Silas Wright for Vice-President was received and communicated by Mr. Morse
to Senator Wright, who directed Mr. Morse to wire his positive declination of the nomination, the receipt of which so
surprised the convention that it adjourned to await a messenger from Washington.
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A company was formed soon
after, and the telegraph grew with great rapidity. In 1846 the patent was extended and was adopted in France,
Germany, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and Australia. The defense of his patent-rights involved Professor Morse in a
series of costly suits, and his profits were consumed by prosecuting rival companies, but his rights were finally
affirmed by the U.S. supreme court. Morse now turned his attention to submarine telegraphy, and in 1842 laid a
cable between Castle Garden and Governor's Island, N.Y. harbor. He gave valuable assistance to Peter Cooper and
Cyrus W. Field in their efforts to lay a cable across the Atlantic ocean, being electrician to the New York,
Newfoundland and London Telegraph company.
He was an intimate friend of Jacques Haudé Daguerre, the
inventor of the daguerreotype, whom he had met in Paris in 1839, and on his return to the United States
constructed an apparatus and succeeded, in connection with Dr. John W. Draper, in producing the first sun pictures
ever made in the United States. Morse also patented a marble-cutting machine in 1823, which he claimed would
produce perfect copies of any model.
He was married, secondly, Aug. 10, 1848, to Sarah Elizabeth, daughter of
Capt. Samuel Griswold, U.S.A., and by her had children: Samuel Arthur Breese, Cornelia Livingston, William
Goodrich and Edward Lind. Mrs. Morse died at the home of her daughter in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 14, 1901. After
this marriage Professor Morse made his home at "Locust Grove," on the Hudson river, below Poughkeepsie, N.Y.,
retaining his winter residence on Twenty-second street, New York city, and on the street front of this house a
marble tablet has been inserted, inscribed: "In this house S.F.B. Morse lived for many years and died."
honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by Yale college in 1846, and he received a great silver medal from
the Academic Industrie, Paris, in 1839, and decorations from Turkey, France, Denmark, Prussia, Würtemberg,
Spain, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Italy and Switzerland. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Fine
Arts of Belgium in 1837; corresponding member of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science in 1841; a
member of the Archaeological Association of Belgium in 1845, the American Philosophical society in 1848, and the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1849. In 1856 a banquet was given him by the telegraph companies of
Great Britain and in 1858 representatives of France, Austria, Sweden, Russia, Sardinia, Turkey, Holland, Italy,
Tuscany and the Netherlands met at Paris and voted an appropriation of 400,000 francs to he used for a collective
testimonial to Mr. Morse.
A banquet was held in his honor in New York city on Dec. 30, 1868, Chief-Justice Salmon
P. Chase presiding. A bronze statue of heroic size, representing him holding the first message sent over the wires,
was modelled by Byron M. Pickett, and was erected in Central Park, New York city, by voluntary subscriptions
June 10, 1871. The evening of the same day a reception was held at the Academy of Music, a telegraph instrument
was connected with all the wires in the United States and the following message was sent: "Greeting and thanks of
the telegraph fraternity throughout the land. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men." to
this message Morse transmitted his name with his own hand on the instrument.
On Jan. 17, 1872, Professor Morse
unveiled the statue of Benjamin Franklin in Printing House square, New York city. In the selection of names for
places in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, New York university in October, 1900, his was one of the sixteen
names submitted in "Class D, Inventors," and was one of three in the class to secure a place, receiving 80 votes,
while 85 votes were given to Robert Fulton, and to Eli Whitney.
Mr. Morse published several poems and various
scientific and economic articles in the North American Review, edited the "Remains of Lucretia Maria Davidson"
(1829), and is the author of: Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States (1835); Imminent
Dangers to the Free Institutions of the United States through Foreign Immigration and the Present State of the
Naturalization Laws, By an American (1835); Confessions of a French Catholic Priest (1857), and Our Liberties
Defended, the Question Discussed: Is the Protestant or Papal System most Favorable to Civil and Religious Liberty?
His death was observed by congress, and in several state legislatures memorial sessions were held in
his honor. He died in New York city, April 2, 1872.