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Charlestown, Boston
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Charlestown, Boston

Samuel Morse was a painter and inventor from the United States of America who invented the single-wire telegraph system. Morse began his career as a painter, specializing in portraiture. He quickly established a reputation in the field of painting by painting portraits of notable figures such as former US Presidents John Adams and James Monroe, as well as the French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette. Though Morse had always been fascinated by electromagnetism, it was the unexpected death of his wife that spurred him to develop a device capable of long-distance communication. After years of effort, he developed the single-wire telegraph system, which revolutionized the way people sent and received messages throughout the world. He collaborated on the development of Morse Code, a method for transmitting textual information via a series of off tones. Surprisingly, Morse Code is still used in some parts of the world for radio communications.

Childhood & Adolescence

Samuel Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on April 27, 1791, to Jedidiah Morse and Elizabeth Ann Finley Breese.

Morse received his early education at Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then enrolled at Yale University to study religious philosophy, mathematics, and horse science.

He attended lectures on electricity while a student at Yale. To earn a living, he turned to painting. In 1810, he earned a Phi Beta Kappa degree from Yale.

Among his early works is ‘Landing of the Pilgrims,’ which attracted Washington Allston’s attention. He encouraged Morse to relocate to England after being impressed by his work of art.

Career of Samuel

Morse refined his artwork in England. He honed his painting technique to the point where he was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1811.

Inspire by the works of Renaissance artists Michelangelo and Raphael, he created his masterpiece, ‘Dying Hercules,’ which revealed his political stance against British and American Federalists.

He left England for the United States on August 21, 1815. He was commissioned to paint portraits of former Presidents John Adams and James Monroe in the United States. Additionally, he painted portraits of a number of prominent merchants and political figures.

He relocated to New Haven, where he created a series of allegorical works depicting the inner workings of the United States government. Although the paintings were not well-received, they were eventually hung in the Hall of Congress.

After his historical canvas failed to make an impression, he returned to portraiture. He was commissioned to paint a portrait of Marquis de Lafayette, a prominent French supporter of the American Revolution who contributed to the establishment of a free and independent America.

While he was painting Lafayette’s portrait in Washington, DC in 1825, a horse messenger delivered a letter from his father informing him of his wife’s ill health.

The following day, he received another letter informing him of his wife’s untimely demise. Dejected, he traveled to New Haven, where his wife had already been buried.

Morse’s wife’s deteriorating health and subsequent death left a lasting impression on his mind, and he resolved to bridge the long-distance divide by inventing a device capable of long-distance communication.

In 1832, while returning to the United States by ship from Europe, he met Charles Thomas Jackson, an American scientist and electromagnetism expert.

Jackson explained some of the properties of electromagnetism to Morse, and Morse came up with the concept of a single-wire electric telegraph for long-distance communication.

Morse abandoned painting and devoted himself entirely to electromagnetism. In 1835, he invented the telegraph and filed a patent application with the US Patent Office. Morse struggled to transmit a telegraphic signal over more than a few hundred yards of wire.

Morse’s struggle came to an end when he received assistance from Leonard Gale, a professor at New York University. Gale added additional circuits at frequent intervals, which aided in the successful transmission of messages over ten miles. Morse and Gale were later joined by Alfred Vail, who provided financial support and mechanical expertise.

On January 11, 1838, in Morristown, New Jersey, he and his partners gave the first public demonstration of the electric telegraph. ‘A patient waiter is not a loser’ was the first public transmission message.

Morse relocated to Washington DC in an attempt to secure federal funding to develop the telegraph line into a viable technology, but he met with little success. Morse finally found financial support after much wandering.

He began construction of an experimental telegraph line between Washington DC and Baltimore with a grant of approximately $30,000.

The line officially opened on May 24, 1844, when the first message, ‘What hath God wrought,’ was sent from the basement of the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC, to the B&O’s Mount Clare Station in Baltimore.

In 1845, following the telegraph’s inaugural session, the Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed. It omitted new telegraph lines connecting New York City to Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, New York, and Mississippi.

Morse finally received a patent for his telegraph in 1847. He was elected an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences two years later. In 1851, his telegraphic line was adopted as the European telegraphy standard.

Despite the fact that Morse obtained patents and established telegraphic lines throughout the world, he was never recognized as the sole inventor of the telegraph. As a result, he was not compensated with the proper royalties.

He appealed to the Supreme Court, which rejected any argument that ignored or contested Morse’s patent for telegraphy. Morse’s device, it stated, was the first to employ a single-circuit, battery-powered machine.

Following the Supreme Court decision, the US and European governments finally accorded Morse his due credit and recognition.

Morse was compensated by the governments of France, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Piedmont, Russia, Sweden, Tuscany, and Turkey in 1858. He was also elected as a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in the same year.

He lent his support and even invested $10,000 in Cyrus West Field’s plans to establish a transoceanic telegraph line. Morse retired from public life in an ostentatious manner after the first transatlantic telegraph message was sent in 1858.

A day-long celebration that included the unveiling of his statue in Central Park, New York, was followed by a grand finale at the New York Academy of Music, where he delivered his final official message.

Throughout the final months of his life, he engaged in numerous philanthropic endeavors, donating substantial sums to charitable institutions. He developed an interest in the interaction of science and religion.

Significant Works of Samuel

Morse was a renowned painter before he made his mark in the field of electromagnetism. He was a master of his craft, skillfully transferring his bold subjects to canvas in a technical manner but with a touch of Romanticism.

He developed an interest in portraiture and spent the majority of his early career painting portraits of prominent figures.

Morse is credited with inventing the single-wire telegraph, which paved the way for long-distance communication. He and his partners co-developed the Morse Code, paving the way for the telegraph to become a viable commercial device.

Awards and Accomplishments

Recognizing his contributions to science, several countries’ leaders bestowed upon him notable honors. Sultan Ahmad I ibn Mustafa of Turkey invested him with the Order of Glory, Emperor of Austria bestowed upon him the Great Golden Medal of Science and Arts, and Emperor of France bestowed upon him the Chevalier in the Légion d’honneur cross.

While the King of Denmark bestowed the Cross of a Knight of the Dannebrog upon him, the Queen of Spain bestowed the Cross of Knight Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic upon him.

Other notable awards include the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword and the Italian Chevalier of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.

The United States government did not recognize him until the final years of his life. He lived to see a statue of himself unveiled in Central Park, New York. In 1896, his portrait was engraved posthumously on the United States two-dollar bill silver certificate series.

Personal History and Legacies

Morse was twice married. On September 29, 1818, he married Lucretia Pickering Walker. Susan, Charles, and James were born as a result of the marriage. On February 7, 1825, Lucretia died.

On August 10, 1848, Morse married Sarah Elizabeth Griswold. Samuel, Cornelia, William, and Edward were the couple’s four children.

Morse died in New York City on April 2, 1872. He was laid to rest in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

Estimated Net Worth

Samuel is one of the wealthiest inventors and is listed on the list of the most popular inventors. Samuel Morse’s net worth is estimated to be around $2 million, based on our analysis of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.