You are here:

FREE Newsletter

Timeline: Biography of Samuel Morse 1791 - 1872
Years: 1791-1839
Telegraph Main Page
History of the Telegraph
Years: 1840-1872
~ Mary Bellis

Black = General biographical facts 
Red = Scientific achievements by others 
Blue = Telegraph and invention events for Samuel Morse

1791 - On April 17, Samuel Finley Breese Morse is born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the first child of Jedidiah Morse, a Congregational minister and geographer, and Elizabeth Ann Finley Breese.

1799 - Samuel Morse enters Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.

1800 - Alessandro Volta of Italy creates the "voltaic pile," a battery that produces a reliable, steady current of electricity.

1805 - Samuel Morse enters Yale College at age fourteen. He hears lectures on electricity from Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day. While at Yale, he earns money by painting small portraits of friends, classmates, and teachers. A profile goes for one dollar; and a miniature portrait on ivory sells for five dollars.

1810 - Samuel Morse graduates from Yale College and returns to Charlestown, Massachusetts. Despite his wishes to be a painter and encouragement from the famed American painter Washington Allston, Morse's parents plan for him to be a bookseller's apprentice. He becomes a clerk for Daniel Mallory, his father's Boston book publisher.

1811 - In July, Morse's parents relent and let him set sail for England with Washington Allston. He attends the Royal Academy of Arts in London and receives instruction from the famed Pennsylvania-born painter Benjamin West. In December, Morse rooms with Charles Leslie of Philadelphia, who is also studying painting. They become friends with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. While in England, Morse also befriends the American painter Charles Bird King, the American actor John Howard Payne, and the English painter Benjamin Robert Haydon.

Sketch by Samuel Morse

1812 - Samuel Morse models a plaster statuette of The Dying Hercules, which wins a gold medal at the Adelphi Society of Arts exhibition in London. His subsequent 6' x 8' painting of The Dying Hercules is exhibited at the Royal Academy and receives critical acclaim.

1815 - In October, Samuel Morse returns to the United States and Morse opens an art studio in Boston.

1816 - In search of portrait commissions to support himself, Morse travels to New Hampshire. In Concord, he meets Lucretia Pickering Walker, aged sixteen, and they are soon engaged to be married.

1817 - While in Charlestown, Morse and his brother Sidney patent a flexible-piston man-powered water pump for fire engines. They demonstrate it successfully, but it is a commercial failure. Morse spends part of the year painting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

1818 - On September 29, Lucretia Pickering Walker and Morse are married in Concord, New Hampshire. Morse spends the winter in Charleston, South Carolina, where he receives many portrait commissions. This is the first of four annual trips to Charleston.

1819 - On September 2, Morse's first child, Susan Walker Morse, is born. The city of Charleston commissions Morse to paint a portrait of President James Monroe.

1820 - The Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted discovers that electric current in a wire generates a magnetic field that can deflect a compass needle. This property will eventually be used in the design of some electromagnetic telegraph systems.

1821 - While living with his family in New Haven, Morse paints such distinguished individuals as Eli Whitney, Yale president Jeremiah Day, and his neighbor Noah Webster. He also paints in Charleston and Washington, D.C.

1822 - Samuel Morse invents a marble-cutting machine that can carve three dimensional sculpture in marble or stone. He discovers that it is not patentable because it infringes on an 1820 design by Thomas Blanchard. Morse finishes an eighteen-month project to paint The House of Representatives, an oversize scene of the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. It contains more than eighty portraits of members of Congress and justices of the Supreme Court, but loses money during its public exhibition.

1823 - On March 17, a second child, Charles Walker Morse, is born. Morse opens an art studio in New York City.

1825 - The Marquis de Lafayette makes his last visit to the United States. The City of New York commissions Morse to paint a portrait of Lafayette for $1,000. On January 7, a third child, James Edward Finley Morse, is born. On February 7, Morse's wife, Lucretia, dies suddenly at age twenty-five. By the time he is notified and returns home to New Haven, she has already been buried. In November, artists in New York City form a drawing cooperative, the New York Drawing Association, and elect Morse president. It is run by and for artists, and its goals include art instruction. William Sturgeon invents the electromagnet, which will be a key component of the telegraph.

1826 - January in New York, Samuel Morse becomes a founder and first president of the National Academy of Design, which has been established in reaction to the conservative American Academy of Fine Arts. Morse is president on and off for nineteen years. On June 9, his father, Jedidiah Morse, dies.

1827 - Morse helps launch the New York Journal of Commerce and publishes Academics of Art. Professor James Freeman Dana of Columbia College gives a series of lectures on electricity and electromagnetism at the New York Athenaeum, where Morse also lectures. Through their friendship, Morse becomes more familiar with the properties of electricity.

1828 - His mother, Elizabeth Ann Finley Breese Morse, dies.

1829 - In November, leaving his children in the care of other family members, Morse sets sail for Europe. He visits Lafayette in Paris and paints in the Vatican galleries in Rome. During the next three years, he visits numerous art collections to study the work of the Old Masters and other painters. He also paints landscapes. Morse spends much time with his novelist friend James Fenimore Cooper.

1831 - The American scientist Joseph Henry announces his discovery of a powerful electromagnet made from many layers of insulated wire. Demonstrating how such a magnet can send electric signals over long distances, he suggests the possibility of the telegraph.

1832 - During his voyage home to New York on the Sully, Morse first conceives the idea of the electromagnetic telegraph during his conversations with another passenger, Dr. Charles T. Jackson of Boston. Jackson describes to him European experiments with electromagnetism. Inspired, Morse writes ideas for a prototype of an electromagnetic recording telegraph and dot-and-dash code system in his sketchbook. Morse is appointed professor of painting and sculpture at the University of the City of New York (now New York University) and works on developing the telegraph.

1833 - Morse completes work on the 6' x 9' painting Gallery of the Louvre. The canvas contains forty-one Old Masters paintings in miniature. The painting loses money during its public exhibition.

1835 - Morse is appointed professor of Literature of the Arts and Design at the University of the City of New York (now New York University). Morse publishes Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States (New York: Leavitt, Lord & Co.), which had been published serially in his brothers' weekly periodical, New York Observer. It is a treatise against the political influence of Catholicism. In Autumn, Morse constructs a recording telegraph with a moving paper ribbon and demonstrates it to several friends and acquaintances.

1836 - In January, Morse demonstrates his recording telegraph to Dr. Leonard Gale, a professor of science at New York University. In the spring, Morse runs unsuccessfully for mayor of New York for a nativist (anti-immigration) party. He receives 1,496 votes.

1837 - In the spring, Morse shows Dr. Gale his plans for "relays," where one electric circuit is used to open and close a switch on another electric circuit further away. For his assistance, the science professor becomes part owner of the telegraph rights. By November, a message can be sent through ten miles of wire arranged on reels in Dr. Gale's university lecture room. In September, Alfred Vail, an acquaintance of Morse, witnesses a demonstration of the telegraph. He is soon taken on as a partner with Morse and Gale because of his financial resources, mechanical skills, and access to his family's iron works for building telegraph models. Dr. Charles T. Jackson, Morse's acquaintance from the 1832 Sully voyage, now claims to be the inventor of the telegraph. Morse obtains statements from those present on the ship at the time, and they credit Morse with the invention. This is the first of many legal battles Morse will face. On September 28, Morse files a caveat for a patent for the telegraph. After completing his last paintings in December, Morse withdraws from painting to devote his attention to the telegraph. The Englishmen William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patent their own five-needle telegraph system. The system was inspired by a Russian design of an experimental galvanometer telegraph.

1838 - In January, Morse changes from using a telegraphic dictionary, where words are represented by number codes, to using a code for each letter. This eliminates the need to encode and decode each word to be transmitted. On January 24, Morse demonstrates the telegraph to his friends in his university studio. On February 8, Morse demonstrates the telegraph before a scientific committee at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. He later exhibits the telegraph before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Commerce, chaired by Representative F. O. J. Smith of Maine.  On February 21, Morse demonstrates the telegraph to President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet. In March, Congressman Smith becomes a partner in the telegraph, along with Morse, Alfred Vail, and Leonard Gale. On April 6, Smith sponsors a bill in Congress to appropriate $30,000 to build a fifty-mile telegraph line, but the bill is not acted upon. Smith conceals his part-interest in the telegraph and serves out his full term of office. In May, Morse travels to Europe in order to secure patent rights for his electromagnetic telegraph in England, France, and Russia. He is successful in France. In England, Cooke puts his needle telegraph into operation on the London and Blackwall Railway.

1839 - In Paris, Morse meets Louis Daguerre, the creator of the daguerreotype, and publishes the first American description of this process of photography. Morse becomes one of the first Americans to make daguerreotypes in the United States.

Continue with >>> Years: 1840-1872.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
FREE Newsletter. Sign Up Now!

Important disclaimer information about this About site.

Newsletters & RSSEmail to a friendAdd to
All Topics | Email Article | |
Our Story | Be a Guide | Advertising Info | News & Events | Work at About | Site Map | Reprints | Help
User Agreement | Ethics Policy | Patent Info. | Privacy Policy | Kids' Privacy Policy

©2006 About, Inc., A part of The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
Mental Health

Depression Self-Test Vitamins for Depression? Bipolar Red Flags Coping With Disasters Celebrities With Bipolar

What's Hot

Gyroscopes - Elmer Sperry and Charles Stark Draper Gyroscope...Angel AlcalaThe History of the BikiniRusi Taleyarkhan Jack Johnson