Black = General biographical facts
Red = Scientific achievements by others
Blue = Telegraph and invention events for Samuel
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,
1800 - Alessandro Volta of Italy creates the
"voltaic pile," a battery that produces a reliable, steady current
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
with >>> Years: 1840-1872.