Samuel Finley Breese Morse

SAMUEL FINLEY BREESE MORSE, an American artist, better known perhaps as the inventor of the electric telegraph, is the eldest son of the Rev. Jedediah Morse, the first American geographer, and was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, April 27, 1791. He was educated at Yale College, where he graduated in 1810. He had from a very early age determined to be a painter; and his father finding his passion for art incorrigible, consented to indulge him in his wishes; and he accordingly sailed for England, under the charge of Mr. Allston, and arrived in London, in August, 1811. Here he formed an intimacy with C. R. Leslie, and the first portraits of either of these artists painted in London were likenesses of each other. Mr. Morse made rapid progress in his profession. In 1813, he exhibited at the Royal Academy his picture of " The Dying Hercules," of colossal size, which received high praise from the connoisseurs, and the plaster model which he made of the same subject, to assist him in his picture, received the prize in sculpture, the same year. Encouraged by this success, the artist determined to contend for the premium in historical composition offered by the academy the following year. The picture, the subject of which was, " The Judgment of Jupiter, in the case of Apollo, Marpessa, and Idas," was completed in time, but Mr. Morse was obliged to leave England before the premiums were to be adjudged, and was consequently excluded from the privilege of competing for the prize. Mr. West afterward assured him that he would undoubtedly have won it. On his return to America, he settled in Boston, but he met with so little encouragement, that he removed to New Hampshire, where he found employment in painting portraits at $15 per head. He was induced by his friends to remove to Charleston, South Carolina, and there his art proved more profitable. About 1822, he took up his residence in New York, where he found his works and talents more justly appreciated, and his skill as an artist put into requisition. Under a commission from the corporation, he painted a full length portrait of Lafayette, then on a visit to the United States. It was shortly after this, that Mr. Morse formed that association of artists which resulted in the establishment of the National Academy of Design, of which he was elected president; and it is worthy of note, that the first course of lectures on the subject of art read in America, was delivered by him before the New York Athenaeum, and afterward repeated to the students of the academy. In 1829, he paid a second visit to Europe, and remained abroad three years. On his return from Europe, in the packet-ship Sully, in 1832, a gentleman, in describing the experiments that had just been made in Paris with the electro-magnet, the question arose as to the time occupied by the electric fluid in passing through the wire, stated to be about one hundred feet in length. On the reply that it was instantaneous (recollecting the experiments of Franklin,) he suggested that it might be carried to any distance, and that the electric spark could be a means of conveying and recording intelligence. This suggestion, which drew some casual observation of assent from the party, took deep hold of Professor Morse, who undertook to develop the idea which he had originated; and, before the end of the voyage, he had drawn out and written the general plan of the invention with which his name will be inseparably connected. His main object was to effect a communication by means of the electro-magnet that would leave a permanent record by signs answering for the alphabet, and which, though carried to any distance, would communicate with any place that might be on the line. His first idea was to pass a strip of paper, saturated with some chemical preparation that would be decomposed when brought in connection with the wire, along which the electric current was passing, and thus form an alphabet by marks, varying in width and number, that could be made upon the paper at the will of the operator, and by this means avoid separating the wire at the different points of communication. On his return to New York, he resumed his profession, still devoting all his spare time, under great disadvantages, to the perfection of his invention. Finding his original plan impracticable, he availed himself of the action of the electromagnet upon the lever as a mode of using pens and ink, as in the machine. Of these he had five, with the idea of securing the required characters from one of the pens. These he abandoned for pencils, and after a trial of various means for obtaining the end desired, and finding by experiment he could obtain any requisite force from the lever, he adopted the stylus or steel point for indenting the paper, and it is this he has since used. After great difficulty and much discouragement, Professor Morse in 1835 demonstrated the practicability of his invention by completing and putting in operation in the New York university, a model of his Recording Electric Telegraph' - the whole apparatus, with the exception of a wooden clock which formed part of it, having been made by himself. In 1837, he abandoned his profession, with great regret, hoping to make his invention a means of resuming it, under easier and more agreeable circumstances. In the same year, he filed his caveat at the patent-office in Washington and it is somewhat singular that, during this year (1837), Wheatstone, in England, and Steinheil, in Bavaria, both invented a magnetic telegraph, differing from the American and from each other. Wheatstone's is very inferior, not being a recording telegraph, but requiring to be watched by one of the attendants - the alphabet being made by the deflection of the needle. Steinheil's, on the contrary, is a recording telegraph, but from its complicated and delicate machinery, has been found impracticable for extended lines.