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. At a convention held in 1851 by Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Wurtemberg, and Bavaria, for the purpose of adopting a uniform system of telegraphing for all Germany, by the advice of Steinheil, Professor Morse's was the one selected. From the sultan of Turkey he received the first foreign _ acknowledgment of his invention in the bestowal of a nishan, or order the order of glory:' a diploma to that effect was transmitted to him with the magnificent decoration of that order in diamonds. The second acknowledgment was from the king of Prussia, being a splendid gold snuffbox, containing in its lid the Prussian gold medal of scientific merit. The latest acknowledgment is from the king of Wurtemberg, who transmitted to him (after the adoption of the Telegraph treaty by the convention above mentioned) the Wurtemberg Gold Medal of Arts and Sciences.' In 1838, he went to England, for the purpose of securing a patent there, but was refused through the influence of Wheatstone and his friends, under the pretense that his invention had already been published there. All that could be adduced in proof of this was the publication in an English scientific periodical of an extract copied from the New York Journal of Commerce,' stating the results of his invention, without giving the means by which they were produced. In the following spring, he returned to this country, and in 1840 perfected his patent at Washington, and set about getting his telegraph into practical operation. In 1844, the first electric telegraph was completed in the United States, between Baltimore and Washington and the first intelligence of a public character which passed over the wires was the announcement Of the nomination of James K. Polk, as the democratic candidate for the presidency, by the Baltimore convention. Since then, he has seen its wires extend all over the country, to the length of more than fifteen thousand miles - an extent unknown elsewhere in the civilized world. His success has led to the invasion of his patent rights by others, whom he has finally succeeded in defeating, after an expensive and protracted litigation. Professor Morse still clings to the idea of resuming his early profession of painting , to which he is strongly attached, and in the progress of which he has always taken a deep interest. As an artist, he has always enjoyed a very high reputation. His tastes inclined to historical painting, but circumstances did not often permit him to indulge in it; he was mainly engaged in the painting of portraits. In 1820, he painted a large picture of the interior of the house of representatives, with portraits of the members, which passed into the possession of an English gentleman; and in 1832, while in Paris, he made a beautiful picture of the Louvre gallery, copying in miniature the most valuable paintings. He resides at Locust Grove, two miles south of Poughkeepsie, on the banks of the Hudson river.