OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

December 19, 1996

Meeting Number 1578

Samuel Finley Breeze Morse: Artist -- Inventor by Robert Eaton Morse Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


Samuel Finley Breeze Morse is a man whose name is recognized by all as the inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph, but whose substantial artistic achievements, paradoxically, are known to few. He was an enormously complex, and at times contradictory figure, heroically enmeshed in every aspect of an imperfect American society that he was determined to reshape with the potent agency of pictures, pamphlets, lectures, inventions, and institutions that were the specific sites of his ideology.

Biography of the author

The author, Robert Eaton Morse was born in Franklin, New Jersey in 1920. He attended Williams College and graduated from the University of Virginia. During World War 11 he served in the Army Air Corps from 1942 - 1946. His Masters degree was earned at New York University with subsequent Doctoral work at Ohio State, Wayne State, and the University of California. He was in private industry in various financial management capacities, later rejoined the U. S. Air Force and served in a civilian capacity at a number of locations throughout the United States. He is retired and involved in a number of community activities.

Samuel Finley Breeze Morse: Artist, Inventor

Do you suppose it is the same Morse? This question is often heard when people are viewing paintings by Samuel F.B. Morse in museums. Those who do not know that he painted are surprised to find and sometimes reluctant to believe, that the inventor of the telegraph was also an artist. A different response is surprisingly common among those more familiar with American art: "Of course, he didn't paint much." This reflects their knowledge that Morse, frustrated in his attempts to paint significant historical subjects, ceased to paint midway through his adult life. Accompanying these misconceptions is the mistaken conclusion that he cannot have been a very good painter.

For Morse, artistic and mechanical invention was a process of cultural interpretation rooted in the actions of spatial recombination and social reconsexualization - Morse may not have been a revolutionary figure in either the history of art or the history of technology, but he was an extraordinarily effective one because of his efforts to rearrange and resituate traditional typologies of art and technology and, as a result, to create new and vigorous pictures and machines. The best examples of this process are "The Gallery of the Louvre" and the electromagnetic telegraph. Each was a machine, the various parts of which were already existent; neither the pictures in the "Louvre" nor the electrical or mechanical parts at work in the telegraph were unique or original to Morse. What makes the "Louvre" and the telegraph special - what constituted Morse's claim to genius - was his ability to create new combinations of parts in new contexts. "The Gallery of the Louvre" was an artistic and cultural milestone because Morse destroyed an archaic, aristocratic European context for Western masterpieces and created a virtuous new American republican one.

Situation and circumstance were crucial to Morse; and they are essential to any understanding of him today, for pictures and machines were linked in Morse's mind by a common aesthetic process that was inextricable from social context. Samuel F.B. Morse was born April 27, 1791, at the foot of Breeds Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the eldest of the eleven children of the Reverend Jedediah Morse and Elizabeth Ann Breeze. Only three of the children, Samuel and his brothers Sidney and Richard survived infancy. Morse's maternal grandfather was Samuel Finley, the First President of Princeton College. His father, Jedediah, was the nation's foremost scholar of geography and the renowned author of many scholarly and popular books, including "The American Geography" which had multiple editions in Europe as well as America.

After attending Andover Academy he was thoroughly qualified, at age fourteen, to enter the freshman class at Yale and was accepted. However domestic reasons induced his father to detain him from college another year and he joined the class of 1810. His younger brothers, Sidney and Richard, followed in the Classes of 1811 and 1812. At that time, Jeremiah Day was the Professor of Natural Philosophy at Yale and under his instructions Morse began the study of electricity, and received those impressions which were destined to produce so great an influence upon him personally, and upon the business, the intercourse, and the happiness of the whole human race. In Day's lectures, the subject of electricity was specifically illustrated and experimented upon with Enfield's work as the textbook. The terms of the 21st Proposition of Book V of Enfield's Philosophy are these: If the circuit be interrupted, the fluid will become visible, and when it passes it will leave an impression upon any intermediate body. Professor Day lectured upon and illustrated the first two experiments propounded by the 21st Proposition. This was the germ of the great invention that now daily and hourly astonishes the world, and has given immortality of fame to the student who, twenty-two years later, conceived the idea of making this experiment of practical value to mankind. Writing on the subject in 1867, Morse said, The fact that the presence of electricity can be made visible in any desired part of the circuit was the crude seed which took root in my mind, and grew up into form, and ripened into the invention of the telegraph. In addition to his studies under Professor Day, another member of the Yale faculty, Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Chemistry, provided more and perhaps greater impressions which resulted in Morse's great invention.

Though Morse may have been taught the principles of drawing together with penmanship at home in Charlestown and at Andover, it was at Yale that he began to draw and paint with some diligence. Starting off with caricatures, he then moved on to serious likenesses of classmates and faculty, and soon experienced the pleasure of being paid for his skill. In August 1809 he wrote the following to his parents, "I employ all my leisure time painting. I have great numbers of persons engaged to be drawn on ivory, no less than seven. They obtain the ivories for themselves." Within ten months he was able to report:, "My price for profiles is one dollar and everybody is ready to engage me at that price."

Despite his extracurricular activity, Morse did not neglect his classes. But he was less interested in Homer than in Jeremiah Day's lectures on electricity and Benjamin Silliman's chemistry course in which batteries were studied. Day and Silliman belong to both of Morse's careers. They started him on the road to the invention of the telegraph, and also had their portraits painted by him some fifteen years later.

After his graduation from Yale in the early summer of 1810, Morse started working as a clerk in Mallory's Book Shop in Scollary Square not far from the studio of America's foremost painter, Washington Allston, who had returned from Rome the previous year and whom Morse met earlier in 1810when he (Morse) became Allston's informal student. During the first five months of 1811 with Allison's guidance Morse painted his first major oil painting (3' x 4') "The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth," which currently hangs in the Boston Public Library. It is said that Allston, and Gilbert Stuart as well, put the stamp of approval on the painting, thus persuading Morse's father, Jedediah, to make the considerable sacrifice necessary to finance his son's study abroad. Samuel set sail for England with the Allstons on July 13, 1811 arriving in London via Liverpool on July 13,1811 August 1 5th. Following a meeting with Benjamin West, the American born artist and renowned president of the Royal Academy, he was told by West that one of his drawings "was an extraordinary production, that I had talent, and only wanted knowledge of the art to make a great painter."

What astonished Morse above all was "to find such a difference in the encouragement of art between this country and Amenca. In America it seemed to lie neglected, and only thought to be an employment suited to a lower class of people; but here it is the constant subject of conversation and no person is esteemed accomplished or well educated unless he possesses almost an enthusiastic love for painting." It was this discovery that was to fire Morse for the next twenty-five years in his determination to raise the practice and appreciation of art in America to the level he had experienced in England. During the ensuing three years, Morse studied under Allston & West and with the Royal Academy. He painted during the day, and by November 1811, had copied West's copy of a Van Dyk portrait, finished one landscape and began another with which Washington Allston was very much pleased. In the spring of 1812, Morse tried his hand at sculpture, modeling in clay a figure ('the Dying Hercules') that was later cast in plaster and is now in the Yale University Art Gallery. This preoccupation with the antique, and the classical, culminated in the inception on Morse's first truly large ( 8'x 63i') oil on canvas of '1he Dying Hercules," after his clay model. No buyer ever appeared for his most ambitious history painting, and he eventually gave it to his alma mater (Yale University). In May 1813, the Royal Academy exhibition opened at Somerset House, and Morse found his "great picture° not only received but occupying "one of the finest places in the rooms ". The cast of the Hercules obtained the "gold medal" in sculpture for a single figure from the Society of Arts.

He wrote to his parents, "I cannot be happy unless I am pursuing the intellectual branch of art. Portraits have none of it; landscape has some of it, but history has it wholly." He saw himself as a history painter, and always would, though circumstances were to dictate otherwise. That his finest talent was for portraiture, and that only portraiture would find a ready market in America whose artistic primacy he championed, were facts he would not accept or at least bend to. Though there would be later crises in his artistic career, the spring of 1814 was the true turning point, because it was then that he committed himself irrevocably to inevitable frustration as a painter. The London years are the most problematic of Morse's career as an artist. He received an introduction to the great art of the past, which broadened his understanding. He was indoctrinated with the tenets of the academic "great style" even as it was in decline, fixing forever his artistic ambitions.

Morse left England in August 1815 and two months later reached Boston. His "Hercules" painting and several other works were put on public exhibition and well received, however there were no buyers. The year of 1816 was spent in Boston and in Charlestown where he lodged at his father's house, but an entire year dragged itself along, without an offer for his pictures or an order for any historical work. His mind was too active and earnest for such a life as this.

In the evening at home he meditated on an invention by which a great improvement would be made in the common pump and, one that could be adapted to the forcing pump in the fire engine. His younger brother Sidney entered into the project with him and they completed the invention in late Spring 1817 and secured a patent. Four men could work it with ease and deliver 360 gallons in one minute. In August 1816, Morse went north into New Hampshire to Concord where he arranged to paint small size portraits (10" x 12") for $15.00 each. After six months on the roads of New Hampshire he had cleared only $200.00 and had no plans for a major work. However, he did have an introduction to his future wife Lucretia Walker Pickering, the daughter of a judge, so the trip was not totally in vain. Upon his return the brothers continued their invention project during the winter and spring of 1817.

In the late summer of 1817 Morse's uncle Dr. James E. B. Finley invited him to come to Charleston, South Carolina where he and other Washington Allston relatives were living. Morse had been told that artists were held in higher esteem in the aristocratic South and were paid higher prices in that flourishing economy. Arriving in late January 1818, Morse set up his studio and awaited customers. Some weeks passed with no interest in the visiting painter. As a result Morse said to Dr. Finley, "This will not do, sir; I must ask you to permit me to paint your portrait as a remembrance."

Success followed his portrait of Dr. Finley, which was so greatly admired while on display in his studio, that it generated a spate of commissions. It was reported that within a few weeks Morse had about 150 subscriptions. From his own list of portraits commissioned in Charleston that winter of 1818, he began at least 53 during the four months he remained in the city. Some of the portraits, especially the more elaborate ones, were taken North to be finished in the summer, but he completed enough work, at an average fee of nearly $80.00 per, to amass several thousand dollars by June, and he was ready to marry. The marriage took place in early October 1818 and they soon set sail to again winter in Charleston and although he continued with his painting, his mind was also occupied with experimenting upon improvements to the pump engine that he and brother Sidney had patented the previous year. After wintering in Charleston, Morse resumed with his wife to Concord where they spent the summer and where their daughter Susan was born in late summer.

Early in the fall of 1819, Morse was requested by the Common Council of Charleston, South Carolina to paint a portrait of President James Monroe. This was accomplished in October 1819 when Morse spent time at the Monroe residence where he was given a room during the time that the portrait was accomplished. When his work was completed the President's family was so delighted with it that he was obliged to remain and make a copy for them.

The portrait was considered by all who saw it at the time, a great triumph of art. It remains in the City Hall of Charleston. In January 1821, Morse was instrumental in establishing in Charleston the South Carolina Academy of Fine Arts, and after again wintering and painting in Charleston, Morse returned in the spring to New Haven, Connecticut, where his father had taken up residence and also the abode of his wife and daughter. He spent time completing paintings he had commenced in Charleston, but also renewed his studies of electricity and galvanism in the laboratory of Yale where Professor Silliman was preparing his experiments. The painting of portraits was to him, as to all painters of original power, a weariness, and Morse resolved to attempt something in which it might be raised to the dignity of history. He conceived the idea of making a large picture of the "House of Representatives" at Washington, presenting a view of the chamber and portraits of individual members. The picture is approximately 7' x 11' and displays the House Chamber and its 88 members individually detailed. Morse thought that perhaps Congress would commission the work, but it was not to be. Exhibitions in Boston and New York were not well attended and he placed the 640 pound painting in storage for several years before shipping it to England for possible sale to Lord Egremont. That too did not take place and it was sold to Sherman Converse for $1,000 in London and exhibited there. In December 1847, Morse received a letter from the artist Francis W. Edmonds indicating that he (Edmonds) had seen the painting at a store on Exchange Place in New York in deplorable condition and since he considered it to be one of Samuel's best works ever painted, he couldn't be patiently silent while it was in its present condition. Edmonds was startled by Morse's reply in which he disowned his painting, "they must take their chances in the world - he cared no further about them." It was left to Morse's student, Daniel Huntington, to rescue the picture, and it was from Huntington's estate in 1911 that the painting was purchased by the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. where it is still on exhibit.

Having exhausted history painting, sculpture, and art academies as possibly remunerative endeavors, Morse resumed to portraiture. Despite his desire to escape what he believed to be the imaginative limitations of the genre, he produced over the remainder of the 1 820's some of the most compelling portraits in the history of American art. In November 1824, Morse returned to New York, the only place in the Northeast in which he felt he could work, and there a fortuitous event was to change his fortune. The Marquis de Lafayette was at the beginning of a triumphal tour of the United States. The Common Council of the City of New York voted unanimously to commission an official life-size portrait of the general to be hung in City Hall, which was already the nation's preeminent gallery of heroes including Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Perry. The city's search for an artist to paint Lafayette lured the nation's most eminent painters: Sully, Jarvis, Vanderlyn, Rembrandt Peale, Charles Ingham, Samuel Waldo, Henry Inman, James Herring, and Morse all vied for the honor. Morse was selected and signed a contract with the city that would pay him $1,000.00 for the portrait. At that time, Lafayette was in Washington; Morse traveled there in early February 1825 to begin work on the portrait. The first sitting with Lafayette was done with the second one in Washington scheduled for Feb 10th, on that morning Morse received notice of the sudden death of his wife and he departed the next day for New Haven. When Lafayette returned to New York in July, Morse finished the oil study he had started in Washington, but because of his herculean efforts to form the National Academy of Design late in 1825, he deferred work on the large canvas until January 1826, completing the portrait late in the spring. The completed full length portrait measures 8'x 5˝ and currently is in the City Hall office of the Mayor of New York.

In November 1825, the first meeting of "the Artists", a group of young artists who were at odds with the existent American Academy of the Fine Arts founded in 1802, met in New York for the purpose of taking into consideration "the formation of a Society for the Improvement in Drawing". Samuel F. B. Morse was appointed Secretary. The question of organization was put, and carried unanimously; and the so associated artists were from that time forward known as "New York Drawing Association". (Samuel F. B.) Morse was chosen to preside over its meetings. They were no sooner organized than the American Academy claimed them as "students," and Colonel Trumbell, the Academy's Present, attempted to have them sign the matriculation book of the American Academy as students of that institution, which they all refused to do. They endeavored to negotiate a compromise that would bring artists into a postion of approximate parity. The Academy directors treated the dissidents contemptuously proclaiming that "Artists werre unfit to manage an Academy; Colonel Trumbell says so." In January 1826, at a meeting of the new Association, Morse declared, "We have this evening assumed a new attitude in the community: our negotiations with the Academy are at an end; our union with it has been frustrated, after every proper effort on our part to accomplis it." The resolutions offered that night established the national Academy of Design with Morse as President. He led the National Acadmy for the next twenty years and in that position willingly waded into the politics of art in order to "do something for the arts of our country" - an aim he assuredly realized.

In the year 1827, Morse again renewed his interest in the study of electricity and particularly electro-magnetism. At that time he was intimately associated with james Freeman Dana of Columbia College who delivered a course of lectures on the subject before the New York Athenaeum and who visited Morse in his portrait studio to discuss the subject. Unfortunately Dana died shortly thereafter and Morse returned to his painting career.

The year following Morse devoted to his profession, in which he was now eminently successful. His sitters were so numerous that he was unable to meet the demands of all who sought him, and his brother artisits remember ;with gratitude his kindness in sending to them many persons whom he could not find time to paint.

He employed his evenings in preparing a series of lectures on "The Fine Arts," which he delivered before the New York Athenaeum. This is said to have been the first series of lectures on the subject ever delivered in the United States. After spending the summer in upstate New York near Utica visiting relatives and painting, he returned to New York City to resume his labors there. Business increased. The most eminent citizens became his personal friends and gave him commissions. Success, however, served only to stimulate him to higher efforts; and he resolved that he would seek, by study in Italy, to perfect himself in the art to which he had now fully devoted his life.

In early November 1829, Morse sailed from New York and landed at Liverpool a month later. The next three weeks were spent in England and he left for France just before the New Year. The three years that he next spent in Europe are reflected in letters to his friends and in fragments of diaries kept in tiny "scratch books". These little books, which he made and could easily be carried in his vest pocket, he filled with drawings of objects and brief pencil notes.

Passing through France, Morse arrived in Rome in mid-February and began his studies of The Old Masters. He remained in various cities and towns of Italy for the next year, but was forced to leave Rome in March the following year, 1831, because of a mounting revolution in the Papal States. Unfortunately most of the paintings he accomplished during that period have been lost.

When Morse arrived in Paris in the early fall of 1831 the city was still reeling from the Revolution of 1830. Charles X, a Bourbon monarch, had been traded for a bourgeois monarch, Louis Philippe. Also, the Salon Carre, the gallery of the Louvre which had held masterpieces of European painting and sculpture in the French national collection, some of them Napoleonic plunder that had been displayed up to 1830, when Morse first saw the room, were no longer there. The gallery had been re-dedicated exclusively to the French school.

Morse was not excessively fond of French painting and actively disliked modern French painting. So the American artist simply used his imagination to re-hang the gallery in its former manner or, more accurately, with his own choices from the Louvre's riches. Morse began work on the largest canvas he had prepared since "The House of Representatives" painted ten years earlier in 1822. "Gallery of the Louvre" measured 6' x 9'. His purpose in painting the picture is a much examined topic. The usual conclusion is that he wished to introduce into America, if only in copies, some of the greatest European art, not as mere curiosities but in order to edify his countrymen -artists, collectors, and the refined public alike - in matters of taste.

Although he certainly expected his " Gallery" to be admired for the paintings therein, it also seemed likely that he was consciously continuing his preparation for the expected Rotunda commission. This he could do by absorbing the art of painters who had frequently worked on large decorative murals, from Raphael, Titian, and Veronese to Rubens and Reni. In this he believed himself successful, "I have many compliments on it, and I'm sure it Is the most correct one of its kind ever painted, for everyone says I caught the style of each of the masters."

Morse's working method on the "Gallery of the Louvre" paralleled that on his "House of Representatives". He took the full canvas into the Louvre and recorded the architectural setting, with its double focus on the salon and on the vista of the Grand Gallery beyond, concurrently he made small copies of all the paintings to be included. In his studio he copied them onto the large canvas, frequently changing their relative sizes to accommodate his compositional aims. Later, back in America in Feb 1833, he added their frames, and lastly, he introduced the figures, ten in the Salon Care itself and an indeterminate number of tiny figures in the Grand gallery beyond.

The foreground figures include his good friend James Fenimore Cooper, his wife, and daughter (seated, with palette in hand) in the left corner as well as the artist himself instructing a student, who might possibly be Cooper's older daughter, Susan, since the figures were added in New York front and center.

Morse ceased working on the "Gallery" painting in September 1832 and sailed for America on the "Sully" in early October, debarking in New York in mid-November. The voyage on the "Sully" was momentous, not for the history of art but for the history of technology. It was during this passage, in the course of conversation on electricity and electromagnetism that Morse conceived the idea of the electric telegraph: "I see no reason why intelligence might not be instantaneously transmitted by electricity to any distance."

On arrival, full of fervor, he soon began trying to fabricate the various mechanical devises that would permit the electric circuit to be opened and closed, so that a signal could be sent, and make possible the recording of the received message. In addition, he was soon overwhelmed by the business of the National Academy of Design, which had missed his leadership. The "Gallery of the Louvre" was put aside until February 1833. His depleted finances prodded him to renew work on the painting, on which so much effort had been expended and so many hopes pinned.

When it was exhibited in the fall, it received a glowing review in the New Mirror, "We know not which most to admire in contemplating this magnificent design, the courage which could undertake such a Herculean task, or the perseverance and success with which it has been completed. We have never seen anything of the kind before in this country. This representation of the Louvre grows in interest at every fresh view and we have found ourselves unconsciously lingering for hours, and yet have been unable to exhaust its beauties." However, the general public had no curiosity to see this beautiful and curious specimen of art and so the exhibition failed in its immediate aim - to earn money for its author - as "The House of Representatives" had failed eleven years before. In desperation Morse took it to New Haven, where it had even less public success. As the year ended he wrote: "I have had for three weeks more hopeless despondence in regard to the future, than I have ever before suffered. I must try to live, if I can, to last through life, to stifle all aspiring thoughts after an excellence which I see and felt I might attain, but which for 20 years has been within sight but never within grasp. My life of poetry and romance is gone."

In August of 1834, Morse sold the painting to George Hyde Clarke of Otsego, New York for thirteen hundred dollars (with the frame, and on credit), although he had earlier expected it would bring twenty-five hundred dollars. It is not known who, if any, were the subsequent owners of the painting. However, it is a fact that Syracuse University received the "Gallery"" in 1884, twelve years after Morse's death. In July 1982 the painting was purchased by Daniel J. Terra, the founder of the Terra Museum of American Art in Evanston, Illinois in 1980 for the sum of $3.25 million dollars. Mr. Terra at that time was one of Ronald Regan's fund raisers and Ambassador-at-large for Cultural Arts. The painting was later placed on exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and at the Timkin Gallery in Balboa Park, San Diego in November 1985, at which this author and his wife were able to view the painting for the first time.

In the year 1835, Morse was appointed Professor of the Literature of the Arts of Design New York University and moved from Greenwich Lane to quarters in the north wing of the University building looking out on Washington Square, there he continued to experiment upon his invention, the telegraph.

During this time, Morse made his discovery of the "relay", the most brilliant of all the achievements to which his name must be forever attached. It was the discovery of a means by which the current, which through distance from its source had become feeble, could be reinforced or renewed. It made transmission from one point on a main line through indefinitely great distances, and through an indefinite number of way-stations, and registration at all, possible and practicable, from a single act of a single operator.

In 1836 and into 1837 Morse continued to balance his teaching responsibilities at the University with work on his telegraph. The Congressional Committee on Public Buildings decided in 1837 not to commission him to paint a mural for the Rotunda, one of four that were to be done. His mentor & teacher, Washington Allston, who was offered but refused two murals in 1836, wrote eloquently on behalf of Morse, who was undoubtedly one of the most qualified artists for such a task, but the Committee ignored Allston's advice. Morse was stunned, humiliated, and finally defeated by the Congressional snub. His son, Edward, much later insisted that this disaster gave the "Death blow to his artistic ambition." In 1837, at the age of forty-six, Morse stopped painting. He would dedicate his last thirty-five years to politics and to the electromagnetic telegraph, a device he had first contemplated in 1832 during his return voyage to America.

The electromagnetic telegraph, like the steamboat, was something new under the sun. It was not an improvement within an existing technology and it was not a combination of existing capabilities put together in answer to a clear social need. It appeared when it did because not until then had it been possible. The door was opened by the new knowledge of electricity developed by Ampere and Oersted and of electromagnetism by Sturgeon and Henry. This understanding was the precondition for the telegraph, and consequently it has been labeled the first science-based invention. Indeed, in the United States and throughout the non-British world, an artist became identified with the invention of the telegraph, Samuel Finley Breeze Morse.

Morse's system of telegraphy was the first to succeed in America where it rapidly overcame competing systems, and it spread to much of the rest of the world. Yet Morse was neither a scientist nor a mechanic; he might be described as the most prominent American artist of his day. How could a recognized art professor turn away from art and succeed in using new scientific capabilities to create a genuinely new technology? The particular telegraph Morse brought to this scene was more clearly one man's brainchild than the steamboat, which had so many parents, although many men were also involved in Morse's telegraph. Still, Morse was so central in this development that much of the inventive process can be perceived by examining the quality of his imagery and thinking and the narrative of his personal struggle to bring the telegraph to fruition.

A shipboard conversation in October 1832, during Morse's return from Europe, on Ampere's experiments with the electromagnet had led to the question of whether the speed of electricity was retarded by the length of the wire. Dr. Charles T. Jackson, Boston chemist and later claimant to the discovery of anesthesia, was in a position to reply. He responded that it was not, that electricity passed instantly over any length wire. Morse immediately saw his vision and declared, "I see no reason why intelligence might not be instantaneously transmitted by electricity to any distance." This he believed to be the true invention. He came to electricity with some understanding of the field and an awakened interest. He approached the telegraph as he had the water pump, marble cutting machine, and relay seeking to discover only enough of the principles involved to design a good, working system. The primary strength he brought to the telegraph was an excellent design capability based upon a mind practiced in forming and reforming multiple elements into varying complexes. This sort of synthetic-spatial thinking is required in its most unalloyed form in painting or in sculpture where analytic, logical, verbal, or arithmetic thinking plays almost no role. Synthetic-spatial thinking is, of course, involved in most intellectual activity including science, but in technology it has to be central. Morse's mind was well practiced in this essential.

Morse continued at New York University, but spent an increasing amount of time working on the telegraph. He enlisted the help of Leonard D. Gale, Professor of geology and mineralogy and Alfred Vail; the latter's father owned the Speedwell Ironworks in Morristown, New Jersey whose facilities were utilized in the manufacture and improvement of the various instruments. In early 1837 the Secretary of the Treasury, Levi Woodbury had issued an invitation for telegraph proposals, but he of course had in mind semaphore telegraphs. Morse felt that his instrument was more preferable and filed a caveat with the Commissioner of Patents on his invention. The system was formally demonstrated in January 1838 at the Speedwell Ironworks and to an invited group at New York University. In February, Morse took Vail with him to a presentation in Washington, stopping on the way at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. That organization's committee on science and the arts was very enthusiastic in its commendation and urged him on to further trials. In Washington, Morse demonstrated the telegraph to President Van Buren and his cabinet and at another session, to the House Committee on Commerce.

Morse began to feel that he might hope for the early realization of the great personal and public advantages implicit in the telegraph. His best hope was that the government would buy and operate it as a public utility; he saw it as a much speedier and improved mail system. He saw parallel possibilities in Europe both for compensation and for still wider public benefits. A trans-atlantic trip followed. In England, Morse's patent application was turned off abruptly. An Englishmen, Charles Wheatstone, was his leading competitor. In France a patent was easily obtained, and Morse won as well the plaudits of the Academic des Sciences, but no more funding appeared than on the other side of the Channel.

For Morse it was largely a lost year except for his exciting meeting with L.J.M. Daguerre, his fellow artist and inventor. The knowledge he took home about photography was not enough to reduce his unhappiness at discovering that neither the Congress nor his partners were doing anything at all with the telegraph. Still, the new art was remarkably interesting to the portraitist-inventor and it might add to his interim income from painting and teaching. Morse had Daguerre elected to the National Academy, and he began to work with the new science professor, of chemistry and botany, John W. Draper who had replaced Leonard Gale. Draper succeeded first in making a daguerreotype portrait, the object of greatest importance to Morse, and together they established a glass-roofed studio on the top of the Washington Square building where they could take maximum advantage of the sunlight. After such success as reducing the exposure time to about sixty seconds, Draper withdrew, but Morse went on to teach photographic portraiture to eager learners, including such leaders of the emerging profession as Mathew Brady.

The telegraph remained his primary quest, and Morse elicited from Joseph Henry an enthusiastic response. The scientist declared in 1839 that he believed "science was now ripe for the application" and that Morse's plan involved "no difficulties in the way but such as ingenuity and enterprise may obviate". By 1842 he was ready to agree that Morse's system was superior to any of the competing telegraphs familiar to him.

Over several years, Morse and his colleagues worked on numerous trials, experiments and designs - although at a very uneven rate. He was nearly always hobbled for funding. A concentrated development effort and an extended trial were imperative, but Morse might have attained neither without the large outside support finally provided by Congress. In 1840 Morse patented the telegraph. In 1842 Morse again petitioned Congress for funding, now that the mood in Washington seemed less negative than it had through the depth of the panic.

Morse was helped by Ellsworth, head of the Patent Office and a new colleague at the University, Professor James C. Fisher. New Washington demonstrations went well and good responses were received, but the seemingly endless waiting stretched again into months. Finally on March 3, 1843 the act was signed granting Morse $30,000 for a trial of his telegraph between Washington and Baltimore. The most intense period of development followed this grant. New designs were thought up by Morse and fabricated by Vail. More forms of transmitter were tried and simplified with the "portrule" given up in favor of a manual key that became known as the "Morse Key". Recent tests at the Smithsonian Institution have revealed that the limiting factor in the original telegraph was the portrule - which could not record more than six words a minute. The key easily tripled that speed.

Morse turned to Draper to help him obtain answers to a long standing worry that Henry had reinforced, agreeing that the Morse telegraph was "adequate for short distances but that something more might be needed for long runs." He meant something more than the relay or the voltage and magnetic field increase that Gail had achieved. In August 1843, Morse, advised by Draper, conducted tests over 160 miles of wire using a 48 cell battery. He got a good plot of the drop in current as the resistance, in the form of a longer wire, was increased. Morse's report and Draper's analytical interpretation concluding that a long-line telegraph was possible, were published in the '' American Journal of Science".

The actual construction of the line from Washington to Baltimore was a continuing learning experience, most of it unplanned. The whole process was difficult precisely because there was no significant pool of electrical technology to draw upon. Morse had earlier learned that he did not need two wires to complete the circuit, but could ground his system and use the earth for return. He did not, however, know how to construct the line economically, and the initial decision to bury insulated wire encased in lead pipes turned out to be wrong. By the time contracting, personal and personnel problems were overcome and nine miles of encased pipe laid, $23,000 of the $30,000 had been spent. Then only was it discovered that the wire in the pipe shorted out uncontrollably and there was no way to insulate it satisfactorily. A decision was made to string uninsulated wire on poles - an old idea - but Morse was convinced by an examiner in the Patent office. The solution worked well, the unneeded pipe was sold, and wire on hand was applied to the task. The line was completed within the appropriation.

It was complete from Washington to Annapolis Junction by May 1, 1844 and the first message from over the completed line from Washington to Baltimore was sent on May 24th "What hath God wrought (from Scripture - Numbers XXIII). The following day, the Democratic Convention met in Baltimore. Morse in this case was able to report to Congress the unexpected nomination of James Polk and to the convention the unexpected declination of the vice-presidential nominee, Silas Wright. Now at last the telegraph was a success before the world. Morse was anxious to sell the telegraph to Congress and withdraw, but it was not to be. Amos Kendall, former Postmaster General and member of Andrew Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet" was retained as the agent for planning and management while the government purchase was pursued. Congress had voted $6,000 to permit Morse to run the telegraph for a year, Kendall gave one more try at selling the telegraph to the government.

When he too, failed, he fumed to founding of a network of companies to build and operate lines, most of them radiating out of New York. Generally, half of the stock was sold to raise the needed capital and the rest retained by the four patentees. On this basis, the Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed on May 15, 1845 to build the line from New York to Philadelphia and others followed, providing links from New York to Boston, New York to Buffalo, Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and Washington to Mobile.

The motivation behind Morse's achievement stands out in his history. In his pursuit of art and in the telegraph, he conducted crusades for the benefit of his country and of mankind - both designed to achieve as well his own enrichment. Morse possessed an ability to think well spatially that he fumed to the contrivance of machines and telegraphic systems; first in his mind, then often on paper, then in reality. He had used the same sort thinking in his painting, where he combined it with highly developed skills of hand and eye, a combination he never achieved in mechanical technology and electrical instrumentation.

His great strength remained a quality of mind that permitted him to manipulate mental images of three-dimensional telegraph components as well as complete telegraphic systems, altering them at will and projecting various possibilities for change and development. Although he had used this mode of thinking in his art, his telegraph in no way depended upon his art. Conspicuous success in each, however, absolutely required conspicuous ability in spatial thinking.

Hindle, Brooke, Emulation and Invention, New York University Press, 1981 Morse, Edward Lind, Samuel F. B. Morse, Letters and Journals, Houghton Mifflin co., Boston and New York, The Riverside Press, 1914 Morse Exhibition of Arts and Science Presented by the National Academy of Design in commemoration of the 125th Anniversary of Its Fouding, and in Recognition of the Genius of Samuel F.B. Morse, One of the Founders and Past President, exhibition catalogue, New York, National Academy of Design, 1950

Prime, Samuel I., The Life of Samuel F.B. Morse, New York, D. Appleton, 1875


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