- Morse, Samuel F. B.
- (1791–1872)The inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse was born to a prominent New England family. In 1805, Morse entered Yale University and subsequently studied art in London. In 1815, he returned to Boston and opened an art studio. For the next 14 years he painted portraits but was never financially successful. In the 1830s, Morse began to consider how electricity could be used to send messages over a wire. In 1832, he invented a device that could send messages by opening and closing an electric circuit and another that could receive the messages and record them on paper as dots and dashes - the code that later bore his name. Morse continued to make improvements in his devices for the next few years, thanks to the financial support of Alfred Vail, a wealthy young man he had previously tutored in art. Morse filed a patent for an “electric telegraph” in 1837, but was unable to generate enough financial backing to market his communication system.The United States Congress finally allocated some money in 1843 to build the first telegraph line between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. On May 24, 1844, Morse transmitted the first telegraph message to Alfred Vail in Baltimore. Morse petitioned Congress for a grant of $100,000 to design a telegraph system for the nation, but was turned down. Morse turned to Vail. With other business partners the two generated funding that enabled them to connect much of the nation by a telegraph line. In 1858, Morse founded the Magnetic Telegraph Company, after having finally achieved considerable financial success. By the time Morse died in 1872, a telegraph line connected the United States and Europe.FURTHER READING:Silverman, Kenneth. Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2004.GENE C. GERARD
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.