6 Things You May Not Know About Samuel Morse

6 Things You May Not Know About Samuel Morse

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1. Morse had an earlier career as an accomplished painter.
The son of a Calvinist preacher, Massachusetts-born Samuel F. B. Morse studied philosophy and mathematics at Yale University before turning his attention to the arts, eventually travelling to England in 1811 to study painting. After his return stateside, he received commissions to paint portraits of former Presidents John Adams and James Monroe, several wealthy merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, and a series of allegorical works depicting the inner workings of the U.S. government to hang in the halls of Congress. For the ardent nationalist Morse, an offer in 1825 to paint the Marquis de Lafayette—the French nobleman so inspired by the ideal of liberty espoused by the Declaration of independence that he fought alongside the colonial army—was likely the pinnacle of his career.

2. The death of Morse’s wife was the impetus for his work on the telegraph.
It was while working on the portrait of Lafayette that Morse suffered the personal tragedy that changed his life forever. In Washington, D.C., for the commission, Morse received a letter from his father–delivered via the standard, slow-moving horse messengers of the day–that his wife was gravely ill. Morse immediately left the capital and raced to his Connecticut home. By the time he arrived, however, his wife was not only dead—she had already been buried. It is believed that the grief-stricken Morse, devastated that it had taken days for him to receive the initial notification of his wife’s illness, shifted his focus away from his art career and instead dedicated himself to improving the state of long-distance communication.

3. Morse has competition for the title of “inventor” of the telegraph.
After his wife’s death, Morse once again travelled to Europe, and on the return trip had a chance encounter with Charles Thomas Jackson, an American scientist who showed Morse his latest work on electromagnetism, inspiring Morse’s idea of using electricity to transmit messages over long distances. And Morse was not alone in his work on such an invention. Unbeknownst to him, two English scientists, Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke, were conducting their own experiments in electrical telegraphy. Though they had begun their work later than Morse, they had some success sooner, developing—and receiving a British patent for—a machine that utilized multiple telegraph wires to transmit a single message. Morse, whose research was focused on a single wire system, eventually gave the first public demonstration of his telegraph machine on January 6, 1838, in Morristown, New Jersey.

4. A teenaged girl selected the words for the first official telegraph message.
In 1835, Henry Ellsworth (a Yale classmate of Samuel Morse’s) was appointed the first Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, where he quickly became a champion of American inventions, supporting the development of Samuel Colt’s revolver among other projects. Morse had received a U.S. patent after the 1838 demonstration of the telegraph, but desperately needed additional funds and government support to make it a viable technology. He sought assistance from Congress for nearly six years, to no avail. Finally in 1844, after an all-night session in which Ellsworth had lobbied forcefully on his friend’s behalf, Congress appropriated the money for Morse’s work. A grateful Morse, who wanted to show his appreciation for his friend’s support, decided to allow Ellsworth’s 17-year-old daughter Annie to choose the text of the first formal telegraph message. Annie, a part-time patent employee who was rumored to have a crush on the much older, widowed inventor, chose a passage from the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy. On May 23, 1844, Morse, situated in the U.S. Capitol, tapped out Annie’s words to his longtime assistant Alfred Vail. Seconds later, Vail, sitting in a Baltimore, Maryland, railroad depot less than 50 miles away, received the brief message that would usher in a new world of communication—What hath God wrought?

5. Morse spent years in court fighting for recognition of his work.
After years of hard work, Morse’s telegraph was an immediate success: Within a decade there were more than 20,000 miles of telegraph wire in the United States alone, and by 1866 a transatlantic line had been laid from the U.S. to Europe. Morse probably expected to kick back, relax and reap the benefits of years of hard labor. That’s not quite how it worked out, though. Despite the fact that Morse obtained patents and established telegraph exchanges in countries around the world, many governments (including for a time the United States) often ignored his claim to be the sole inventor of the telegraph, refusing to pay the correct royalties due. Eventually, Morse took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, who found that while others had indeed created earlier telegraphs somewhat similar to Morse, he was the first to make use of a single-circuit, battery-powered machine. Eventually, several governments came around, giving Morse a cash payment worth more than $2 million in today’s money and insisting that he be paid future royalties on time—finally making Morse a very wealthy man.

6. Samuel Morse made a memorable exit from public life.
When Alexander Graham Bell died in 1922, telephone lines in both the U.S. and Canada went silent for a full minute to coincide with the start of his funeral. Nine years later, a similar tribute was offered up for Thomas Edison, when President Herbert Hoover asked all Americans to dim their lights in honor of the recently departed “Wizard of Menlo Park.” Few inventors, however, are able to receive the adulation of their adoring public—and bid them adieu—while still alive. Samuel Morse did both: In 1871, a group of Western Union employees began working on a fitting tribute to the man who made their careers possible, selecting June 10 as a semi-official “Samuel Morse Day.” The daylong celebration included a parade, a cruise around New York Harbor and the unveiling and dedication of a statue of Morse in New York’s Central Park, a ceremony that drew 10,000 onlookers. Congratulatory messages poured in from around the world—by telegraph, naturally. At 80 years old, Morse himself was unable to attend many of the daytime events, but he did show up for the grand finale, a reception at the NY Academy of Music held that night. While speeches heralding his accomplishments continued for more than an hour, a secret project got underway. A series of telegraph instruments, hidden from view of the guests, slowly became the hub of a communications network that stretched across the country—with every city and town with a Morse set-up connecting in remotely. When everything was in place, it was announced that Mr. Morse himself would now say goodbye to the American people. A Western Union operator slowly typed out Morse’s final message, slightly longer than his first: “Greeting and thanks to the Telegraph fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the Highest, on Earth Peace, Goodwill to men.” Morse then took his own turn at the desk, finishing off the message by signing his name, S.F.B. Morse. Morse died 10 months later.

Samuel Morse’s Reversal of Fortune

In November 1829, a 38-year-old American artist, Samuel F. B. Morse, set sail on a 3,000-mile, 26-day voyage from New York, bound for Paris. He intended to realize the ambition recorded on his passport: his occupation, Morse stated, was “historical painter.”

From This Story

John Quincy Adams advanced the view that American painters could not rival the work of Europeans. (Stock Montage / Getty Images) Samuel Morse considered himself a "historical painter" and honed his artistic skills after his college years at Yale. (Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre / Macbeth Gallery Records, Archives of American Art, SI) Foreground figures in Morse's Gallery of the Louvre include: James Fenimore Cooper, rear left, with wife and daughter Morse, center, with red gown-garbed daughter Susan copyist, right, may be the artist's deceased wife, Lucretia. (Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection) Although Morse did not lack for talent, shown here is a c. 1836 portrait of his daughter Susan, he failed as a painter and abandoned art in 1837. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York / Art Resource, NY) "Painting has been a smiling mistress to many," Morse told his friend, novelist James Fenimore Cooper, pictured, " "but she has been a cruel jilt to me." (Dagli Orti / Chateau de Blerancourt / Art Archive) In 1838, Morse introduced the telegraph that he developed with Alfred Vail, pictured, to France. (The Granger Collection, New York / The Granger Collection) Almost overnight Morse and Luis Daguerre, who created permanent camera obscura images, were the toast of Paris. (Jean Baptiste Sabatier-Blot / George Eastman House / Getty Images) As early as 1832, Morse theorized about communications device based on electrical signals. Shown here are the invention components. (North Wind Picture Archives) Detail from the 1837 telegraph prototype. (Stephen Voss) The 1840 patent of Morse's telegraph. (National Archives) The transmission key used to send the first intercity message, "What hath God wrought?" (Harold Dorwin / NMAH, SI) Morse insisted that an interlude in Paris, shown here c. 1840, was essential to his "education as a painter." (Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris / Bridgeman Art Library International) Morse, in his New York City study in 1870 at age 79, rightly predicted that in the United States he would find investors who were willing to envision the commercial potential of his invention. "There is," he wrote, "more of the 'go-ahead' character with us." (Western Union Telegraph Company Records, Archives Center, NMAH, SI)

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Already esteemed as a portraitist, Morse, who had honed his artistic skills since his college years at Yale, had demonstrated an ability to take on large, challenging subjects in 1822, when he completed a 7- by 11-foot canvas depicting the House of Representatives in session, a subject never before attempted. An interlude in Paris, Morse insisted, was crucial: “My education as a painter,” he wrote, “is incomplete without it.”

In Paris, Morse set himself a daunting challenge. By September 1831, visitors to the Louvre observed a curious sight in the high-ceilinged chambers. Perched on a tall, movable scaffold of his own contrivance, Morse was completing preliminary studies, outlining 38 paintings hung at various heights on the museum walls—landscapes, religious subjects and portraits, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, as well as works by masters including Titian, Veronese and Rubens.

Working on a 6- by 9-foot canvas, Morse would execute an interior view of a chamber in the Louvre, a space containing his scaled-down survey of works from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Not even the threat of a cholera outbreak slowed his pace.

On October 6, 1832, Morse embarked for New York, his unfinished painting, Gallery of the Louvre, stowed securely below deck. The “splendid and valuable” work, he wrote his brothers, was nearing completion. When Morse unveiled the result of his labors on August 9, 1833, in New York City, however, his hopes for achieving fame and fortune were dashed. The painting commanded only $1,300 he had set the asking price at $2,500.

Today, the newly restored work is on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. through July 8, 2012.

In the six years since Morse had left Paris, he had known seemingly endless struggles and disappointments. He was now 47, his hair turning gray. He remained a widower and still felt the loss of his wife, Lucretia, who had died in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1825, three weeks after the birth of their second son. “You cannot know the depth of the wound that was inflicted when I was deprived of your dear mother,” he wrote to his eldest daughter, Susan, “nor in how many ways that wound has been kept open.” He welcomed the prospect of marrying again, but halfhearted attempts at courtship had come to nothing. Moreover, to his extreme embarrassment, he was living on the edge of poverty.

A new position as professor of art at New York University, secured in 1832, provided some financial help, as well as studio space in the tower of the university’s new building on Washington Square, where Morse worked, slept and ate his meals, carrying in his groceries after dark so no one would suspect the straits he was in. His two boys, meanwhile, were being cared for by his brother Sidney. Susan was in school in New England.

For a long time Morse had hoped to be chosen to paint a historic scene for the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington. It would be the fulfillment of all his aspirations as a history painter, and would bring him a fee of $10,000. He openly applied for the honor in letters to members of Congress, including Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams. Four large panels had been set aside in the Rotunda for such works. In 1834, in remarks on the floor of the House he later regretted, Adams had questioned whether American artists were equal to the task. A devoted friend of Morse, and fellow expatriate in Paris during the early 1830s, novelist James Fenimore Cooper, responded to Adams in a letter to the New York Evening Post. Cooper insisted that the new Capitol was destined to be a “historical edifice” and must therefore be a showplace for American art. With the question left unresolved, Morse could only wait and hope.

That same year, 1834, to the dismay of many, Morse had joined in the Nativist movement, the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic outcry sharply on the rise in New York and in much of the country. Like others, he saw the American way of life threatened with ruination by the hordes of immigrant poor from Ireland, Germany and Italy, bringing with them their ignorance and their “Romish” religion. In Morse’s own birthplace, Charlestown, Massachusetts, an angry mob had sacked and burned an Ursuline convent.

Writing under a pen name, “Brutus,” Morse began a series of articles for his brothers’ newspaper, the New York Observer. “The serpent has already commenced his coil about our limbs, and the lethargy of his poison is creeping over us,” he warned darkly. The articles, published as a book, carried the title Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States. Monarchy and Catholicism were inseparable and unacceptable, if democracy was to survive, Morse argued. Asked to run as the Nativist candidate for mayor of New York in 1836, Morse accepted. To friends and admirers he seemed to have departed his senses. An editorial in the New York Commercial Advertiser expressed what many felt:

“Mr. Morse is a scholar and a gentleman—an able man—an accomplished artist—and we should like on ninety-nine accounts to support him. But the hundredth forbids it. Somehow or other he has got warped in his politics.”

On Election Day, he went down to a crushing defeat, last in a field of four.

He kept on with his painting, completing a large, especially beautiful portrait of Susan that received abundant praise. But when word reached Morse from Washington that he had not been chosen to paint one of the historic panels at the Capitol, his world collapsed.

Morse felt sure that John Quincy Adams had done him in. But there is no evidence of this. More likely, Morse himself had inflicted the damage with the unvarnished intolerance of his anti-Catholic newspaper essays and ill-advised dabble in politics.

He “staggered under the blow,” in his words. It was the ultimate defeat of his life as an artist. Sick at heart, he took to bed. Morse was “quite ill,” reported Cooper, greatly concerned. Another of Morse’s friends, Boston publisher Nathaniel Willis,would recall later that Morse told him he was so tired of his life that had he “divine authorization,” he would end it.

Morse gave up painting entirely, relinquishing the whole career he had set his heart on since college days. No one could dissuade him.“Painting has been a smiling mistress to many, but she has been a cruel jilt to me,” he would write bitterly to Cooper. “I did not abandon her, she abandoned me.”

He must attend to one thing at a time, as his father had long ago advised him. The “one thing” henceforth would be his telegraph, the crude apparatus housed in his New York University studio apartment. Later it would be surmised that, had Morse not stopped painting when he did, no successful electromagnetic telegraph would have happened when it did, or at least not a Morse electromagnetic telegraph.

Essential to his idea, as he had set forth earlier in notes written in 1832, were that signals would be sent by the opening and closing of an electrical circuit, that the receiving apparatus would, by electromagnet, record signals as dots and dashes on paper, and that there would be a code whereby the dots and dashes would be translated into numbers and letters.

The apparatus he had devised was an almost ludicrous-looking assembly of wooden clock wheels, wooden drums, levers, cranks, paper rolled on cylinders, a triangular wooden pendulum, an electromagnet, a battery, a variety of copper wires and a wooden frame of the kind used to stretch canvas for paintings (and for which he had no more use). The contraption was “so rude,” Morse wrote, so like some child’s wild invention, that he was reluctant to have it seen.

His chief problem was that the magnet had insufficient voltage to send a message more than about 40 feet. But with help from a New York University colleague, a professor of chemistry, Leonard Gale, the obstacle was overcome. By increasing the power of the battery and magnet, Morse and Gale were able to send messages one-third of a mile on electrical wire strung back and forth in Gale’s lecture hall. Morse then devised a system of electromagnetic relays, and this was the key element, in that it put no limit to the distance a message could be sent.

A physician from Boston, Charles Jackson, charged Morse with stealing his idea. Jackson had been a fellow passenger on Morse’s return voyage from France in 1832. He now claimed they had worked together on the ship, and that the telegraph, as he said in a letter to Morse, was their “mutual discovery.” Morse was outraged. Responding to Jackson, as well as to other charges arising from Jackson’s claim, would consume hours upon hours of Morse’s time and play havoc with his nervous system. “I cannot conceive of such infatuation as has possessed this man,” he wrote privately. And for this reason, Cooper and painter Richard Habersham spoke out unequivocally in Morse’s defense, attesting to the fact that he had talked frequently with them of his telegraph in Paris, well before ever sailing for home.

Morse sent a preliminary request for a patent to Henry L. Ellsworth, the nation’s first commissioner of patents, who had been a classmate at Yale, and in 1837, with the country in one of the worst financial depressions to date, Morse took on another partner, young Alfred Vail, who was in a position to invest some of his father’s money. Additional financial help came from Morse’s brothers. Most important, Morse worked out his own system for transmitting the alphabet in dots and dashes, in what was to be known as the Morse code.

In a larger space in which to string their wires, a vacant factory in New Jersey, he and Vail were soon sending messages over a distance of ten miles. Demonstrations were staged successfully elsewhere in New Jersey and in Philadelphia.

There were continuing reports of others at work on a similar invention, both in the United States and abroad, but by mid-February 1838, Morse and Vail were at the Capitol in Washington ready to demonstrate the machine that could “write at a distance.” They set up their apparatus and strung ten miles of wire on big spools around a room reserved for the House Committee on Commerce. For several days, members of the House and Senate crowded into the room to watch “the Professor” put on his show. On February 21, President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet came to see.

The wonder of Morse’s invention was thus established almost overnight in Washington. The Committee on Commerce moved quickly to recommend an appropriation for a 50-mile test of the telegraph.

Yet Morse felt he must have government support in Europe as well, and thus was soon on his way over the Atlantic, only to confront in official London the antithesis of the response at Washington. His request for a British patent was subjected to one aggravating delay after another. When finally, after seven weeks, he was granted a hearing, the request was denied. “The ground of objection,” he reported to Susan, “was not that my invention was not original, and better than others, but that it had been published in England from the American journals, and therefore belonged to the public.”

Paris was to treat him better, up to a point. The response of scientists, scholars, engineers, indeed the whole of academic Paris and the press, was to be expansive and highly flattering. Recognition of the kind he had so long craved for his painting came now in Paris in resounding fashion.

For the sake of economy, Morse had moved from the rue de Rivoli to modest quarters on the rue Neuve des Mathurins, which he shared with a new acquaintance, an American clergyman of equally limited means, Edward Kirk. Morse’s French had never been anything but barely passable, nothing close to what he knew was needed to present his invention before any serious gathering. But Kirk, proficient in French, volunteered to serve as his spokesman and, in addition, tried to rally Morse’s frequently sagging spirits by reminding him of the “great inventors who are generally permitted to starve when living, and are canonized after death.”

They arranged Morse’s apparatus in their cramped quarters and made every Tuesday “levee day” for anyone willing to climb the stairs to witness a demonstration. “I explained the principles and operation of the telegraph,” Kirk would later recall. “The visitors would agree upon a word themselves, which I was not to hear. Then the Professor would receive it at the writing end of the wires, while it devolved upon me to interpret the characters which recorded it at the other end. As I explained the hieroglyphics, the announcement of the word which they saw could have come to me only through the wire, would often create a deep sensation of delighted wonder.” Kirk would regret he had failed to keep notes on what was said. “Yet,” he recalled, “I never heard a remark which indicated that the result obtained by Mr. Morse was not NEW, wonderful, and promising immense practical results.”

In the first week of September, one of the luminaries of French science, the astronomer and physicist Dominique-François-Jean Arago, arrived at the house on the rue Neuve des Mathurins for a private showing. Thoroughly impressed, Arago offered at once to introduce Morse and his invention to the Académie des Sciences at the next meeting, to be held in just six days on September 10. To prepare himself, Morse began jotting down notes on what should be said: “My present instrument is very imperfect in its mechanism, and is only designed to illustrate the principle of my invention. ”

The savants of the Académie convened in the great hall of the Institut de France, the magnificent 17th-century landmark on the Left Bank facing the Seine and the Pont des Arts. Just over the river stood the Louvre, where, seven years earlier, Morse the painter had nearly worked himself to death. Now he stood “in the midst of the most celebrated scientific men of the world,” as he wrote to his brother Sidney. There was not a familiar face to be seen, except for Professor Arago and one other, the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who, in those other days at the Louvre, had come to watch him at his labors.

At Morse’s request, Arago explained to the audience how the invention worked, and what made it different from and superior to other such devices, while Morse stood by to operate the instrument. Everything worked to perfection. “A buzz of admiration and approbation filled the whole hall,” he wrote to Vail, “and the exclamations, ‘Extraordinaire!’ ‘Très bien!’ ‘Très admirable!’ I heard on all sides.”

The event was acclaimed in the Paris and London papers and in the Académie’s own weekly bulletin, the Comptes Rendus. In a long, prescient letter written two days later, the American patent commissioner, Morse’s friend Henry Ellsworth, who happened to be in Paris at the time, said the occasion had shown Morse’s telegraph “transcends all yet made known,” and that clearly “another revolution is at hand.” Ellsworth continued:

“I do not doubt that, within the next ten years, you will see electric power adopted, between all commercial points of magnitude on both sides of the Atlantic, for purposes of correspondence, and men enabled to send their orders or news of events from one point to another with the speed of lightning itself. The extremities of nations will be literally wired together. In the United States, for instance, you may expect to find, at no very distant day, the Executive messages, and the daily votes of each House of Congress, made known at Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Portland—at New Orleans, Cincinnati, etc.—as soon as they can be known in Baltimore, or even the opposite extremity of Pennsylvania Avenue. Abstract imagination is no longer a match for reality in the race that science has instituted on both sides of the Atlantic.”

That he was in Paris made him feel greater pride than ever, Ellsworth conceded. “In being abroad, among strangers and foreigners, one’s nationality of feeling may be somewhat more excusable than at home.”

Acclaim from the savants and the press was one thing, progress with the French government was another. America’s minister to France, Lewis Cass, provided Morse with a “most flattering” letter of introduction to carry on his rounds, but to no effect. After his eighth or ninth call at the office of the Ministre de l’Intérieur, Morse was still able to speak to no one above the level of a secretary, who asked only that he leave his card. “Every thing moves at a snail’s pace here,” he lamented a full two months after his day of glory at the Académie.

Morse, who had intended at midsummer to stay no more than a month in Paris, was still there at the start of the new year, 1839, and with Kirk’s help, still holding his Tuesday levees at the rue Neuve des Mathurins. That there was no decline in interest in his invention made the delays even more maddening.

It would be at home in America that his invention would have much the best chance, Morse decided. “There is more of the ‘go-ahead’ character with us. Here there are old systems long established to interfere, and at least to make them cautious before adopting a new project, however promising. Their railroad operations are a proof in point.” (Railroad construction in France, later starting than in the United States, was moving ahead at a much slower pace.)

By March, fed up with the French bureaucracy, embarrassed by the months wasted in waiting and by his worsening financial situation, Morse decided it was time to go home. But before leaving, he paid a visit to Monsieur Louis Daguerre, a theatrical scenery painter. “I am told every hour,” wrote Morse with a bit of hyperbole, “that the two great wonders of Paris just now, about which everyone is conversing, are Daguerre’s wonderful results in fixing permanently the image of the camera obscura and Morse’s Electro-Magnetic Telegraph.”

Morse and Daguerre were of about the same age, but where Morse could be somewhat circumspect, Daguerre was bursting with joie de vivre. Neither spoke the other’s language with any proficiency, but they got on at once—two painters who had turned their hands to invention.

The American was amazed by Daguerre’s breakthrough. Years before, Morse had attempted to fix the image produced with a camera obscura, by using paper dipped in a solution of nitrate of silver, but had given up the effort as hopeless. What Daguerre accomplished with his little daguerreotypes was clearly, Morse saw—and reported without delay in a letter to his brothers—“one of the most beautiful discoveries of the age.” In Daguerre’s images, Morse wrote, “The exquisite minuteness of the delineation cannot be conceived. No painting or engraving ever approached it. The effect of the lens upon the picture was in a great degree like that of a telescope in Nature.”

Morse’s account of his visit with Daguerre, published by his brothers in the New York Observer on April 20, 1839, was the first news of the daguerreotype to appear in the United States, picked up by newspapers all over the country. Once Morse arrived in New York, having crossed by steamship for the first time, aboard the Great Western, he wrote to Daguerre to assure him that “throughout the United States your name alone will be associated with the brilliant discovery which justly bears your name.” He also saw to it that Daguerre was made an honorary member of the National Academy, the first honor Daguerre received outside France.

Four years later, in July of 1844, news reached Paris and the rest of Europe that Professor Morse had opened a telegraph line, built with Congressional appropriation, between Washington and Baltimore, and that the telegraph was in full operation between the two cities, a distance of 34 miles. From a committee room at the Capitol, Morse had tapped out a message from the Bible to his partner Alfred Vail in Baltimore: “What hath God wrought?” Afterward others were given a chance to send their own greetings.

A few days later, interest in Morse’s device became greater by far at both ends when the Democratic National Convention being held at Baltimore became deadlocked and hundreds gathered about the telegraph in Washington for instantaneous news from the floor of the convention itself. Martin Van Buren was tied for the nomination with the former minister to France, Lewis Cass. On the eighth ballot, the convention chose a compromise candidate, a little-known former governor of Tennessee, James K. Polk.

In Paris, the English-language newspaper, Galignani’s Messenger, reported that newspapers in Baltimore were now able to provide their readers with the latest information from Washington up to the very hour of going to press. “This is indeed the annihilation of space.”

In 1867, Samuel Morse, internationally renowned as the inventor of the telegraph, returned to Paris once more, to witness the wonders displayed at the Exposition Universelle, the glittering world’s fair. At age 76, Morse was accompanied by his wife Sarah, whom he had married in 1848, and the couple’s four children. So indispensable had the telegraph become to daily life that 50,000 miles of Western Union wire carried more than two million news dispatches annually, including, in 1867, the latest from the Paris exposition.

More than a century later, in 1982, the Terra Foundation for American Art, in Chicago, purchased Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre for $3.25 million, the highest sum paid until then for a work by an American painter.

Historian David McCullough spent four years on both sides of the Atlantic as he researched and wrote The Greater Journey.

The Heartbreak That May Have Inspired the Telegraph

Samuel Morse’s life was full of disappointments, and one might’ve inspired his world-changing invention.

Samuel Morse, born on April 27, 225 years ago is best known for inventing Morse code. When he was 53, he strung a wire along the B&O railroad, then using his code to tap out “What hath God wrought” from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland, inaugurating the age of the telegraph, which led to the age of the telephone, then to the Internet, then to the smartphone.

Before all that, people wrote letters.

And it was a letter that gave Morse the bad news. It was a letter that changed his life.

In February 1825, Morse was in Washington, D.C. He was an itinerant painter, a good one, but he wasn’t making a solid living with his art. At age 34, he was older than his heroes had been when they created their masterpieces. Morse had traveled to Washington to pursue what could’ve been his big break: The city of New York promised him a $1,000 commission to paint Marquis de Lafayette, who was returning as a hero to the country he helped make free.

“We must begin to feel proud of your acquaintance,” Morse’s wife, Lucretia, wrote to him from their home in New Haven, Connecticut, a four-day trip away. She was expecting their third child. “I think now that we can indulge a rational hope that the time is not very far distant when you can be happy in the bosom of your much loved family,” she wrote.

And Morse indulged that hope. As he worked in Washington, he wrote to Lucretia, “I long to hear from you.”

But he wouldn’t hear from her. Lucretia, at the time Morse wrote to her, was dead.

Morse soon got a letter from his father: “My heart is in pain and deeply sorrowful, while I announce to you the sudden and unexpected death of your dear and deservedly loved wife.”

Lucretia had died a few days earlier of an apparent heart attack while recovering from childbirth. Morse, whose life had been filled with disappointments and lost commissions, suffered another defeat, this time caused by slow communication. He rushed back to his family, but by the time he got back to New Haven, Lucretia was already buried.

Seven years later, Morse was on a boat, returning from a trip to Europe, where he’d studied painting and developed a scheme to recreate the masterpieces of the Louvre for Americans—it too failed. On board, he got involved in conversations about electromagnetism, and how it could travel through wires, and how it could send information faster than anyone had previously imagined.

Back in the United States, Morse got a job at New York University. He went to lectures on electricity. He secretly began working on a way of encoding and sending messages. (He also ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor of New York City on an anti-immigrant platform.)

There had been experiments with sending electricity through wires before Morse was born. And there had been telegraph machines for years already, mostly in Europe. But these were basically semaphore machines with too many wires and complex signals that couldn’t travel far. Operators sometimes used telescopes to see the messages.

Others had the idea to make them more efficient, but Morse, with his tenacity and his code of dots and dashes, got his plan in front of Congress. In 1838, he returned to Washington, to the scene of his greatest heartbreak, and tried to convince lawmakers to fund his telegraph. Again, he failed.

Four years later, Morse, driven, went back to Washington and rigged a telegraph between two committee rooms to show off the technology that might have given him a chance to share a final few moments with Lucretia, or at least to attend her funeral. Congress gave him $30,000. He strung the wire to Baltimore. And on May 24, 1844, he sent the first message.

The rather sad story of the father of American photography

It&rsquos been a long time since I did a photography history article. I generally prefer the early days of photography. People just were--I don&rsquot know, more--back then. There was more lying, more backstabbing, more drama, and more originality. You name it they did more of it.

In my various readings, which I do far too much of, I learned a bit about Samuel Morse and became fascinated. This guy had more careers than I have. (Hey, some of those careers I wanted to leave. Don&rsquot be tacky.) At various times he was a preacher, a painter, a professor, an inventor, a photographer, and a politician.

But when I looked a little deeper, I found he wasn&rsquot a Renaissance-type Polymath as I had assumed. Morse was an argumentative, whining man who failed at one career after another, fought with and sued (or was sued by) virtually every associate he ever had, and played the poor-pitiful-me victim card at every turn. He succeeded at almost everything he did for a while, then failed miserably and left to do something else.

He is recognized as the inventor of the telegraph, which he really wasn&rsquot, and the originator of Morse code, which he probably was. On one of his many career side-trips he also had a large role in bringing photography to the U. S. It is largely because of Morse that American photography took a leading role in the mid-1800s. That wasn&rsquot really his intention, though. He spent far more time and energy telling everyone he had done it than he actually spent in doing it.

He was an ugly man, as my sainted mother would say in her best Steel Magnolia voice. In the South ugly doesn&rsquot refer so much to physical appearance as it does to personality. When I told the story of Petzval and Voigtlander it was a bit tragic: a great inventor robbed of his just rewards by a sneaky businessman. That happened to Morse, too, but he was his own worst enemy.

Morse&rsquos Origins
Morse probably came by his rather opinionated personality rather naturally. He was born in 1791, the eldest son of Jedidiah Morse. As you would expect, with a name like Jedidiah, Papa Morse was a fire breathing, New England Congregationalist Minister. He also wrote most of the Geography books that originated in America in the decades around 1800, and was widely known as &lsquothe Father of American Geography&rsquo.

Jedidiah followed the &lsquoOften wrong, never in doubt&rsquo school of thinking, with a nice dash of paranoia thrown in. He spent most of his time fighting Unitarianism, Popery, Freemasonry, and anything else he considered a threat to America. He knew most of the founding fathers of America, idolizing Washington but despising Adams and Jefferson as Jacobinists.

Samuel Morse spent most of his youth at various boarding schools, which wasn't unusual in the day, and eventually attended Yale College. Yale was largely known for two things: training Puritanical clergy--his parent&rsquos hope for Samuel--and experimentation in newfangled sciences like electricity. In those days, Yale was largely a reaction to the more liberal Harvard College, with Yale&rsquos Puritan roots showing in rules against &lsquocard playing, tavern going, and acts of disobedience to college authorities&rsquo.

Just like colleges today, the rules seemed put in place to mostly reassure the parents paying tuition. Morse played cards, hung out at the local tavern, went on &lsquoshooting parties&rsquo with his classmates, and was at first an indifferent student. Like most college students, his letters home begged for more money his parent&rsquos responses were &lsquonot with those grades, Sammy&rsquo. Morse became a better student his parents forked over more cash.

After putting his parents in debt obtaining his degree, Samuel did what children have done after graduation forever: he decided he really didn&rsquot like the field his degree prepared him for. He wanted to be a painter--canvas, that is, not houses. He had been a self-taught painter for some time and thought it would be a marvelous idea if he went to England to study painting for three years with two prominent American painters of the day, Washington Alliston and Benjamin West.

It somehow never occurred to Samuel that there was a reason Benjamin West, the greatest early American painter, lived in London and made his living painting pictures of King George and Horatio Nelson &mdash there was no market for fine art in America at the time. Jedidiah was aware of this and refused Samuel&rsquos request to study in England, setting him up in a nice apprenticeship with a book publisher.

Morse dutifully followed his father&rsquos directions and took the job his father arranged at a Boston publisher. He proceeded to write home weekly that he was completely miserable, had no reason to live, but he would die happily knowing he had followed his family&rsquos wishes. After some months of this Jedidiah was willing to pay any price to get Samuel out of his hair, so off to study art in England he went.

The Painting Years
Morse was quite successful in his art studies, producing at least one critically acclaimed painting, Dying Hercules. He also managed to gain admittance to the Royal Academy in 1811, which probably had the added benefits of driving his Anglophobic father completely insane. Remember, the war of 1812 was right around the corner, and so the U. S. and Britain weren&rsquot exactly best friends at the time.

Morse returned to America in 1815 and did quite well as a painter &mdash for a while. He was commissioned to paint portraits of John Adams, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette, among others. But commissions dried up as the American economy soured. For a decade Morse struggled financially. He moved constantly, taught students in Charleston and New York, and took commissions where he could get them.

He married, but his wife and children lived with his parents or other relatives while he worked to establish himself. However, even when Morse was doing well--at one time he had a large house in New York City and was regularly sending money home--he never sent for his family. When his wife died suddenly in 1825, Morse sent the children to live with various relatives and rarely visited them.

He was crushed that he was turned down to paint one of four scenes for the new United States Capital building. Instead, he painted a huge scene of the capital itself, hoping to draw large crowds to its exhibition, but this failed financially.

In 1829 he decided he needed further study in Europe. He took commissions to paint copies of various famous paintings, and left to spend the next three years in Italy and France. Toward the end of his stay he spent several months painting his masterpiece, The Gallery of the Louvre, expecting to sell it for a large sum when he returned to America. As usual, Morse was disappointed. The exhibition of the painting drew meager crowds and he sold it eventually for $1500.

The Early Telegraph Years
Morse returned to America on board the sailing ship Sully in 1832. During the voyage he had lengthy discussions with Dr. Thomas Jackson regarding the ability of electricity to pass a current instantaneously through a wire over great distances. After arriving back in America he began to work on a device using batteries and copper wire that would transmit a signal over distances.

Having no real scientific education, Morse spent a lot of time with Professor Leonard Gale who helped him develop a power source and the electromagnetic relays that let the system work over long distances. Having no practical engineering background, nor any money, he partnered with Alfred Vail, whose family owned a large machine shop and provided both funds and equipment to develop Morse&rsquos ideas.

Morse and Vail exhibited a working device in 1838. Rather than using the series of dots and dashes that eventually became Morse code, they sent a series of numbers. The numbers each correlated to a word in a large dictionary. The number 29 might mean &lsquohorse&rsquo while 162 might be &lsquorider&rsquo, etc. (Morse felt selling the dictionary would be a major profit for his new invention.)

Finding no one in America was interested in purchasing his invention, Morse travelled back to Europe hoping to sell it there. Once again he was unsuccessful. Great Britain already had a working (in a limited way), patented telegraph system developed by Sir William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. The system wasn&rsquot nearly as good as the Morse system, which required just a single wire and was much simpler. On the other hand, it was Britain and Cooke and Wheatstone were British.

A similar reception awaited in Europe where Gauss and Weber had developed a telegraph system that Carl Steinheil had deployed in Munich. Again, the system was more complex than Morse&rsquos, but the Germans weren&rsquot interested in paying Morse when they already had a system in place, even though it was a limited system.

As an aside, in 1839 Steinheil became the first German to use Daguerre&rsquos newfangled camera system. (Can you believe I got this far without an aside?) Within a few months he had developed a method to create a negative image and multiple positive prints on paper, similar to Talbot&rsquos photographs. In the 1850s he founded the Steinhill optical works and his son, Hugo, developed some of the most important camera lenses of the 1800s.

Apparently the closest Morse came to selling his system while in Europe was to Russia, who found it attractive largely because it wasn&rsquot British or German. But the Czars spent all their money on Faberge Eggs and such in those days, and never got around to purchasing the telegraph.

The French also took a look but they already had a high tech system in place: they had built a series of small towers a few miles apart, each of which had moveable wooden arms on top. The arms were controlled by ropes, sending a series of semaphore signals. The French felt this was far more reliable than some signal traveling through electrical wires. They sort of glossed over things like darkness, fog, rain, and wind all of which made their system shut down.

Morse returned to America broke and unsuccessful. But his trip to Europe wasn&rsquot entirely useless.

While in France in 1838, the American Ambassador arranged a meeting with a French inventor and showman, Louis Daguerre. Daguerre treated Morse to a show at his Diorama, demonstrated his new camera, and showed a number of photographs, which impressed Morse greatly. Morse returned the favor by demonstrating the telegraph to Daguerre. (It was during this demonstration that Daguerre&rsquos Diorama Theater burnt down, so apparently Morse&rsquos bad financial luck spread to people around him.)

Daguerre agreed to furnish Morse with all of the documentation for his process as soon as the French Government agreed to buy the photographic invention. Morse received his copy of Daguerre&rsquos book in the summer of 1839 and built his own Daguerreotype camera. Morse, having no money as usual, talked his two brothers into removing the roof of their six story newspaper building and replacing it with a skylight, allowing him to have the first photography studio in America.

Morse partnered with Dr. John Draper, a Professor of Chemistry at New York University. Draper&rsquos chemical background allowed him to make improvements to Daguerre&rsquos development process. By 1840 he had shortened exposure times enough to take actual portraits, something Daguerre had felt could never be accomplished. He was also the first man to photograph the moon and the first American to take photographs through a microscope.

Morse and Draper also opened a Daguerreian studio and classroom in 1840, assisted by Samuel Broadbent. While it seems Morse did not have great success in his portrait business, he took students and taught them the processes involved for a fee of $25 to $50. He made a reasonable living this way for several years.

In addition to Broadbent, Morse trained Mathew Brady, Albert Sands Southworth, Edward Anthony, and Jeremiah Gurney. These men went on to become America&rsquos foremost early photographers.

Matthew Brady&rsquos Civil War photographs were the origin of photojournalism. It is Brady&rsquos photographs of Abraham Lincoln that provide the images on the Penny and $5 bill. Brady made almost every surviving photograph of American Civil War generals, both Union and Confederate.

Broadbent opened the first photographic studios in Philadelphia and Atlanta. Southworth did the same in Boston where he additionally was the photographer for the Massachusetts General Hospital, recording operating room scenes including the first surgeries under anesthesia.

Anthony became the first to use photographs as legal evidence, submitting landscapes of the boundary between the U. S. and Canada to demonstrate landmarks. He later founded the E. & H. T. Anthony & Company, which was the largest distributor of photography equipment in the U. S. until Kodak changed the market. Oddly enough, Matthew Brady spent so much money making his Civil War photographs that his plates all became the property of E & H. T. Anthony & Co. when he defaulted on payment for his photographic supplies.

Gurney was probably the best-known American portrait photographer of the 1850s and 60s. He was one of the first American photographers to exhibit in Britain and Europe. It was his exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1853 that led magazines of the day to state, &ldquoIt is generally understood that the best daguerreotypes are produced in the United States&rdquo.

Like so many of his occupations, Morse was not particularly successful in his own photography business and he closed it within a few years, never to photograph again. His students, though, became the best-known American photographers of the Daguerreotype era and went on to train most of the American photographers of the next generation. Morse, therefore, has a legitimate claim to being the father of American photography.

Like his own children, though, he was an absentee father, having left the field shortly after its birth. And like many of his activities, Morse spent more time belittling the contributions of others and emphasizing his own than was appropriate.

He conveniently forgot the contributions of Dr. Draper, and in later life stated that he'd taught Draper, rather than properly crediting him as a co-investigator. Draper&rsquos doctorate in chemistry makes it unlikely that Morse, as he later claimed, made most of the advances in the development process. Indeed, Morse was reminded that he himself took instruction from François Gouraud, an associate of Daguerre who came to America about the same time Morse began his photography experiments. When this was pointed out to him, he replied in print that he had spent considerable time unlearning what Gouraud wrongly taught.

The Rest of the Story

In 1843 Morse and his associates obtained a $30,000 grant from the U. S. Congress to create a telegraph line from Washington, D. C. to Baltimore, MD. It was hugely successful. Over the following years, the telegraph became perhaps the most important invention of the 1800s. Communication, which had been limited to the speed of a train or sailing ship, became almost instantaneous. Huge corporations, like Western Union and the Associated Press developed directly as a result of the new technology.

While Morse was successful, it seems unlikely he was ever happy. He was embroiled in dozens of lawsuits with various business partners and competitors for the remainder of his lifetime. While he became financially successful, it was largely because he had received 5,000 shares of the Western Union Company when it incorporated. He got very little money directly from the telegraph.

In Europe, the patents of Wheatstone, Cooke and others prevented him from making any income from his now worldwide telegraph system, although several European countries banded together to give him some small payments in gratitude for his invention. He was also given honors equivalent to Knighthoods by several countries, including Denmark and Turkey. While he was immensely proud of this, it caused him problems back in the United States because accepting such honors should have meant giving up his U. S. citizenship.

Morse also appears to have forgotten those who helped him. He wrote dozens of letters-to-the-editor, depositions, and even books defending himself from charges that Vail, Professor Gale, Dr. Jackson, and numerous others were the true inventors of the Morse telegraph. Rather than graciously offering a bit of credit that was due, he generally claimed all the ideas were his in entirety.

In U. S. court cases, he was largely, but not entirely, successful in defending his patents. Vail, however, received a significant portion of the money Morse made from his inventions. He is also arguably credited with changing Morse code from the &lsquoword associated with a number&rsquo method used originally to the Morse alphabet code that was eventually adopted for general use. It was also Vail who developed the telegraph key and Gale who created the repeater system that made long-distance transmission possible.

Some of this fighting was unavoidable with such a landmark invention, of course. There were obviously fortunes to be made by those who owned the rights to the telegraph. Some of the fighting appears to have just been Morse&rsquos nature. Long after his patents had run out and his financial success was assured, he continued to write long letters to various newspapers refuting anyone who claimed any shared credit for his invention.

Americans idolized Morse for years after the telegraph was introduced. From his position of fame, he became rather political and wrote at length against--well, basically everything that wasn&rsquot Calvinist American. He ran for office on anti-Catholic, anti-European, and anti-abolitionist platforms (1,2). After being soundly defeated--he received just 759 votes when running for the Mayor of New York--he continued to write numerous political articles.

During the American Civil War he wrote long diatribes attempting to show that the Bible was pro-slavery and organized groups to oppose Lincoln whom he blamed for the Civil War. This might have been better received had he lived in the Confederate States. In his homes of New York and New England, though, it brought public opinion of him to new lows.

Morse returned to Europe for most of the last years of his life, largely because he felt more comfortable there. He finally returned home to New York in 1870. During his last years he was extremely philanthropic, making large donations to churches and educational institutes.

Public opinion of Morse had largely rebounded by that time and on June 10th, 1871 a large celebration of his life took place. It began with the unveiling of a statue of him in Central Park, and ended in a large auditorium where Morse keyed out his last message in Morse code.

Morse died a few months later at age 81. At the time of his death he was writing a last rebuttal to an article written by the curator of the Smithsonian museum that claimed that Vail and Gale, not he, were the true inventors of the telegraph.

Samuel Morse: Morse Code and Secret Codes

by Megan Bittner
Codes, such as the Morse code, have been used throughout history to communicate, signal distress, and transmit secret information. One of the most recognizable codes is Morse code, developed by Samuel Morse in 1836 as a means of long-distance communication. It was soon in use by the military industry worldwide, and the universal distress signal derived from Morse code–SOS–is one of the most recognizable emergency codes in use. Explore these fascinating lesson plans, games, and activities to commemorate the birthday of this American artist, scientist, and inventor on April 27.

Samuel Morse and the Morse Code

Begin with an overview of the history of the telegraph and its impact on military strategies, news and business, economics, and personal communication at History.com.

The first long-distance message was transmitted by Samuel Morse on May 24, 1844 on an experimental line from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

Although Samuel Morse is well-known for the communication method named for him, you may not know of his career as an artist, his motivation for his long-distance communication method, or memorable final Morse code message. Check out these six things you may not know about Samuel Morse.

Although the lifespan of Morse code as a means of communication was short-lived, having been replaced in relatively quick succession by telephone, email, and text message, the invention proved to be the catalyst that helped launch the world of instantaneous networked communication that we take for granted today.

Use this printable code listening tool to learn how to decipher morse code by ear, and use the visual Morse code alphabet chart to decipher this (partial) quote from Bill Gates.

•- -• -•– – — — •-•• – •••• •- – • -• •••• •- -• -•-• • ••• -•-• — — — ••- -• •• -•-• •- – •• — -• •••• •- ••• •–• •-• — ••-• — ••- -• -•• • ••-• ••-• • -•-• – •••

Bookshark offers a four-day unit study on Samuel Morse and his invention suitable for children ages 6 through 13. Learn about the life, the scientific breakthroughs, and even the failures of inventor Samuel Morse through an engaging narrative and an easy to assemble hands-on activity–a simple, working telegraph using the kit and directions provided. Now through August 31, 2018, use discount code TKHEAV at checkout to receive this unit study FREE! Thank you so much to Bookshark for this amazing offer! (And be sure to visit them in booth #317 at the convention and thank them!

Emergency Communication

One way that codes are commonly used is in emergency communication and signals. There are many variations on the universal SOS signal that can be used in outdoor survival situations.

The International Code of Signals (ICS) is a system of codes and signals used by ships to communicate important messages regarding safety, navigation, and more.

Semaphore flag signalling is an alphabet signalling system based on waving two hand-held flags in a specific pattern.

Improve your outdoor survival skills with these universal whistle signals utilizing an essential survival tool–the simple whistle.

Keeping Secrets

The most fascinating types of codes are secret codes and ciphers, which have been used throughout history to transmit sensitive information and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

Cryptography is the study of enciphering and encoding (sending coded messages) and deciphering and decoding (interpreting coded message).

One of the oldest known ciphers was used by Roman ruler Julius Caesar (100 B.C.–44 B.C.) for secret communication.

Mary, Queen of Scots used a polyalphabetic cipher to send coded messages to her co-conspirator Anthony Babington in her plot against Elizabeth I of England.

George Washington and the Culper Spy ring used the Culper Code to transmit spy communications during the American Revolutionary War.

Check out some of the many spy techniques used during the Revolutionary War, including ciphers and coded letters, mask letters, and even invisible ink!

President Jefferson devised the code we now know as the Secret Code of Lewis and Clark to enable Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to encode the information they learned on their famous expedition.

During the American Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies used coded messages and ciphers to communicate. The Confederate army commonly used a variation of the Vigènere Cipher, and both armies used flag-based codes with multiple alphabets and ciphers.

Not all codes are a mish-mash of symbols and ciphers some codes are hidden in plain “sight,” through song and verse. Some of the most well-known examples of this are the songs of the Underground Railroad, used before and during the Civil War. Slaves would use the lyrics of the songs to communicate specific messages and plan escapes.

Coded messages had become more “high-tech” by World War II. Both the German and Japanese used a code creator called the Enigma machine to create ciphers, and British scientists created a machine called the “bombe” to decipher messages created by the Enigma.

A lower-tech method of transmitting coded messages during World War II was through the use of carrier pigeons using tiny canisters. These carrier pigeons were used extensively to carry information to Britain from mainland Europe. The remains of one such pigeon were discovered in 1982 in a disused chimney of a home in Surrey, England, with an encoded message still intact in its canister. Despite some claims made by enthusiastic cryptologists, it is debatable whether the cipher has been or will ever be solved.

An unfortunate result of code books and algorithms being lost, or the creators of ciphers taking the secret to their graves, is that there are many secrets that may never be discovered. Check our these seven fascinating codes from around the world that have yet to be broken.

One way to learn how to decipher codes is to learn how to write them. Explore a collection of known codes and ciphers and even learn how to create your own with WikiHow.

Even very young children can practice cryptology with these six secret codes for kids.

Experiment with these five methods of making invisible ink to add another level of secrecy to your coded messages.

Try your hand at deciphering and decoding with these 15 free online code and cipher games.

If you have a copy of the Spring 2018 issue of Home Educator magazine handy, use the Ottendorf book cipher described here to decode the following message:

21 1 34 – 7 1 3 – 18 1 3 – 11 3 1 – 7 3 6 – 21 1 6 – 11 3 41 – 10 1 1 – 20 2 17 – 17 6 5 – 8 2 37 – 9 3 4 – 6 1 2 – 15 3 30 – 14 1 4 – 19 2 6 – 18 5 10 – 7 3 12 – 9 2 6 – 15 1 14 – 18 1 13 – 19 9 2 – 21 12 12

Key details about the first message sent in Morse code and other details about the first Morse code telegraph.

Morse Code

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Morse Code, either of two systems for representing letters of the alphabet, numerals, and punctuation marks by an arrangement of dots, dashes, and spaces. The codes are transmitted as electrical pulses of varied lengths or analogous mechanical or visual signals, such as flashing lights. One of the systems was invented in the United States by American artist and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse during the 1830s for electrical telegraphy. This version was further improved by American scientist and businessman Alfred Lewis Vail, Morse’s assistant and partner. Soon after its introduction in Europe, it became apparent that the original Morse Code was inadequate for the transmission of much non-English text, since it lacked codes for letters with diacritic marks. To remedy this deficiency, a variant called the International Morse Code was devised by a conference of European nations in 1851. This newer code is also called Continental Morse Code.

What is Morse Code?

The term Morse Code refers to either of two systems for representing letters of the alphabet, numerals, and punctuation marks by an arrangement of dots, dashes, and spaces. The codes are transmitted as electrical pulses of varied lengths or analogous mechanical or visual signals, such as flashing lights. The two systems are the original “American” Morse Code and the later International Morse Code, which became the global standard.

How was Morse Code invented?

One of the Morse code systems was invented in the United States by American artist and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse during the 1830s for electrical telegraphy. A variant called the International Morse Code was devised by a conference of European nations in 1851 to account for letters with diacritic marks.

Is Morse Code still used?

The original “American” Morse Code invented by Samuel F.B. Morse is hardly in use today. However, International Morse Code is still used by U.S. Navy intelligence specialists, amateur radio operator afficionados who form the International Morse Code Preservation Society, and aviators who communicate abbreviated identifiers via Morse Code.

How does Morse Code work?

International Morse Code uses combinations of dots and short dashes for all letters. In addition, the International Morse Code uses dashes of constant length rather than the variable lengths used in the original Morse Code. For example, the universal distress signal “SOS” is communicated by three dots, three dashes, and three dots—three dots denoting the letter “S” and three dashes denoting the letter “O.”

The two systems are similar, but the International Morse Code is simpler and more precise. For example, the original Morse Code used patterns of dots and spaces to represent a few of the letters, whereas the International Morse uses combinations of dots and short dashes for all letters. In addition, the International Morse Code uses dashes of constant length rather than the variable lengths used in the original Morse Code.

The International Morse Code has, except for some minor changes in 1938, remained the same since its inception. (The American telegraph industry never abandoned the original Morse Code, and so its use continued until the spread of teleprinters in the 1920s and ’30s.) International Morse Code was used in World War II and in the Korean and Vietnam wars. It was used heavily by the shipping industry and for the safety of the seas up until the early 1990s. Although amateur radio made up only a small part of Morse Code usage, it did prepare many hundreds of operators for military duty in communications. In the early 2000s most countries had dropped the ability to decipher Morse Code from the requirements for obtaining an amateur radio license.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by John P. Rafferty, Editor.

Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals by Samuel F. B. Morse

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skin, flesh and bone are no match against wood, iron and stone. I am
entirely well of it and enjoyed my visit to the western lines very much."

It was characteristic of Morse that the first money which he received
from the actual sale of his patent rights ($45 for the right to use his
patent on a short line from the Post-Office to the National Observatory
in Washington) was devoted by him to a religious purpose. From a letter
of October 20, 1846, we learn that, adding $5 to this sum, he presented
$25 to a Sunday School, and $25 to the fund for repairs.

The attachment of the three Morse brothers to each other was intense, and
lasted to the end of their lives. The letters of Finley Morse to his
brother Sidney, in particular, would alone fill a volume and are of great
interest. Most of them have never before been published and I shall quote
from them freely in following Morse's career.

Sidney and his family were still in Europe, and the two following
extracts are from letters to him:--

"_October 29, 1846._ I don't know where this will find you, but, as the
steamer Caledonia goes in a day or two, and as I did not write you by the
last steamer, I thought I would occupy a few moments (not exactly of
leisure) to write you. Charles has little to do, but does all he can.
He is desirous of a farm and I have made up my mind to indulge him. I
shall go up the river in a day or two and look in the vicinity of

"Telegraph matters are every day assuming a more and more interesting
aspect. All physical and scientific difficulties are vanquished. If
conductors are well put up there is nothing more to wish for in the
facilities of intercourse. My operators can easily talk with each other
as fast as persons usually write, and faster than this would be faster
than is necessary. The Canadians are alive on the subject, and lines are
projected from Toronto to Montreal, from Montreal to Quebec and to
Halifax. Lines are also in contemplation from Toronto to Detroit, on the
Canada side, and from Buffalo to Chicago on this side, so that it may not
be visionary to say that our first news from England may reach New York
via Halifax, Detroit, Buffalo and Albany.

"The papers will inform you of the events of the war. Our people are
united on this point so far as to pursue it with vigor to a speedy
termination. However John Bull may sneer and endeavor to detract from the
valor of our troops, his own annals do not furnish proofs of greater
skill and more fearless daring and successful result. The Mexican race is
a worn-out race, and God in his Providence is taking this mode to
regenerate them. Whatever may be the opinions of some in relation to the
justness or unjustness of our quarrel, there ought to be but one opinion
among all good men, and that should be that the moment should be improved
to throw a light into that darkened nation, and to raise a standard there
which, whatever may become of the Stars and Stripes, or Eagle and Prickly
Pear, shall be never taken down till all nations have flocked to it. Our
Bible and Tract Societies and missionaries ought to be in the wake of our

"_January 28, 1847._ Telegraph matters are becoming more and more
interesting. The people of the country everywhere are desirous of
availing themselves of its facilities, and the lines are being extended
in all directions. As might be expected then, I have my plans interfered
with by mercenary speculators who threaten to put up rival telegraphs and
contest my patent. _I am ready for them._ We have had to apply for an
injunction on the Philadelphia and Pittsburg line. The case is an
aggravated one and will be decided on Monday or Tuesday at Philadelphia
in Circuit Court of United States. I have no uneasiness as to the result.
[It was decided against him, however, but this proved only a temporary

"There are more F.O.Js. than one, yet not one quite so bad. I think amid
all the scramble I shall probably have enough come to my share, and it
does not matter by what means our Heavenly Father chooses to curtail my
receipts, for I shall have just what he pleases, none can hinder it, and
more I do not want. House and his associates are making most strenuous
efforts to interfere and embarrass me by playing on the ignorance of the
public and the natural timidity of capitalists. I shall probably have to
lay the law on him and make an example before my patent is confirmed in
the minds of the public. It is the course, I am told, of every
substantial patent. It has to undergo the ordeal of one trial in the

"Although I thus write, you need have no fears that my operations will be
seriously affected by any schemes of common letter printing telegraphs. I
have just filed a caveat for one which I have invented, which as far
transcends in simplicity and efficiency any previous plan for the
purpose, as my telegraph system is superior to the old visual telegraphs.
I will have it in operation by the time you return."

Apropos of the attacks made upon him by would-be infringers, the
following from a letter of his legal counsel, Daniel Lord, Esq., dated
January 12, 1847, may not come amiss: "It ought to be a source of great
satisfaction to you to have your invention stolen and counterfeited.
Think what an acknowledgment it is, and what a tribute to its merits."

Referring to this in a letter to Mr. Lord of a later date, Morse answers:
"The plot thickens all around me I think a _denouement_ not far off. I
remember your consoling me under these attacks with bidding me think that
I had invented something worth contending for. Alas! my dear sir, what
encouragement is there to an inventor if, after years of toil and
anxiety, he has only purchased for himself the pleasure of being a target
for every vile fellow to shoot at, and, in proportion as his invention is
of public utility, so much the greater effort is to be made to defame,
that the robbery may excite the less sympathy? I know, however, that
beyond all this is a clear sky, but the clouds may not break away until I
am no longer personally interested whether it be foul or fair. I wish not
to complain, but I have feelings and cannot play the stoic if I would."

It was a new experience for Morse to become involved in the intricacies
of the law, and, in a letter to a friend, Henry I. Williams, Esq., dated
February 22, 1847, he naively remarks: "A student all my life, mostly in
a profession which is adverse in its habits and tastes from those of the
business world, and never before engaged in a lawsuit, I confess to great
ignorance even of the ordinary, commonplace details of a court."

His desire to be both just and merciful is shown in a letter to Mr.
Kendall, written on February 16, just before the decision was rendered
against him: "I have been in court all day, and have been much pleased
with the clearness and, I think, conclusiveness of Mr. Miles's argument.
I think he has produced an evident change in the views of the judge. Yet
it is best to be prepared for the worst, and, even if we succeed in
getting the injunction, I wish as much leniency as possible to be shown
to the opposing parties. Indeed, in this I know my views are seconded by
you. However we may have 'spoken daggers,' let us use none, and let us
make every allowance for honest mistake, even where appearances are at
first against such a supposition. O'Reilly may have acted hastily, under
excitement, under bad advisement, and in that mood have taken wrong
steps. Yet I still believe he may be recovered, and, while I would use
every precaution to protect our just rights, I wish not to take a single
step that can be misconstrued into vindictiveness or triumph."

It was well that it was his invariable rule to be prepared for the worst,
for, writing to his brother Sidney on February 24, he says: "We have just
had a lawsuit in Philadelphia before Judge Kane. We applied for an
injunction to stay irregular and injurious proceedings on the part of
Western (Pittsburg and Cincinnati) Company, and our application has been
_refused_ on technical grounds. I know not what will be the issue. I am
trying to have matters compromised, but do not know if it can be done,
and we may have to contest it in _law_. Our application was in court of
equity. A movement of Smith was the cause of all."

Another sidelight is thrown on Morse's character by the following extract
from a letter to one of his lieutenants, T.S. Faxton, written on March
15: "We must raise the salaries of our operators or they will all be
taken from us, that is, all that are good for anything. You will
recollect that, at the first meeting of the Board of Directors, I took
the ground that 'it was our policy to make the office of operator
desirable, to pay operators well and make their situation so agreeable
that intelligent men and men of character will seek the place and dread
to lose it.' I still think so, and, depend upon it, it is the soundest
economy to act on this principle."

Just about this time, to add to Morse's other perplexities, Doctor
Charles T. Jackson began to renew his claims to the invention of the
telegraph, while also disputing with Morton the discovery of ether as an
anaesthetic, then called "Letheon," and claiming the invention of
gun-cotton and the discovery of the circulation of the blood. Morse found
a willing and able champion in Edward Warren, Esq., of Boston, and many
letters passed between them. As Jackson's wild claims were effectually
disposed of, I shall not dwell upon this source of annoyance, but shall
content myself with one extract from a letter to Mr. Warren of March 23:
"I wish not to attack Dr. Jackson nor even to defend myself in _public_
from his _private_ attacks. If in any of his publications he renews his
claim, which I consider as long since settled by default, then it will be
time and proper for me to notice him. The most charitable construction
of the Dr's. conduct is to attribute it to a monomania induced by
excessive vanity."

While many of those upon whom he had looked as friends turned against him
in the mad scramble for power and wealth engendered by the extension of
the telegraph lines, it is gratifying to turn to those who remained true
to him through all, and among these none was more loyal than Alfred Vail.
Their correspondence, which was voluminous, is always characterized by
the deepest confidence and affection. In a long letter of March 24, Vail
shows his solicitude for Morse's peace of mind: "I think I would not be
bothered with a directorship in the New York and Buffalo line, nor in any
other. I should wish to keep clear of them. It will only tend to harass
and vex when you should be left quiet and undisturbed to pursue your
improvements and the enjoyment of what is most gratifying to you."

And Morse, writing to Vail somewhat later in this same year, exclaims:
"You say you hope I shall not forget that we have spent many hours
together. You might have added 'happy hours.' I have tried you, dear
Vail, as a friend, and think I know you as a zealous and honest one."

Still earlier, on March 18, 1845, in one of his reports to the
Postmaster-General, Cave Johnson, he adds: "In regard to the salary of
the 'one clerk at Washington--$1200,' Mr. Vail, who would from the
necessity of the case take that post, is my right-hand man in the whole
enterprise. He has been with me from the year 1837, and is as familiar
with all the mechanism and scientific arrangements of the Telegraph as I
am myself. His time and talent are more essential to the success of
the Telegraph than [those of] any two persons that could be named."

Returning now to the letters to his brother Sidney, I shall give the
following extracts:--

"_March 29, 1847._ I am now in New York permanently that is I have no
longer any official connection with Washington, and am thinking of
_fixing_ somewhere so soon as I can get my telegraphic matters into such
a state as to warrant it but my patience is still much tried. Although
the enterprise looks well and is prospering, yet somehow I do not command
the cash as some business men would if they were in the same situation.
The property is doubtless good and is increasing, but I cannot use it as
I could the money, for, while everybody seems to think I have the wealth
of John Jacob, the only sum I have actually realized is my first dividend
on one line, about fourteen hundred dollars, and with this I cannot
purchase a house. But time will, perhaps, enable me to do so, if it is
well that I should have one. I have had some pretty threatening
obstacles, but they as yet are summer clouds which seem to be dissipating
through the smiles of our Heavenly Father. House's affair I think is
dead. I believe it has been held up by speculators to drive a better
bargain with me, thinking to scare me but they don't find me so easily
frightened. In Virginia I had to oppose a most bigoted, narrow, illiberal
clique in a railroad company, which had the address to get a bill through
the House of Delegates giving them actually the monopoly of telegraphs,
and ventured to halloo before they were out of the woods. Mr. Kendall
went post-haste to Richmond, met the bill and its supporters before the
Committee of the Senate, and, after a sharp contest, procured its
rejection in the Senate, and the adoption, by a vote of 13 to 7, of a
substitute granting me _right of way_ and _corporate powers_, which bill,
after violent opposition in the House, was finally passed, 44 to 27. So a
mean intrigue was defeated most signally, and I came off triumphant."

"_April 27._ This you will recognize by the date is my birthday 36 years
old. Only think, I shall never be 26 again. Don't you wish you were as
young as I am? Well, if _feelings_ determined age I should be in reality
what I have above stated, but that leaf in the family Bible, those boys
and that daughter, those nieces and nephews of younger brothers, and
especially that _grandson_, they all concur in putting twenty years more
to those 36. I cannot get them off there they are 56.

"There is an underhand intrigue against my telegraph interests in
Virginia, fostered by a friend turned enemy in the hope to better his own
interests, a man whom I have ever treated as a friend while I had the
governmental patronage to bestow, and gave him office in Baltimore.
Having no more of patronage to give I have no more friendship from him.
Mr. R. has proved himself false, notwithstanding his naming his son after
me as a proof of friendship."

The Mr. R. referred to was Henry J. Rogers, and, writing of him to Vail
on April 26, Morse says: "I am truly grieved at Rogers's conduct. He must
be conscious of doing great injustice for a man that has wronged another
is sure to invent some cause for his act if there has been none given. In
this case he endeavors to excuse his selfish and injurious acts by the
false assertion that 'I had cast him overboard.' Why, what does he mean?
Was I not overboard myself? Does he or anyone else suppose I have nothing
else to do than to find them places, and not only intercede for them,
which in Rogers's case and Zantziger's I have constantly and
perseveringly done to the present hour, but I am bound to force the
companies, over which I have no control, to take them at any rate, on the
penalty of being traduced and injured by them if they do not get the
office they seek? As to Rogers, you know my feelings towards him and his.
I had received him as a _friend_, not as a mere employee, and let no
opportunity pass without urging forward his interests. I recollected his
naming his son for me, and had determined, if the wealth actually came
which has been predicted to me, that that child should be remembered."

Always desirous of being just and merciful, Morse writes to Vail on May
1: "Rogers is here. I have had a good deal of conversation with him, and
the result is that I think that some circumstances which seemed to
inculpate him are explicable on other grounds than intention to injure

But he was finally forced to give him up, for on August 7 he writes: "You
cannot tell how pained I am at being compelled to change my opinion of R.
Your feelings correspond entirely with my own. I was hoping to do
something gratifying to him and his family, and soon should have done it
if he would permit it but no! The mask of friendship covered a deep
selfishness that scrupled not to sacrifice a real friendship to a
shortsighted and overreaching ambition. Let him go. I wished to befriend
him and his, and would have done so from the heart, but as he cannot
trust me I have enough who can and do."

The case of Rogers was typical, and I have, therefore, given it in some
detail. It was always a source of grief to Morse when men, whom in his
large-hearted way he had admitted to his intimacy, turned against him
and he was called upon to suffer many such blows. He has been accused of
having quarrelled with all his associates. This, of course, is not true,
for we have only to name Vail, and Gale, and Kendall, and Reid, and a
host of others to prove the contrary. But, like all men who have achieved
great things, he made bitter enemies, some of whom at first professed
sincere friendship for him and were implicitly trusted by him. However, a
dispassionate study of all the circumstances leading up to the rupture of
these friendly ties will prove that, in practically every case he was
sinned against, not sinning.

A letter to James D. Reid, written on December 21, will show that the
quality of his mercy was not strained: "You may recollect when I met you
in Philadelphia, on the unpleasant business of attending in a court to
witness the contest of two parties for their rights, you informed me of
the destitute condition of O'Reilly's family. At that moment I was led to
believe, from consultation with the counsel for the Patentees, that the
case would undoubtedly go in their (the Patentees') favor. Your statement
touched me, and I could not bear to think that an innocent wife and
inoffensive children should suffer, even from the wrong-doing of their
proper protector, should this prove to be the case. You remember I
authorized you to draw on me for twenty dollars to be remitted to Mr.
O'Reilly's family, and to keep the source from whence it was derived
secret. My object in writing is to ask if this was done, and, in case it
was, to request you to draw on me for that amount."

In an earlier letter to his brother he remarks philosophically: "Smith is
Smith yet and so likely to be, but I have become used to him and you
would be surprised to find how well oil and water appear to agree. There
must be crosses and the aim should be rather to bear them gracefully,
graciously, and patiently, than to have them removed."

While thus harassed on all sides by those who would filch from him his
good name as well as his purse, his reward was coming to him for the
patience and equanimity with which he was bearing his crosses. The
longing for a home of his own had been intense all through his life and
now, in the evening of his years, this dream was to be realized. He thus
announces to his brother the glorious news:--

July 30, 1847.

In my last I wrote you that I had been looking out for a farm in this
region, and gave you a diagram of a place which I fancied. Since then I
was informed of a place for sale south of this village 2 miles, on the
bank of the river, part of the old Livingston Manor, and far superior. _I
have this day concluded a bargain for it._ There are about one hundred
acres. I pay for it $17,500.

I am almost afraid to tell you of its beauties and advantages. It is just
such a place as in England could not be purchased for double the number
of pounds sterling. Its "capabilities," as the landscape gardeners would
say, are unequalled. There is every variety of surface, plain, hill,
dale, glens, running streams and fine forest, and every variety of
different prospect the Fishkill Mountains towards the south and the
Catskills towards the north the Hudson with its varieties of river
craft, steamboats of all kinds, sloops, etc., constantly showing a varied


I will not enlarge. I am congratulated by all in having made an excellent
purchase, and I find a most delightful neighborhood. Within a few miles
around, approached by excellent roads, are Mr. Lenox, General Talmadge,
Philip Van Rensselaer, etc., on one side on the other, Harry Livingston,
Mrs. Smith Thomson (Judge Thomson's widow, and sister to the first Mrs.
Arthur Breese), Mr. Crosby, Mr. Boorman, etc., etc. The new railroad will
run at the foot of the grounds (probably) on the river, and bring New
York within two hours of us. There is every faculty for residence--good
markets, churches, schools. Take it all in all I think it just the place
_for us all_. If you should fancy a spot on it for building, I can
accommodate you, and Richard wants twenty acres reserved for him.
Singularly enough this was the very spot where Uncle Arthur found his
wife. The old trees are pointed out where he and she used to ramble
during their courtship.

On September 12, after again expatiating on the beauties and advantages
of his home, he adds: "I have some clouds and mutterings of thunder on
the horizon (the necessary attendants, I suppose, of a lightning project)
which I trust will give no more of storm than will suffice, under Him who
directs the elements, to clear the air and make a serener and calmer

On October 12, he announces the name which he has given to his country
place, and a singular coincidence:--

"_Locust Grove._ You see by the date where I am. Locust Grove, it seems,
was the original name given to this place by Judge Livingston, and,
without knowing this fact, I had given the same name to it, so that there
is a natural appropriateness in the designation of my home. The wind is
howling mournfully this evening, a second edition, I fear, of the late
destructive equinoctial, but, dreary as it is out-of-doors, I have
comfortable quarters within."

In the world of affairs the wind was howling, too, and the storm was
gathering which culminated in the series of lawsuits brought by Morse and
his associates against the infringers on his patents. The letters to his
brother are full of the details of these piratical attacks, but
throughout all the turmoil he maintained his poise and his faith in the
triumph of justice and truth. In the letter just quoted from he says:
"These matters do not annoy me as formerly. I have seen so many dark
storms which threatened, and particularly in relation to the Telegraph,
and I have seen them so often hushed at the 'Peace, be still' of our
covenant God, that now the fears and anxieties on any fresh gathering
soon subside into perfect calm."

And on November 27, he writes: "The most annoying part of the matter to
me is that, notwithstanding my matters are all in the hands of agents and
I have nothing to do with any of the arrangements, I am held up by name
to the odium of the public. Lawsuits are commenced against them at
Cincinnati and will be in Indiana and Illinois as well as here, and so,
notwithstanding all my efforts to get along peaceably, I find the fate of
Whitney before me. I think I may be able to secure my farm, and so have a
place to retire to for the evening of my days, but even this may be
denied me. A few months will decide. You have before you the fate of
an inventor, and, take as much pains as you will to secure to yourself
your valuable invention, make up your mind from my experience now, in
addition to others, that you will be robbed of it and abused into the
bargain. This is the lot of a successful inventor or discoverer, and no
precaution, I believe, will save him from it. He will meet with a mixed
estimate the enlightened, the liberal, the good, will applaud him and
respect him the sordid, the unprincipled will hate him and detract from
his reputation to compass their own contemptible and selfish ends."

While events in the business world were rapidly converging towards the
great lawsuits which should either confirm the inventor's rights to the
offspring of his brain, or deprive him of all the benefits to which he
was justly and morally entitled, he continued to find solace from all his
cares and anxieties in his new home, with his children and friends around
him. He touches on the lights and shadows in a letter to his brother, who
was still in England, dated New York, April 19, 1848:--

"I snatch a moment by the Washington, which goes to-morrow, to redeem my
character in not having written of late so often as I could wish. I have
been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the
most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has
been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal
shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph!! Would
you have believed it ten years ago that a question could be raised on
that subject? Yet this very morning in the 'Journal of Commerce' is an
article from a New Orleans paper giving an account of a public meeting
convened by O'Reilly, at which he boldly stated that I had '_pirated my
invention from a German invention_' a great deal better than mine. And
the 'Journal of Commerce' has a sort of halfway defense of me which
implies there is some doubt on the subject. I have written a note which
may appear in to-morrow's 'Journal,' quite short, but which I think, will
stop that game here.

"A trial in court is the only event now which will put public opinion
right, so indefatigable have these unprincipled men been in manufacturing
a spurious public opinion.

"Although these events embarrass me, and I do not receive, and may not
receive, my rightful dues, yet I have been so favored by a kind
Providence as to have sufficient collected to free my farm from mortgage
on the 1st of May, and so find a home, a beautiful home, for me and mine,
unencumbered, and sufficient over to make some improvements.

"I do not wish to raise too many expectations, but every day I am more
and more charmed with my purchase. I can truly say I have never before so
completely realized my wishes in regard to situation, never before found
so many pleasant circumstances associated together to make a home
agreeable, and, so far as earth is concerned, I only wish now to have you
and the rest of the family participate in the advantages with which a
kind God has been pleased to indulge me.

"Strange, indeed, would it be if clouds were not in the sky, but the Sun
of Righteousness will dissipate as many and as much of them as shall be
right and good, and this is all that should be required. I look not for
freedom from trials they must needs be but the number, the kind, the
form, the degree of them, I can safely leave to Him who has ordered and
will still order all things well."

JANUARY 9, 1848--DECEMBER 19, 1849

Preparation for lawsuits.--Letter from Colonel Shaffner.--Morse's reply
deprecating bloodshed.--Shaffner allays his fears.--Morse attends his
son's wedding at Utica.--His own second marriage.--First of great
lawsuits.--Almost all suits in Morse's favor.--Decision of Supreme Court
of United States.--Extract from an earlier opinion.--Alfred Vail leaves
the telegraph business.--Remarks on this by James D. Reid.--Morse
receives decoration from Sultan of Turkey.--Letter to organizers of
Printers' Festival.--Letter concerning aviation.--Optimistic letter from
Mr. Kendall.--Humorous letter from George Wood.--Thomas R. Walker.--
Letter to Fenimore Cooper.--Dr. Jackson again.--Unfairness of the press.
--Letter from Charles C. Ingham on art matters.--Letter from George
Vail.--F.O.J. Smith continues to embarrass.--Letter from Morse to Smith.

The year 1848 was a momentous one to Morse in more ways than one. The
first of the historic lawsuits was to be begun at Frankfort, Kentucky,--
lawsuits which were not only to establish this inventor's claims, but
were to be used as a precedent in all future patent litigation. In his
peaceful retreat on the banks of the Hudson he carefully and
systematically prepared the evidence which should confound his enemies,
and calmly awaited the verdict, firm in his faith that, however lowering
the clouds, the sun would yet break through. Finding relaxation from his
cares and worries in the problems of his farm, he devoted every spare
moment to the life out-of-doors, and drank in new strength and
inspiration with every breath of the pure country air. Although soon to
pass the fifty-seventh milestone, his sane, temperate habits had kept him
young in heart and vigorous in body, and in this same year he was to be
rewarded for his long and lonely vigil during the dark decades of his
middle life, and to enter upon an Indian Summer of happy family life.

While spending as much time as possible at his beloved Locust Grove, he
was yet compelled, in the interests of his approaching legal contests, to
consult with his lawyers in New York and Washington, and it was while in
the latter city that he received a letter from Colonel Tal. P. Shaffner,
one of the most energetic of the telegraph pioneers, and a devoted, if
sometimes injudicious, friend. It was he who, more than any one else, was
responsible for the publication of Morse's "Defense" against Professor

The letter was written from Louisville on January 9, 1848, and contains
the following sentences: "We are going ahead with the line to New
Orleans. I have twenty-five hands on the road to Nashville, and will put
on more next week. I have ten on the road to Frankfort, and my associate
has gangs at other parts. O'Reilly has fifteen hands on the Nashville
route and I confidently expect a few fights. My men are well armed and I
think they can do their duty. I shall be with them when the parties get
together, and, if anything does occur, the use of Dupont's best will be
appreciated by me. This is to be lamented, but, if it comes, we shall not
back out."

Deeply exercised, Morse answers him post-haste: "It gives me real pain to
learn that there is any prospect of physical collision between the
O'Reilly party and ours, and I trust that this may arrive in time to
prevent any movement of those friendly to me which shall provoke so sad a
result. I emphatically say that, if _the law_ cannot protect me and my
rights in your region, I shall never sanction the appeal to force to
sustain myself, however conscious of being in the right. I infinitely
prefer to suffer still more from the gross injustice of unprincipled men
than to gain my rights by a single illegal step. I hope you will do
all in your power to prevent collision. If the parties meet in putting up
posts or wires, let our opponents have their way unmolested. I have no
patent for putting up posts or wires. They as well as we have a right to
put them up. It is the use made of them afterwards which may require
legal adjustment. The men employed by each party are not to blame. Let no
ill-feeling be fomented between the two, no rivalry but that of doing
their work the best let friendly feeling as between them be cherished,
and teach them to refer all disputes to the principals. I wish no one to
fight for me physically. He may 'speak daggers but use none.' However
much I might appreciate his friendship and his motive, it would give me
the deepest sorrow if I should learn that a single individual, friend or
foe, has been injured in life or limb by any professing friendship for

He was reassured by the following from Colonel Shaffner:--

_"January 27._ Your favor of the 21st was received yesterday. I was sorry
that you allowed your feelings to be so much aroused in the case of
contemplated difficulties between our hands and those of O'Reilly. They
held out the threats that we should not pass them, and we were determined
to do it. I had them notified that we were prepared to meet them under
any circumstances. We were prepared to have a real 'hug,' but, when our
hands overtook them, they only 'yelled' a little and mine followed, and
for fifteen miles they were side by side, and when a man finished his
hole, he ran with all his might to get ahead. But finally, on the 24th,
we passed them about eighty miles from here, and now we are about
twenty-five miles ahead of them without the loss of a drop of blood, and
we shall be able to beat them to Nashville, if we can get the wire in
time, which is doubtful."

There were many such stirring incidents in the early history of the
telegraph, and the half of them has not been told, thus leaving much
material for the future historian.

But, while so much that was exciting was taking place in the outside
world, the cause of it all was turning his thoughts towards matters more
domestic. On June 13, he writes to his brother: "Charles left me for
Utica last evening, and Finley and I go this evening to be present at his
marriage on Thursday the 15th."

It was at his son's wedding that he was again strongly attracted to his
young second cousin (or, to be more exact, his first cousin once
removed), the first cousin of his son's bride, and the result is
announced to his brother in a letter of August 7: "Before your return I
shall be again married. I leave to-morrow for Utica where cousin (second
cousin) Sarah Elizabeth Griswold now is. On Thursday morning the 10th we
shall (God willing) be married, and I shall immediately proceed to
Louisville and Frankfort in Kentucky to be present at my first suit
against O'Reilly, the pirate of my invention. It comes off on the 23d
inst. So far as the justice of the case is concerned I am confident of
final success, but there are so many crooks in the law that I ought to be
prepared for disappointment."

Continuing, he tells his brother that he has been secretly in love with
his future wife for some years: "But, reflecting on it, I found I was in
no situation to indulge in any plans of marrying. She had nothing, I had
nothing, and the more I loved her the more I was determined to stifle my
feelings without hinting to her anything of the matter, or letting her
know that I was at all interested in her."

But now, with increasing wealth, the conditions were changed, and so they
were married, and in their case it can with perfect truth be said, "They
lived happy ever after," and failed by but a year of being able to
celebrate their silver wedding. Soon a young family grew up around him,
to whom he was always a patient and loving father. We his children
undoubtedly gave him many an anxious moment, as children have a habit of
doing, but through all his trials, domestic as well as extraneous, he was
calm, wise, and judicious.

[Illustration: SARAH ELIZABETH GRISWOLD Second wife of S.F.B. Morse]

But now the first of the great lawsuits, which were to confirm Morse's
patent rights or to throw his invention open to the world, was begun,
and, with his young bride, he hastened to Frankfort to be present at the
trial. To follow these suits through all their legal intricacies would
make dry reading and consume reams of paper. Mr. Prime in a footnote
remarks: "Mr. Henry O'Reilly has deposited in the Library of the New York
Historical Society more than one hundred volumes containing a complete
history of telegraphic litigation in the United States. These records are
at all times accessible to any persons who wish to investigate the claims
and rights of individuals or companies. The _testimony_ alone in the
various suits fills several volumes, each as large as this."

It will, therefore, only be necessary to say that almost all of these
suits, including the final one before the Supreme Court of the United
States, were decided in Morse's favor. Every legal device was used
against him his claims and those of others were sifted to the uttermost,
and then as now expert opinion was found to uphold both sides of the
case. To quote Mr. Prime:

"The decision of the Supreme Court was unanimous on all the points
involving the right of Professor Morse to the claim of being the original
inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Recording Telegraph. A minority of the
court went still further, and gave him the right to the motive power of
magnetism as a means of operating machinery to imprint signals or to
produce sounds for telegraphic purposes. The testimony of experts in
science and art is not introduced because it was thoroughly weighed and
sifted by intelligent and impartial men, whose judgment must be accepted
as final and sufficient. The justice of the decision has never been
impugned. Each succeeding year has confirmed it with accumulating

"One point was decided against the Morse patent, and it is worthy of
being noticed that this decision, which denied to Morse the exclusive use
of electromagnetism for recording telegraphs, has never been of injury to
his instrument, because no other inventor has devised an instrument to
supersede his.

"The court decided that the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph was the sole and
exclusive invention of Samuel F.B. Morse. If others could make better
instruments for the same purpose, they were at liberty to use
electromagnetism. Twenty years have elapsed since this decision was
rendered the Morse patent has expired by limitation of time, but it is
still without a rival in any part of the world."

This was written in 1873, but I think that I am safe in saying that the
same is true now after the lapse of forty more years. While, of course,
there have been both elaboration and simplification, the basic principle
of the universal telegraph of to-day is embodied in the drawings of the
sketch-book of 1832, and it was the invention of Morse, and was entirely
different from any form of telegraph devised by others.

I shall make but one quotation from the long opinion handed down by the
Supreme Court and delivered by Chief Justice Taney:--

"Neither can the inquiries he made, nor the information or advice he
received from men of science, in the course of his researches, impair his
right to the character of an inventor. No invention can possibly be made,
consisting of a combination of different elements of power, without a
thorough knowledge of the properties of each of them, and the mode in
which they operate on each other. And it can make no difference in this
respect whether he derives his information from books, or from men
skilled in the science. If it were otherwise, no patent in which a
combination of different elements is used could ever be obtained. For no
man ever made such an invention without having first obtained this
information, unless it was discovered by some fortunate accident. And it
is evident that such an invention as the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph could
never have been brought into action without it. For a very high degree of
scientific knowledge, and the nicest skill in the mechanic arts, are
combined in it, and were both necessary to bring it into successful
operation. _And the fact that Morse sought and, obtained the necessary
information and counsel from the best sources, and acted upon it, neither
impairs his rights as an inventor, nor detracts from his merits._"

The italics are mine, for it has over and over been claimed for everybody
who had a part in the early history of the telegraph, either by hint,
help, or discovery, that more credit should be given to him than to Morse
himself--to Henry, to Gale, to Vail, to Doctor Page, and even to F.O.J.
Smith. In fact Morse used often to say that some people thought he had no
right to claim his invention because he had not discovered electricity,
nor the copper from which his wires were made, nor the brass of his
instruments, nor the glass of his insulators.

I shall make one other quotation from the opinion of Judge Kane and Judge
Grier at one of the earlier trials, in Philadelphia, in 1851:--

"That he, Mr. Morse, was the first to devise and practise the art of
recording language, at telegraphic distances, by the dynamic force of the
electro-magnet, or, indeed, by any agency whatever, is, to our minds,
plain upon all the evidence. It is unnecessary to review the testimony
for the purpose of showing this. His application for a patent, in April,
1838, was preceded by a series of experiments, results, illustrations and
proofs of final success, which leave no doubt whatever but that his great
invention was consummated before the early spring of 1837. There is no
one person, whose invention has been spoken of by any witness, or
referred to in any book as involving the principle of Mr. Morse's
discovery, but must yield precedence of date to this. Neither Steinheil,
nor Cooke and Wheatstone, nor Davy, nor Dyar, nor Henry, had at this time
made a recording telegraph of any sort. The devices then known were
merely _semaphores_, that spoke to the eye for a moment--bearing about
the same relation to the great discovery before us as the Abbe Sicard's
invention of a visual alphabet for the purposes of conversation bore to
the art of printing with movable types. Mr. Dyar's had no recording
apparatus, as he expressly tells us, and Professor Henry had contented
himself with the abundant honors of his laboratory and lecture-rooms."

One case was decided against him, but this decision was afterwards
overruled by the Supreme Court, so that it caused no lasting injury to
his claims.

As decision after decision was rendered in his favor he received the news
calmly, always attributing to Divine Providence every favor bestowed upon
him. Letters of congratulation poured in on him from his friends, and,
among others, the following from Alfred Vail must have aroused mingled
feelings of pleasure and regret. It is dated September 21, 1848:--

I congratulate you in your success at Frankfort in arresting thus far
that pirate O'Reilly. I have received many a hearty shake from our
friends, congratulating me upon the glorious issue of the application for
an injunction. The pirate dies hard, and well he may. It is his privilege
to kick awhile in this last death struggle. These pirates must be
followed up and each in his turn nailed to the wall.

The Wash. & N.O. Co. is at last organized, and for the last three weeks
we have received daily communications from N.O. Our prospects are
flattering. And what do you think they have done with me? Superintendent
of Washington & N.O. line all the way from Washington to Columbia at

This game will not be played long. I have made up my mind to leave the
Telegraph to take care of itself, since it cannot take care of me. I
shall, in a few months, leave Washington for New Jersey, family, kit and
all, and bid adieu to the subject of the Telegraph for some more
profitable business.

I have just finished a most beautiful register with a _pen lever key_ and
an expanding reel. Have orders for six of the same kind to be made at
once three for the south and three for the west.

I regret you could not, on your return from the west, have made us at
least a flying visit with your charming lady. I am happy to learn that
your cup of happiness is so full in the society of one who, I learn from
Mr. K., is well calculated to cheer you and relieve the otherwise
solitude of your life. My kindest wishes for yourself and Mrs. Morse,
and believe me to be, now as ever,

Mr. James D. Reid in an article in the "Electrical World," October 12,
1895, after quoting from this letter adds:--

"The truth is Mr. Vail had no natural aptitude for executive work, and he
had a temper somewhat variable and unhappy. He and I got along very well
together until I determined to order my own instruments, his being too
heavy and too difficult, as I thought, for an operator to handle while
receiving. We had our instruments made by the same maker--Clark & Co.,
Philadelphia. Yet even that did not greatly separate us, and we were
always friends. About some things his notions were very crude. It was
under his guidance that David Brooks, Henry C. Hepburn and I, in 1845,
undertook to insulate the line from Lancaster to Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania, by saturating bits of cotton cloth in beeswax and wrapping
them round projecting arms. The bees enjoyed it greatly, but it spoiled
our work.

"But I have no desire to criticize him. He seemed to me to have great
opportunities which he did not use. He might have had, I thought, the
register work of the country and secured a large business. But it went
from him to others, and so he left the field."

This eventful year of 1848 closed with the great telegraph suits in full
swing, but with the inventor calm under all his trials. In a letter, of
December 18, to his brother Sidney, who had now returned to America, he
says: "My affairs (Telegraphically) are only under a slight mist, hardly
a cloud I see through the mist already."

And in another part of this letter he says: "I may see you at the end of
the week. If I can bring Sarah down with me, I will, to spend Christmas,
but the weather may change and prevent. What weather! I am working on the
lawn as if it were spring. You have no idea how lovely this spot is. Not
a day passes that I do not feel it. If I have trouble abroad, I have
peace, and love, and happiness at home. My sweet wife I find, indeed, a
rich treasure. Uniformly cheerful and most affectionate, she makes
sunshine all the day. God's gifts are worthy of the giver."

It was in the early days of 1849 that a gift of another kind was received
by him which could not fail to gratify him. This was a decoration, the
"Nichan Iftikar" or "Order of Glory," presented to him by the Sultan of
Turkey, the first and only decoration which the Sultan of the Ottoman
Empire had conferred upon a citizen of the United States. It was a
beautiful specimen of the jeweller's art, the monogram of the Sultan in
gold, surrounded by 130 diamonds in a graceful design. It was accompanied
by a diploma (or _berait_) in Turkish, which being translated reads:--

Son of Mahmoud Khan, son of Abdul Hamid Khan--may he ever be victorious!

The object of the present sovereign decoration of Noble Exalted Glory, of
Elevated Place, and of this Illustrious World Conquering Monogram is as

The bearer of this Imperial Monogram of exalted character, Mr. Morse, an
American, a man of science and of talents, and who is a model of the
Chiefs of the nation of the Messiah--may his grade be increased--having
invented an Electrical Telegraph, a specimen of which has been exhibited
in my Imperial presence and it being proper to patronize knowledge and
to express my sense of the value of the attainments of the Inventor, as
well as to distinguish those persons who are the Inventors of such
objects as serve to extend and facilitate the relations of mankind, I
have conferred upon him, on my exalted part, an honorable decoration in
diamonds, and issued also this present diploma, as a token of my
benevolence for him.

Written in the middle of the moon Sefer, the fortunate, the year of the
Flight one thousand two hundred and sixty-four, in Constantinople the

The person who was instrumental in gaining for the inventor this mark of
recognition from the Sultan was Dr. James Lawrence Smith, a young
geologist at that time in the employ of the Sultan. He, aided by the
Reverend C. Hamlin, of the Armenian Seminary at Bebek, gave an exhibition
of the working of the telegraph before the Sultan and all the officers of
his Government, and when it was proposed to decorate him for his trouble
and lucid explanation, he modestly and generously disclaimed any honor,
and begged that any such recognition should be given to the inventor
himself. Other decorations and degrees were bestowed upon the inventor
from time to time, but these will be summarized in a future chapter. I
have enlarged upon this one as being the first to be received from a
foreign monarch.

As his fame increased, requests of all sorts poured in on him, and it is
amazing to find how courteously he answered even the most fantastic,
overwhelmed as he was by his duties in connection with the attacks on his
purse and his reputation. Two of his answers to correspondents are here
given as examples:--

Gentlemen,--I have received your polite invitation to the Printers'
Festival in honor of Franklin, on his birthday the 17th of the present
month, and regret that my engagements in the city put it out of my power
to be present.

I thank you kindly for the flattering notice you are pleased to take of
me in connection with the telegraph, and made peculiarly grateful at the
present time as coming from a class of society with whom are my earliest
pleasurable associations. I may be allowed, perhaps, to say that in my
boyhood it was my delight, during my vacations, to seek my pastime in the
operations of the printing-office. I solicited of my father to take the
corrected proofs of his Geography to the printing-office, and there,
through the day for weeks, I made myself practically acquainted with all
the operations of the printer. At 9 years of age I compiled a small
volume of stories, called it the 'Youth's Friend,' and then set it up,
locked the matter in its form, prepared the paper and worked it off
going through the entire process till it was ready for the binder. I
think I have some claim, therefore, to belong to the fraternity.

The other letter was in answer to one from a certain Solomon Andrews,
President of the Inventors' Institute of Perth Amboy, who was making
experiments in aviation, and I shall give but a few extracts:--

"I know by experience the language of the world in regard to an untried
invention. He who will accomplish anything useful and new must steel
himself against the sneers of the ignorant, and often against the
unimaginative sophistries of the learned.

"In regard to the subject on which you desire an opinion, I will say that
the idea of navigating the air has been a favorite one with the inventive
in all ages it is naturally suggested by the flight of a bird. I have
watched for hours together in early life, in my walks across the bridge
from Boston to Charlestown, the motions of the sea-gulls. Often have I
attempted to unravel the mystery of their motion so as to bring the
principle of it to bear upon this very subject, but I never experimented
upon it. Many ingenious men, however, have experimented on air
navigation, and have so far succeeded as to travel in the air many miles,
but always with the current of wind in their favor. By _navigating_ the
atmosphere is meant something more than dropping down with the tide in a
boat, without sails, or oars or other means of propulsion. Birds not
only rise in the air, but they can also propel themselves against the
ordinary currents. A study, then, of the conditions that enable a bird
thus to defy the ordinary currents of the atmosphere seems to furnish the
most likely mode of solving the problem. Whilst a bird flies, whilst I
see a mass of matter overcoming, by its structure and a power within it,
the natural forces of gravitation and a current of air, I dare not say
that air navigation is absurd or impossible.

"I consider the difficulties to be overcome are the combining of strength
with lightness in the machine sufficient to allow of the exercise of a
force without the machine from a source of power within. A difficulty
will occur in the right adaptation of propellers, and, should this
difficulty be overcome, the risks of derangement of the machinery from
the necessary lightness of its parts would be great, and consequently the
risks to life would be greater than in any other mode of travelling. From
a wreck at sea or on shore a man may be rescued with his life, and so by
the running off the track by the railroad car, the majority of passengers
will be saved but from a fall some thousands, or only hundreds, of feet
through the air, not one would escape death.

"I have no time to add more than my best wishes for the success of those
who are struggling with these difficulties."

These observations, made nearly sixty-five years ago, are most pertinent
to present-day conditions, when the conquest of the air has been
accomplished, and along the very lines suggested by Morse, but at what a
terrible cost in human life.

That the inventor, harassed on all sides by pirates, unscrupulous men,
and false friends, should, in spite of his Christian philosophy, have
suffered from occasional fits of despondency, is but natural, and he must
have given vent to his feelings in a letter to his true friend and able
business agent, Mr. Kendall, for the latter thus strives to hearten him
in a letter of April 20, 1849:--

"You say, 'Mrs. Morse and Elizabeth are both sitting by me.' How is it
possible, in the midst of so much that is charming and lovely, that you
_could_ sink into the gloomy spirit which your letter indicates? Can
there be a Paradise without Devils in it--Blue Devils, I mean? And how is
it that now, instead of addressing themselves first to the woman, they
march boldly up to the man?

"Faith in our Maker is a most important Christian virtue, but man has no
right to rely on Faith alone until he has exhausted his own power. When
we have done all we can with pure hands and honest hearts, then may we
rely with confidence on the aid of Him who governs worlds and atoms,
controls, when He chooses, the will of man, restrains his passions and
makes his bad designs subservient to the best of ends.

"Now for a short application of a short sermon. We must do our best to
have the Depositions and Affidavits prepared and forwarded in due time.
This done we may have _Faith_ that we will gain our cause. Or, if with
our utmost exertions, we fail in our preparations, we shall be warranted
in having Faith that no harm will come of it.

"But if, like the Jews in the Maccabees, we rely upon the Lord to fight
our battles, without lifting a weapon in our defence, or, like the
wagoner in the fable, we content ourselves with calling on Hercules, we
shall find in the end that 'Faith without Works is dead.' . The world,
as you say, is '_the world_'--a quarrelling, vicious, fighting,
plundering world--yet it is a very good world for good men. Why should
man torment himself about that which he cannot help? If we but enjoy the
good things of earth and endure the evil things with a cheerful
resignation, bad spirits--blue devils and all--will fly from our bosoms
to their appropriate abode."

Another true and loyal friend was George Wood, associated with Mr.
Kendall in Washington, from whom are many affectionate and witty letters
which it would be a pleasure to reproduce, but for the present I shall
content myself with extracts from one dated May 4, 1849:--

"It does seem to me that Satan has, from the jump, been at war with this
invention of yours. At first he strove to cover you up with a F.O.G. of
Egyptian hue then he ran your wires through leaden pipe, constructed by
his 'pipe-laying' agents, into the ground and 'all aground.' And when
these were hoisted up, like the Brazen Serpent, on poles for all to gaze
at and admire, then who so devout a worshipper as the Devil in the person
of one of his children of darkness, who came forward at once to contract
for a line reaching to St. Louis--_and round the world_--upon that
principle of the true construction of _constitutions_, and such like
_contracts_, first promulgated by that 'Old Roman' the 'Hero of two
Wars,' and approved by the 'whole hog' Democracy of the 'first republic
of the world,' and which, like the moral law is summarily comprehended in
a few words--'The constitution (or contract) is what I understand it to

"Now without stopping to show you that O'Reilly was a true disciple of
O'Hickory, I think you will not question his being a son of Satan, whose
brazen instruments (one of whom gave his first born the name of Morse)
instigated by the Gent in Black, not content with inflicting us with the
Irish Potato Rot, has recently brought over the Scotch Itch, if, perhaps,
by plagues Job was never called upon to suffer (for there were no Courts
of Equity and Chancery in those early days) the American inventor might
be tempted to curse God and die. But, Ah! you have such a sweet wife, and
Job's was such a vinegar cruet."

It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to explain that F.O.J. Smith was
nicknamed "Fog" Smith, and that the "Scotch Itch" referred to the
telegraph of Alexander Bain, which, for a time, was used by the enemies
of Morse in the effort to break down his patent rights. The other
allusions were to the politics of the day.

Another good friend and business associate was Thomas R. Walker, who in
1849 was mayor of Utica, New York. Mr. Walker's wife was the half-sister
of Mrs. Griswold, Morse's mother-in-law, so there were ties of
relationship as well as of friendship between the two men, and Morse
thought so highly of Mr. Walker that he made him one of the executors of
his will.

In a letter of July 11, 1849, Mr. Walker says: "The course pursued by the
press is simply mercenary. Were it otherwise you would receive justice at
their hands, and your fame and merits would be vindicated instead of
being tarnished by the editorials of selfish and ungenerous men. But--
_'magna est veritas et prevalebit_.' There is comfort in that at any

It would seem that not only was the inventor forced to uphold his rights
through a long series of lawsuits, but a great part of the press of the
country was hostile to him on the specious plea that they were attempting
to overthrow a baleful monopoly. In this connection the following extract
from a letter to J. Fenimore Cooper, written about this time, is
peculiarly apt:--

"It is not because I have not thought of you and your excellent family
that I have not long since written to you to know your personal welfare.
I hear of you often, it is true, through the papers. They praise you, as
usual, for it is praise to have the abuse of such as abuse you. In all
your libel suits against these degraded wretches I sympathize entirely
with you, and there are thousands who now thank you in their hearts for
the moral courage you display in bringing these licentious scamps to a
knowledge of their duty. Be assured the good sense, the intelligence, the
right feeling of the community at large are with you. The licentiousness
of the press needed the rebuke which you have given it, and it feels it
too despite its awkward attempts to brave it out.

"I will say nothing of your 'Home as Found.' I will use the frankness to
say that I wish you had not written it. When in Paris last I several
times passed 59 Rue St. Dominique. The gate stood invitingly open and I
looked in, but did not see my old friends although everything else was
present. I felt as one might suppose another to feel on rising from his
grave after a lapse of a century."

An attack from another and an old quarter is referred to in a letter to
his brother Sidney of July 10, also another instance of the unfairness of
the press:--

"Dr. Jackson had the audacity to appear at Louisville by _affidavit_
against me. My _counter-affidavit_, with his original letters,
contradicting _in toto_ his statement, put him _hors de combat_. Mr.
Kendall says he was 'completely used up.' . I have got a copy of
Jackson's affidavit which I should like to show you. There never was a
more finished specimen of wholesale lying than is contained in it. He is
certainly a monomaniac no other conclusion could save him from an
indictment for perjury.

"By the Frankfort paper sent you last week, and the extract I now send
you, you can give a very effective shot to the 'Tribune.' It is, perhaps,
worthy of remark that, while all the papers in New York were so forward
in publishing a _false_ account of O'Reilly's success in the Frankfort
case, not one that I have seen has noticed the decision just given at
Louisville _against_ him in every particular. This shows the animus of
the press towards me. Nor have they taken any pains to correct the false
account given of the previous decision."

Although no longer President of the National Academy of Design, having
refused reelection in 1845 in order to devote his whole time to the
telegraph, Morse still took a deep interest in its welfare, and his
counsel was sought by its active members. On October 13, 1849, Mr.
Charles C. Ingham sent him a long letter detailing the trials and
triumphs of the institution, from which I shall quote a few sentences:
"'Lang syne,' when you fought the good fight for the cause of Art, your
prospects in life were not brighter than they are now, and in bodily and
mental vigor you are just the same, therefore do not, at this most
critical moment, desert the cause. It is the same and our enemies are the
same old insolent quacks and impostors, who wish to make a footstool of
the profession on which to stand and show themselves to the public.
Now, with this prospect before you, rouse up a little of your old
enthusiasm, put your shoulder to the wheel, and place the only school of
Art on all this side of the world on a firm foundation."

Unfortunately the answer to this letter is not in my possession, but we
may be sure that it came from the heart, while it must have expressed the
writer's deep regret that the multiplicity of his other cares would
prevent him from undertaking what would have been to him a labor of love.

Although Alfred Vail had severed his active connection with the
telegraph, he and his brother George still owned stock in the various
lines, and Morse did all in his power to safeguard and further their
interests. They, on their part, were always zealous in championing the
rights of the inventor, as the following letter from George Vail, dated
December 19, 1849, will show:--

"Enclosed I hand you a paragraph cut from the 'Newark Daily' of 17th
inst. It was evidently drawn out by a letter which I addressed to the
editor some months ago, stating that I could not see what consistency
there was in his course that, while he was assuming the championship of
American manufactures, ingenuity, enterprise, etc., etc., he was at the
same time holding up an English inventor to praise, while he held all the
better claims of Morse in the dark,--alluding to his bespattering Mr.
Bain and O'Reilly with compliments at our expense, etc.

"I would now suggest that, if you are willing, we give _Mr. Daily_ a
temperate article on the rise and progress of telegraphs, asserting
claims for yourself, and, as I must father the article, give the Vails
and New Jersey all the 'sodder' they are entitled to, and a little more,
if you can spare it.

"Will you write something adapted to the case and forward it to me as
early as possible, that it may go in on the heels of this paragraph

F.O.J. Smith continued to embarrass and thwart the other proprietors by
his various wild schemes for self-aggrandizement. As Mr. Kendall said in
a letter of August 4: "There is much _Fog_ in Smith's letter, but it is
nothing else."

And on December 4, he writes in a more serious vein: "Mr. Smith
peremptorily refuses an arbitration which shall embrace a separation of
all our interests, and I think it inexpedient to have any other. He is so
utterly unprincipled and selfish that we can expect nothing but renewed
impositions as long as we have any connection with him. He asks me to
make a proposition to buy or sell, which I have delayed doing, because I
know that nothing good can come of it but I have informed him that I
will consider any proposition he may make, if not too absurd to deserve
it. I do not expect any that we can accede to without sacrifices to this
worse than patent pirate which I am not prepared to make."

Mr. Kendall then concludes that the only recourse will be to the law, but
Morse, always averse to war, and preferring to exhaust every effort to
bring about an amicable adjustment of difficulties, sent the following
courteous letter to Smith on December 8, which, however, failed of the
desired result:--

"I deeply regret to learn from my agent, Mr. Kendall, that an unpleasant
collision is likely to take place between your interest in the Telegraph
and the rest of your coproprietors in the patent. I had hoped that an
amicable arbitrament might arrange all our mutual interests to our mutual
advantage and satisfaction but I learn that his proposition to that
effect has been rejected by you.

"You must be aware that the rest of your coproprietors have been great
sufferers in their property, for some time past, from the frequent
disagreements between their agent and yourself, and that, for the sake of
peace, they have endured much and long. It is impossible for me to say
where the fault lies, for, from the very fact that I put my affairs into
the hands of an agent to manage for me, it is evident I cannot have that
minute, full and clear view of the matters at issue between him and
yourself that he has, or, under other circumstances, that I might have.
But this I can see, that mutual disadvantage must be the consequence of
litigation between us, and this we both ought to be desirous to avoid.

"Between fair-minded men I cannot see why there should be a difference,
or at least such a difference as cannot be adjusted by uninterested
parties chosen to settle it by each of the disagreeing parties.

"I write this in the hope that, on second thought, you will meet my agent
Mr. Kendall in the mode of arbitration proposed. I have repeatedly
advised my agent to refrain from extreme measures until none others are
left us and if such are now deemed by him necessary to secure a large
amount of our property, hazarded by perpetual delays, while I shall most
sincerely regret the necessity, there are interests which I am bound to
protect, connected with the secure possession of what is rightfully mine,
which will compel me to oppose no further obstacle to his proceeding to
obtain my due, in such manner as, in his judgment, he may deem best."

MARCH 5, 1850--NOVEMBER 10, 1854

Precarious financial condition.--Regret at not being able to make loan.--
False impression of great wealth.--Fears he may have to sell home.--
F.O.J. Smith continues to give trouble.--Morse system extending
throughout the world.--Death of Fenimore Cooper.--Subscriptions to
charities, etc.--First use of word "Telegram."--Mysterious fire in
Supreme Court clerk's room.--Letter of Commodore Perry.--Disinclination
to antagonize Henry.--Temporary triumph of F.O.J. Smith.--Order gradually
emerging.--Expenses of the law.--Triumph in Australia.--Gift to Yale
College.--Supreme Court decision and extension of patent.--Social
diversions in Washington.--Letters of George Wood and P.H. Watson on
extension of patent.--Loyalty to Mr. Kendall also to Alfred Vail.--
Decides to publish "Defense."--Controversy with Bishop Spaulding.--Creed
on Slavery.--Political views.--Defeated for Congress.

While I have anticipated in giving the results of the various lawsuits,
it must be borne in mind that these dragged along for years, and that the
final decision of the Supreme Court was not handed down until January 30,
1854. During all this time the inventor was kept in suspense as to the
final outcome, and often the future looked very dark indeed, and he was
hard pressed to provide for the present.

On March 5, 1850, he writes to a friend who had requested a loan of a few
hundred dollars:--

"It truly pains me to be obliged to tell you of my inability to make you
a loan, however small in amount or amply secured. In the present
embarrassed state of my affairs, consequent upon these never-ending and
vexatious suits, I know not how soon all my property may be taken from
me. The newspapers, among their other innumerable falsehoods, circulate
one in regard to my 'enormous wealth.' The object is obvious. It is to
destroy any feeling of sympathy in the public mind from the gross
robberies committed upon me. 'He is rich enough he can afford to give
something to the public from his extortionate monopoly,' etc., etc.

"Now no man likes to proclaim his poverty, for there is a sort of
satisfaction to some minds in being esteemed rich, even if they are not.
The evil of this is that from a rich man more is expected in the way of
pecuniary favors (and justly too), and consequently applications of all
kinds are daily, I might say for the last few months almost hourly, made
to me, and the fabled wealth attributed to me, or to Croesus, would not
suffice to satisfy the requests made."

And, after stating that, of the 11,607 miles of telegraph at that time in
operation, only one company of 509 miles was then paying a dividend, he
adds: "If this fails I have nothing. On this I solely depend, for I have
now no profession, and at my age, with impaired eyesight, I cannot resume

"I have indeed a farm out of which a farmer might obtain his living, but
to me it is a source of expense, and I have not actually, though you may
think it strange, the means to make my family comfortable."

In a letter to Mr. Kendall of January 4, 1851, he enlarges on this

"I have been taking in sail for some time past to prepare for the storm
which has so long continued and still threatens destruction, but with
every economy my family must suffer for the want of many comforts which
the low state of my means prevents me from procuring. I contrived to get
through the last month without incurring debt, but I see no prospect now
of being able to do so the present month. I wish much to know, and,
indeed, it is indispensably necessary I should be informed of the precise
condition of things for, if my property is but nominal in the stocks of
the companies, and is to be soon rendered valueless from the operations
of pirates, I desire to know it, that I may sell my home and seek another
of less pretension, one of humbler character and suited to my change of
circumstances. It will, indeed, be like cutting off a right hand to leave
my country home, but, if I cannot retain it without incurring debt, it
must go, and before debt is incurred and not after. I have made it a rule
from my childhood to live always within my means, to have no debts for
if there is a terror which would unman me more than any other in this
world, it is the sight of a man to whom I owed money, however
inconsiderable in amount, without my being in a condition to pay him. On
this point I am nervously sensitive, to a degree which some might think
ridiculous. But so it is and I cannot help it.

"Please tell me how matters stand in relation to F.O.G. I wish nothing
short of entire separation from that unprincipled man if it can possibly
be accomplished. I can suffer his frauds upon myself with comparative
forbearance, but my indignation boils when I am made, _nolens volens_, a
_particeps criminis_ in his frauds on others. I will not endure it if I
must suffer the loss of all the property I hold in the world."

The beloved country place was not sacrificed, and a way out of all his
difficulties was found, but his faith and Christian forbearance were
severely tested before his path was smoothed. Among all his trials none
was so hard to bear as the conduct of F.O.J. Smith, whose strange
tergiversations were almost inconceivable. Like the old man of the sea,
he could not be shaken off, much as Morse and his partners desired to
part company with him forever. The propositions made by him were so
absurd that they could not for a moment be seriously considered, and the
reasonable terms submitted by Mr. Kendall were unconditionally rejected
by him. It will be necessary to refer to him and his strange conduct from
time to time, but to go into the matter in detail would consume too much
valuable space. It seems only right, however, to emphasize the fact that
his animosity and unscrupulous self-seeking constituted the greatest
cross which Morse was called upon to bear, even to the end of his life,
and that many of the aspersions which have been cast upon the inventor's
fame and good name, before and after his death, can be traced to the
fertile brain of this same F.O.J. Smith.

While the inventor was fighting for his rights in his own country, his
invention, by the sheer force of its superiority, was gradually
displacing all other systems abroad. Even in England it was superseding
the Cooke and Wheatstone needle telegraph, and on the Continent it had
been adopted by Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, Hanover, and Turkey. It is
worthy of note that that broad-minded scientist, Professor Steinheil, of
Bavaria, who had himself invented an ingenious plan of telegraph when he
was made acquainted with the Morse system, at once acknowledged its
superiority and urged its adoption by the Bavarian Government. In France,
too, it was making its way, and Morse, in answer to a letter of inquiry
as to terms, etc., by M. Brequet, thus characteristically avows his
motives, after finishing the business part of the letter, which is dated
April 21, 1851:--

"To be frank with you, my dear sir (and I feel that I can be frank with
you), while I am not indifferent to the pecuniary rewards of my invention
(which will be amply satisfactory if my own countrymen will but do me
justice), yet as these were not the stimulus to my efforts in perfecting
and establishing my invention, so they now hold but a subordinate
position when I attempt to comprehend the full results of the Telegraph
upon the welfare of my fellow men. I am more solicitous to see its
benefits extended world-wide during my lifetime than to turn the stream
of wealth, which it is generating to millions of persons, into my own
pocket. A few drops from the sea, which may not be missed, will suffice
for me."

In the early days of 1852 death took from him one of his dearest friends,
and the following letter, written in February, 1852, to Rufus Griswold,
Esq., expresses his sentiments:--

"I sincerely regret that circumstances over which I have no control
prevent my participation in the services commemorative of the character,
literary and moral, of my lamented friend the late James Fenimore Cooper,

"I can scarcely yet realize that he is no longer with us, for the
announcement of his death came upon me most unexpectedly. The pleasure of
years of close intimacy with Mr. Cooper was never for a moment clouded by
the slightest coolness. We were in daily, I can truly say, almost hourly,
intercourse in the year 1831 in Paris. I never met with a more sincere,
warm-hearted, constant friend. No man came nearer to the ideal I had
formed of a truly high-minded man. If he was at times severe or caustic
in his remarks on others, it was when excited by the exhibition of the
little arts of little minds. His own frank, open, generous nature
instinctively recoiled from contact with them. His liberalities, obedient
to his generous sympathies, were scarcely bounded by prudence he was
always ready to help a friend, and many such there are who will learn of
his departure with the most poignant sorrow. Although unable to be with
you, I trust the Committee will not overlook me when they are collecting
the funds for the monument to his genius."

It might have been said of Morse, too, that "his liberalities were
scarcely bounded by prudence," for he gave away or lost through
investments, urged upon him by men whom he regarded as friends but who
were actuated by selfish motives, much more than he retained. He gave
largely to the various religious organizations and charities in which he
was interested, and it was characteristic of him that he could not wait
until he had the actual cash in hand, but, even while his own future was
uncertain, he made donations of large blocks of stocks, which, while of
problematical value while the litigation was proceeding, eventually rose
to much above par.

While he strove to keep his charities secret, they were bruited abroad,
much to his sorrow, for, although at the time he was hard pressed to make
both ends meet, they created a false impression of great wealth, and the
importunities increased in volume.

It is always interesting to note the genesis of familiar words, and the
following is written in pencil by Morse on a little slip of paper:--

"_Telegram_ was first proposed by the Albany 'Evening Journal,' April 6,
1852, and has been universally adopted as a legitimate word into the
English language."

On April 21, 1852, Mr. Kendall reports a mysterious occurrence:--

"Our case in the Supreme Court will very certainly be reached by the
middle of next week. A most singular incident has occurred. The papers
brought up from the court below, not entered in the records, were on a
table in the clerk's room. There was no fire in the room. One of the
clerks after dark lighted a lamp, looked up some papers, blew out the
lamp and locked the door. Some time afterwards, wishing to obtain a book,
he entered the room without a light and got the book in the dark. In. the
morning our papers were burnt up, and _nothing else_.

"The papers burnt are all the drawings, all the books filed, Dana's
lectures, Chester's pamphlet, your sketchbook (if the original was
there), your tag of type, etc., etc. But we shall replace them as far as
possible and go on with the case. _Was_ your original sketch-book there?
If so, has any copy been taken?"

The original sketch-book was in this collection of papers so mysteriously
destroyed, but most fortunately a certified copy had been made, and this
is now in the National Museum in Washington. Also, most fortunately, this
effort on the part of some enemy to undermine the foundations of the case
proved abortive, if, indeed, it was not a boomerang, for, as we have
seen, the decision of the Supreme Court was in Morse's favor. In the year
1852, Commodore Perry sailed on his memorable trip to Japan, which, as is
well known, opened that wonderful country to the outside world and
started it on its upward path towards its present powerful position among
the nations. The following letter from Commodore Perry, dated July 22,
1852, will, therefore, be found of unusual interest:--

I shall take with me, on my cruise to the East Indias, specimens of the
most remarkable inventions of the age, among which stands preeminent your
telegraph, and I write a line by Lieutenant Budd, United States Navy, not
only to introduce him to your acquaintance, but to ask as a particular
favour that you would give him some information and instruction as to the
most practicable means of exhibiting the Telegraph, as well as a
daguerreotype apparatus, which I am also authorized to purchase, also
other articles connected with drawing.

I have directed Lieutenant Budd to visit Poughkeepsie in order to confer
with you. He will have lists, furnished by Mr. Norton and a daguerreotype
artist, which I shall not act upon until I learn the result of his
consultation with you.

I hope you will pardon this intrusion upon your time. I feel almost
assured, however, that you will take a lively interest in having your
wonderful invention exhibited to a people so little known to the world,
and there is no one better qualified than yourself to instruct Lieutenant
Budd in the duties I have entrusted to his charge, and who will fully
explain to you the object I have in view.

I leave this evening for Washington and should be much obliged if you
would address me a line to that place.

Most truly and respectfully yours

It was about this time that the testimony of Professor Joseph Henry was
being increasingly used by Morse's opponents to discredit him in the
scientific world and to injure his cause in the courts. I shall,
therefore, revert for a moment to the matter for the purpose of
emphasizing Morse's reluctance to do or say anything against his
erstwhile friend.

In a letter to H.J. Raymond, editor of the New York "Times," he requests
space in that journal for a fair exposition of his side of the
controversy in reply to an article attacking him. To this Mr. Raymond
courteously replies on November 22, 1852: "The columns of the 'Times' are
entirely at your service for the purpose you mention, or, indeed, for
almost any other. The writer of the article you allude to was Dr.
Bettner, of Philadelphia."

Morse answers on November 30:--

"I regret finding you absent I wished to have had a few moments'
conversation with you in relation to the allusion I made to Professor
Henry. If possible I wish to avoid any course which might weaken the
influence for good of such a man as Henry. I will forbear exposure to the
last moment, and, in view of my duty as a Christian at least, I will give
him an opportunity to explain to me in private. If he refuses, then I
shall feel it my duty to show how unfairly he has conducted himself in
allowing his testimony to be used to my detriment.

"I write in haste, and will merely add that, to consummate these views, I
shall for the present delay the article I had requested you to insert in
your columns, and allow the various misrepresentations to remain yet a
little longer unexposed, at the same time thanking you cordially for your
courteous accordance of my request."

A slight set-back was encountered by Morse and his associates at this
time by the denial of an injunction against F.O.J. Smith, and, in a
letter to Mr. Kendall of December 4, the long-suffering inventor

"F.O.J. crows at the top of his voice, and I learned that he and his man
Friday, Foss, had a regular spree in consequence, and that the latter was
noticed in Broadway drunk and boisterously huzzaing for F.O.J. and
cursing me and my telegraph.

"I read in my Bible: 'The triumph of the wicked is short.' This may have
a practical application, in this case at any rate. I have full confidence
in that Power that, for wise purposes, allows wickedness temporarily to
triumph that His own designs of bringing good out of evil may be the more

Another of Morse's fixed principles in life is referred to in a letter to
Judge E. Fitch Smith of February 4, 1858: "Yours of the 31st ulto. is
this moment received. Your request has given me some trouble of spirit on
this account, to wit: My father lost a large property, the earnings of
his whole life of literary labor, by simply endorsing. My mother was ever
after so affected by this fact that it was the constant theme of her
disapprobation, and on her deathbed I gave her my promise, in accordance
with her request, that _I never would endorse a note_. I have never done
such a thing, and, of course, have never requested the endorsement of
another. I cannot, therefore, in that mode accommodate you, but I can
probably aid you as effectually in another way."

It will not be necessary to dwell at length on further happenings in the
year 1853. Order was gradually emerging from chaos in the various lines
of telegraph, which, under the wise guidance of Amos Kendall, were
tending towards a consolidation into one great company. The decision of
the Supreme Court had not yet been given, causing temporary embarrassment
to the patentees by allowing the pirates to continue their depredations
unchecked. F.O.J. Smith continued to give trouble. To quote from a letter
of Morse's to Mr. Kendall of January 10, 1853: "The Good Book says that
'one sinner destroyeth much good,' and F.O.J. being (as will be admitted
by all, perhaps, except himself) a sinner of that class bent upon
destroying as much good as he can, I am desirous, even at much sacrifice
(a desire, of course, _inter nos_) to get rid of controversy with him."

Further on in this letter, referring to another cause for anxiety, he
says: "Law is expensive, and we must look it in the face and expect to
pay roundly for it. It is a delicate task to dispute a professional
man's charges, and, though it may be an evil to find ourselves bled so
freely by lawyers, it is, perhaps, the least of evils to submit to it as
gracefully as we can."

But, while he could not escape the common lot of man in having to bear
many and severe trials, there were compensatory blessings which he
appreciated to the full. His home life was happy and, in the main,
serene his farm was a source of never-ending pleasure to him he was
honored at home and abroad by those whose opinion he most valued and he
was almost daily in receipt of the news of the extension of the "Morse
system" throughout the world. Even from far-off Australia came the news
of his triumph. A letter was sent to him, written from Melbourne on
December 3, 1853, by a Mr. Samuel McGowan to a friend in New York, which
contains the following gratifying intelligence:--

"Since the date of my last to you matters with me have undergone a
material change. I have come off conqueror in my hard fought battle. The
contract has been awarded to me in the faces of the representatives of
Messrs. Wheatstone and Cooke, Brett and other telegraphic luminaries,
much to their chagrin, as I afterwards ascertained several of them, it
appears, having been leagued together in order, as they stated, to thwart
a speculating Yankee. However, matters were not so ordained, and I am as
well satisfied. I hope they will all live to be the same."

In spite of his financial difficulties, caused by bad management of some
of the lines in which he was interested, he could not resist the
temptation to give liberally where his heart inclined him, and in a
letter of January 9, 1854, to President Woolsey of Yale, he says:--

"Enclosed, therefore, you have my check for one thousand dollars, which
please hand to the Treasurer of the College as my subscription towards
the fund which is being raised for the benefit of my dearly loved _Alma

"I wish I could make it a larger sum, and, without promising what I may
do at some future time, yet I will say that the prosperity of Yale
College is so near my heart that, should my affairs (now embarrassed by
litigations in self-defence yet undecided) assume a more prosperous
aspect, I have it in mind to add something more to the sum now sent."

The year 1854 was memorable in the history of the telegraph because of
two important events--the decision of the Supreme Court in Morse's favor,
already referred to, and the extension of his patent for another period
of seven years. The first established for all time his legal right to be
called the "Inventor of the Telegraph," and the second enabled him to
reap some adequate reward for his years of privation, of struggle, and of
heroic faith. It was for a long time doubtful whether his application for
an extension of his patent would be granted, and much of his time in the
early part of 1854 was consumed in putting in proper form all the data
necessary to substantiate his claim, and in visiting Washington to urge
the justice of an extension. From that city he wrote often to his wife in
Poughkeepsie, and I shall quote from some of these letters.

"_February 17._ I am at the National Hotel, which is now quite crowded,
but I have an endurable room with furniture hardly endurable, for it is
hard to find, in this hotel at least, a table or a bureau that can stand
on its four proper legs, rocking and tetering like a gold-digger's
washing-pan, unless the lame leg is propped up with an old shoe, or a
stray newspaper fifty times folded, or a magazine of due thickness (I am
using 'Harper's Magazine' at this moment, which is somewhat a
desecration, as it is too good to be trampled under foot, even the foot
of a table), or a coal cinder, or a towel. Well, it is but for a moment
and so let it pass.

"Where do you think I was last evening? Read the invitation on the
enclosed card, which, although forbidden to be _transferable_, may
without breach of honor be transferred to my other and better half. I
felt no inclination to go, but, as no refusal would be accepted, I put on
my best and at nine o'clock, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Shaffner (the
latter of whom, by the by, is quite a pleasant and pretty woman, with a
boy one year older than Arthur and about as mischievous) and Mr. and Mrs.
John Kendall.

"I went to the ladies' parlor and was presented to the ladies, six in
number, who did the honors (if that is the expression) of the evening.
There was a great crowd, I think not less than three hundred people, and
from all parts of the country--Senators and their wives, members of the
House and their wives and daughters, and there was a great number of fine
looking men and women. I was constantly introduced to a great many, who
uniformly showered their compliments on your _modest_ husband."

The card of invitation has been lost, but it was, perhaps, to a
President's Reception, and the "great" crowd of three hundred would not
tax the energies of the President's aides at the present day.

The next letter is written in a more serious vein:--

"_February 26._ I am very busily engaged in the preparation of my papers
for an extension of my patents. This object is of vital importance to me
it is, in fact, the moment to reap the harvest of so many years of labor,
and expense, and toil, and neglected would lose me the fruits of all.
F.O.J. Smith is here, the same ugly, fiendlike, dog-in-the-manger being
he has ever been, the 'thorn in the flesh' which I pray to be able to
support by the sufficient grace promised. It is difficult to know how to
feel and act towards such a man, so unprincipled, so vengeful, so bent on
injury, yet the command to bless those that curse, to pray for those who
despitefully use us and persecute us, to love our enemies, to forgive our
enemies, is in full force, and I feel more anxious to comply with this
injunction of our blessed Saviour than to have the thorn removed, however
strongly this latter must be desired."

"_March 4._ You have little idea of the trouble and expense to which I am
put in this 'extension' matter. I shall have to pay hundreds of
dollars more before I get through here, besides being harassed in all
sorts of ways from now till the 20th of June next. If I get my extension
then I may expect some respite, or, at least, opposition in another
shape. I hope eventually to derive some benefit from the late decision,
but the reckless and desperate character of my opponents may defeat all
the good I expect from it. Such is the reward I have purchased for myself
by my invention.

"Mr. Wood is here also. He is the same firm, consistent and indefatigable
friend as ever. I know not what I should do in the present crisis without
him. I could not possibly put my accounts into proper shape without his
aid, and he exerts himself for me as strongly as if I were his
brother. Mr. Kendall has been ill almost all the time that I have been
here, which has caused me much delay and consumption of time."

It was not until the latter part of June that the extension of his
patents was granted, and his good friend, alluded to in the preceding
letter, Mr. George Wood, tells, in a letter of June 21st, something of
the narrow escape it had:--

"Your Patent Extension is another instance of God's wonder working
Providence towards you as expressed in the history of this great
discovery. Of that history, of all the various shapes and incidents you
may never know, not having been on the spot to watch all its moments of
peril, and the way in which, like many a good Christian, it was 'scarcely

"In this you must see God's hand in giving you a man of remarkable skill,
energy, talent, and power as your agent. I refer to P.H. Watson, to whom
mainly and mostly, I think, this extension is due. God works by means,
and, though he designed to do this for you, he selected the proper person
and gave him the skill, perseverance and power to accomplish this result.
I hope now you have got it you will make it do for you all it can
accomplish pecuniarily. But as for the money, I don't think so much as I
do the effect of this upon your reputation. This is the apex of the

And Mr. Watson, in a letter of June 20, says: "We had many difficulties
to contend with, even to-day, for at one time the Commissioner intended
to withhold his decision for reasons which I shall explain at length when
we meet. It seemed to give the Commissioner much pleasure to think that,
in extending the patent, he was doing an act of justice to you as a great
public benefactor, and a somewhat unfortunate man of genius. Dr. Gale and
myself had to assure him that the extension would legally inure to your
benefit, and not to that of your agents and associates before he could
reconcile it with his duty to the public to grant the extension."

Morse himself, in a letter to Mr. Kendall, also of June 20, thus
characteristically expresses himself:--

"A memorable day. I never had my anxieties so tried as in this case of
extension, and after weeks of suspense, this suspense was prolonged to
the last moment of endurance. I have just returned with the intelligence
from the telegraph office from Mr. Watson--'Patent extended. All right.'

"Well, what is now to be done? I am for taking time by the forelock and
placing ourselves above the contingencies of the next expiration of the
patent. While keeping our vantage ground with the pirates I wish to meet
them in a spirit of compromise and of magnanimity. I hope we may now be
able to consolidate on advantageous terms."

It appears that at this time he was advised by many of his friends,
including Dr. Gale, to sever his business connection with Mr. Kendall,
both on account of the increasing feebleness of that gentleman, and
because, while admittedly the soul of honor, Mr. Kendall had kept their
joint accounts in a very careless and slipshod manner, thereby causing
considerable financial loss to the inventor. But, true to his friends, as
he always was, he replies to Dr. Gale on June 30:--

"Let me thank you specially personally for your solicitude for my
interests. This I may say without disparagement to Mr. Kendall, that,
were the contract with an agent to be made anew, I might desire to have a
younger and more healthy man, and better acquainted with regular
book-keeping, but I could not desire a more upright and more honorable
man. If he has committed errors, (as who has not?) they have been of the
head and not of the heart. I have had many years experience of his
conduct, think I have seen him under strong temptation to do injustice
with prospects of personal benefit, and with little chance of detection,
and yet firmly resisting."

Among the calumnies which were spread broadcast, both during the life of
the inventor and after his death, even down to the present day, was the
accusation of great ingratitude towards those who had helped him in his
early struggles, and especially towards Alfred Vail. The more the true
history of his connection with his associates is studied, the more
baseless do these accusations appear, and in this connection the
following extracts from letters to Alfred Vail and to his brother George
are most illuminating. The first letter is dated July 15, 1854:--

"The legal title to my Patent for the American Electro-Magnetic Telegraph
of June 20th, 1840, is, by the late extension of said patent for seven
years from the said date, now vested in me alone but I have intended
that the pecuniary interest which was guaranteed to you in my invention
as it existed in 1838, and in my patent of 1840, should still inure to
your benefit (yet in a different shape) under the second patent and the
late extension of the first.

"For the simplification of my business transactions I prefer to let the
Articles of Agreement, which expired on the 20th June, 1854, remain
cancelled and not to renew them, retaining in my sole possession the
_legal title_ but I hereby guarantee to you two sixteenths of such sums
as may be paid over to me in the sale of patent rights, after the
proportionate deductions of such necessary expenses as may be required in
the business of the agency for conducting the sales of said patent
rights, subject also to the terms of your agreement with Mr. Kendall.

"Mr. Kendall informs me that no assignment of an interest in my second
patent (the patent of 1846) was ever made to you. This was news to me. I
presumed it was done and that the assignment was duly recorded at the
Patent Office. The examination of the records in the progress of
obtaining my extension has, doubtless, led to the discovery of the

After going over much the same ground in the letter to George Vail, also
of July 15th, he gives as one of the reasons why the new arrangement is
better: "The annoyances of Smith are at an end, so far as the necessity
of consulting him is concerned."

"I presume it can be no matter of regret with Alfred that, by the
position he now takes, strengthening our defensive position against the
annoyances of Smith, he can receive _more pecuniarily_ than he could
before. Please consult with Mr. Kendall on the form of any agreement by
which you and Alfred may be properly secured in the pecuniary benefits
which you would have were he to stand in the same legal relation to the
patent that he did before the expiration of its original term, so as to
give me the position in regard to Smith that I must take in self-defense,
and I shall cheerfully accede to it.

"Poor Alfred, I regret to know, torments himself needlessly. I had hoped
that I was sufficiently known to him to have his confidence. I have never
had other than kind feelings towards him, and, while planning for his
benefit and guarding his interests at great and almost ruinous expense to
myself, I have had to contend with difficulties which his imprudence,
arising from morbid suspicions, has often created. My wish has ever been
to act towards him not merely justly but generously."

In a letter to Mr. Kendall of July 17, 1854, Morse declares his intention
of publishing that "Defense" which he had held in reserve for several
years, hoping that the necessity for its publication might be avoided by
a personal understanding with Professor Henry, which, however, that
gentleman refused:--

"You will perceive what injury I have suffered from the machinations of
the sordid pirates against whom I have had to contend, and it will also
be noticed how history has been falsified in order to detract from me,
and how the conduct of Henry, on his deposition, has tended to strengthen
the ready prejudice of the English against the American claim to
priority. An increasing necessity, on this account, arises for my
'Defense,' and so soon as I can get it into proper shape by revision, I
intend to publish it.

"This I consider a duty I owe the country more than myself, for, so far
as I am personally concerned, I am conscious of a position that History
will give me when the facts now suppressed by interested pirates and
their abettors shall be known, which the verdict of posterity, no less
than that of the judicial tribunals already given, is sure to award."

While involved in apparently endless litigation which necessitated much
correspondence, and while the compilation and revision of his "Defense"
must have consumed not only days but weeks and months, he yet found time
to write a prodigious number of letters and newspaper articles on other
subjects, especially on those relating to religion and politics. Although
more tolerant as he grew older, he was still bitterly opposed to the
methods of the Roman Catholic Church, and to the Jesuits in particular.
He, in common with many other prominent men of his day, was fearful lest
the Church of Rome, through her emissaries the Jesuits, should gain
political ascendancy in this country and overthrow the liberty of the
people. He took part in a long and heated newspaper controversy with
Bishop Spaulding of Kentucky concerning the authenticity of a saying
attributed to Lafayette--"If ever the liberty of the United States is
destroyed it will be by Romish priests."

It was claimed by the Roman Catholics that this statement of Lafayette's
was ingeniously extracted from a sentence in a letter of his to a friend
in which he assures this friend that such a fear is groundless. Morse
followed the matter up with the patience and keenness of a detective, and
proved that no such letter had ever been written by Lafayette, that it
was a clumsy forgery, but that he really had made use of the sentiment
quoted above, not only to Morse himself, but to others of the greatest
credibility who were still living.

In the field of politics he came near playing a more active part than
that of a mere looker-on and humble voter, for in the fall of 1854 he was
nominated for Congress on the Democratic ticket. It would be difficult
and, perhaps, invidious to attempt to state exactly his political faith
in those heated years which preceded the Civil War. In the light of
future events he and his brothers and many other prominent men of the day
were on the wrong side. He deprecated the war and did his best to prevent

"Sectional division" was abhorrent to him, but on the question of slavery
his sympathies were rather with the South, for I find among his papers
the following:--

"My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery _per se_ is not
sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world
for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom.
The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having _per se_
nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or
employer, or ruler, but is moral or unmoral as the duties of the relation
of master, parent, employer or ruler are rightly used or abused. The
subject in a national view belongs not, therefore, to the department of
Morals, and is transferred to that of Politics to be politically

"The accidents of the relation of master and slave, like the accidents of
other social relations, are to be praised or condemned as such
individually and in accordance with the circumstances of every case, and,
whether adjudged good or bad, do not affect the character of the relation

On the subject of foreign immigration he was most outspoken, and replying
to an enquiry of one of his political friends concerning his attitude
towards the so-called "Know Nothings," he says:--

"So far as I can gather from the public papers, the object of this
society would seem to be to resist the aggression of foreign influence
and its insidious and dangerous assaults upon all that Americans hold
dear, politically and religiously. It appears to be to prevent injury to
the Republic from the ill-timed and, I may say, unbecoming tamperings
with the laws, and habits, and deeply sacred sentiments of Americans by
those whose position, alike dictated by modesty and safety, to them as
well as to us, is that of minors in training for American, not European,

"I have not, at this late day, to make up an opinion on this subject. My
sentiments 'On the dangers to the free institutions of the United States
from foreign immigration' are the same now that I have ever entertained,
and these same have been promulgated from Maine to Louisiana for more
than twenty years.

"This subject involves questions which, in my estimation, make all others
insignificant in the comparison, for they affect all others. To the
disturbing influence of foreign action in our midst upon the political
and religious questions of the day may be attributed in a great degree
the present disorganization in all parts of the land.

"So far as the Society you speak of is acting against this great evil it,
of course, meets with my hearty concurrence. I am content to stand on the
platform, in this regard, occupied by Washington in his warnings against
foreign influence, by Lafayette, in his personal conversation and
instructions to me, and by Jefferson in his condemnation of the
encouragement given, even in his day, to foreign immigration. If this
Society has ulterior objects of which I know nothing, of these I can be
expected to speak only when I know something."

As his opinions on important matters, political and religious, appear in
the course of his correspondence, I shall make note of them. It is more
than probable that, as he differed radically from his father and the
other Federalists on the question of men and measures during the War of
1812, so I should have taken other ground than his had I been born and
old enough to have opinions in the stirring _ante-bellum_ days of the
fifties. And yet, as hindsight makes our vision clearer than foresight,
it is impossible to say definitely what our opinions would have been
under other conditions, and there can, at any rate, be no question of the
absolute sincerity of the man who, from his youth up, had placed the
welfare of his beloved country above every other consideration except his
duty to his God.

It would take a keen student of the political history of this country to
determine how far the opinions and activities of those who were in
opposition on questions of such prime importance as slavery, secession,
and unrestricted immigration, served as a wholesome check on the radical
views of those who finally gained the ascendancy. The aftermath of two of
these questions is still with us, for the negro question is by no means a
problem solved, and the subject of proper restrictions on foreign
immigration is just now occupying the attention of our Solons.

That Morse should make enemies on account of the outspoken stand he took
on all these questions was to be expected, but I shall not attempt to sit
in judgment, but shall simply give his views as they appear in his
correspondence. At any rate he was not called upon to state and maintain
his opinions in the halls of Congress, for, in a letter of November 10,
1854, to a friend, he says at the end: "I came near being in Congress at
the late election, but had _not quite votes enough_, which is the usual
cause of failure on such occasions."

JANUARY 8, 1856--AUGUST 14, 1856

Payment of dividends delayed.--Concern for welfare of his country.--
Indignation at corrupt proposal from California.--Kendall hampered by the
Vails.--Proposition by capitalists to purchase patent rights.--Cyrus W.
Field.--Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company.--Suggestion of Atlantic
Cable.--Hopes thereby to eliminate war.--Trip to Newfoundland.--Temporary
failure.--F.O.J. Smith continues to give trouble.--Financial conditions
improve.--Morse and his wife sail for Europe.--Feted in London.--
Experiments with Dr. Whitehouse.--Mr. Brett.--Dr. O'Shaughnessy and the
telegraph in India.--Mr. Cooke.--Charles H. Leslie.--Paris.--Hamburg.--
Copenhagen.--Presentation to king.--Thorwaldsen Museum.--Oersted's
daughter.--St. Petersburg.--Presentation to Czar at Peterhoff.

I have said in the preceding chapter that order was gradually emerging
from chaos in telegraphic matters, but the progress towards that goal was
indeed gradual, and a perusal of the voluminous correspondence between
Morse and Kendall, and others connected with the different lines, leaves
the reader in a state of confused bewilderment and wonder that all the
conflicting interests, and plots and counterplots, could ever have been
brought into even seeming harmony. Too much praise cannot be given to Mr.
Kendall for the patience and skill with which he disentangled this
apparently hopeless snarl, while at the same time battling against
physical ills which would have caused most men to give up in despair.
That Morse fully appreciated the sterling qualities of this faithful
friend is evidenced by the letter to Dr. Gale in the preceding chapter,
and by many others. He always refused to consider for a moment the
substitution of a younger man on the plea of Mr. Kendall's failing
health, and his carelessness in the keeping of their personal accounts.
It is true that, because of this laxity on Mr. Kendall's part, Morse was
for a long time deprived of the full income to which he was entitled, but
he never held this up against his friend, always making excuses for him.

Affairs seem to have been going from bad to worse in the matter of
dividends, for, while in 1850 he had said that only 509 miles out of 1150
were paying him personally anything, he says in a letter to Mr. Kendall
of January 8, 1855:--

"I perceive the Magnetic Telegraph Company meet in Washington on Thursday
the 11th. Please inform me by telegraph the amount of dividend they
declare and the time payable. This is the only source on which I can
calculate for the means of subsistence from day to day with any degree of

"It is a singular reflection that occurs frequently to my mind that out
of 40,000 miles of telegraph, all of which should pay me something, only
225 miles is all that I can depend upon with certainty and the case is a
little aggravated when I think that throughout all Europe, which is now
meshed with telegraph wires from the southern point of Corsica to St.
Petersburg, on which my telegraph is universally used, not a mile
contributes to my support or has paid me a farthing.

"Well, it is all well. I am not in absolute want, for I have some credit,
and painful as is the state of debt to me from the apprehension that
creditors may suffer from my delay in paying them, yet I hope on."

Mr. Kendall was not so sensitive on the subject of debt as was Morse, and
he was also much more optimistic and often rebuked his friend for his
gloomy anticipations, assuring him that the clouds were not nearly so
dark as they appeared.

Always imbued with a spirit of lofty patriotism, Morse never failed, even
in the midst of overwhelming cares, to give voice to warnings which he
considered necessary. Replying to an invitation to be present at a public
dinner he writes:--

GENTLEMEN,--I have received your polite invitation to join with you in
the celebration of the birthday of Washington. Although unable to be
present in person, I shall still be with you in heart.

Every year, indeed every day, is demonstrating the necessity of our being
wide awake to the insidious sapping of our institutions by foreign
emissaries in the guise of friends, who, taking advantage of the very
liberality and unparalleled national generosity which we have extended to
them, are undermining the foundations of our political fabric,
substituting (as far as they are able to effect their purpose) on the one
hand a dark, cold and heartless atheism, or, on the other, a disgusting,
puerile, degrading superstition in place of the God of our fathers and
the glorious elevating religion of love preached by his Son.

The American mind, I trust, is now in earnest waking up, and no one more
rejoices at the signs of the times than myself. Twenty years ago I hoped
to have seen it awake, but, alas! it proved to be but a spasmodic yawn
preparatory to another nap. If it shall now have waked in earnest, and
with renewed strength shall gird itself to the battle which is assuredly
before it, I shall feel not a little in the spirit of good old Simeon--
"Now let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy

Go forward, my friends, in your patriotic work, and may God bless you in
your labors with eminent success.

It has been shown, I think, in the course of this work, that Morse, while
long-suffering and patient under trials and afflictions, was by no means
poor-spirited, but could fight and use forceful language when roused by
acts of injustice towards himself, his country, or his sense of right.
Nothing made him more righteously angry than dishonesty in whatever form
it was manifested, and the following incident is characteristic.

On June 26, 1855, Mr. Kendall forwarded a letter which he had received
from a certain Milton S. Latham, member of Congress from California,
making a proposition to purchase the Morse patent rights for lines in
California. In this letter occur the following sentences: "For the use of
Professor Morse's patent for the State of California in perpetuity, with
the reservations named in yours of the 3d March, 1855, addressed to me,
they are willing to give you $30,000 in their stock. This is all they
will do. It is proper I should state that the capital stock of the
California State Telegraph in cash was $75,000, which they raised to
$150,000, and subsequently to $300,000. The surplus stock over the cash
stock was used among members of the Legislature to procure the passage of
the act incorporating the company, and securing for it certain

Mr. Kendall in his letter enclosing this naive business proposition,
remarks: "It is an impressive commentary on the principles which govern
business in California that this company doubled their stock to bribe
members of the State Legislature, and are now willing to add but ten per
cent to be relieved from the position of patent pirates and placed
henceforth on an honest footing."

Morse more impulsively exclaims in his reply:--

"Is it possible that there are men who hold up their heads in civilized
society who can unblushingly take the position which the so-called
California State Telegraph Company has deliberately taken?

"Accept the proposition? Yes, I will accept it when I can consent to the
housebreaker who has entered my house, packed up my silver and plated
ware, and then coolly says to me--'Allow me to take what I have packed up
and I will select out that which is worthless and give it to you, after I
have used it for a few years, provided any of it remain!'

"A more unprincipled set of swindlers never existed. Who is this Mr.
Latham that he could recommend our accepting such terms?"

In addition to the opposition of open enemies and unprincipled pirates,
Morse and Kendall were sometimes hampered by the unjust suspicions of
some of those whose interests they were striving to safeguard. Referring
to one such case in a letter of June 15, 1855, Mr. Kendall says:--

"If there should be opposition I count on the Vails against me. Alfred
has for some time been hostile because I could not if I would, and would
not if I could, find him a snug sinecure in some of the companies. I fear
George has in some degree given way to the same spirit. I have heard of
his complaining of me, and when, before my departure for the West, I
tendered my services to negotiate a connection of himself and brother
with the lessees of the N.O. & O. line, he declined my offer, protesting
against the entire arrangements touching that line.

"Having done all I could and much more than I was bound to do for the
benefit of those gentlemen, I shall not permit their jealousy to disturb
me, but I am anxious to have them understand the exact position I am to
occupy in relation to them. I understood your purpose to be that they
should share in the benefits of the extension, whether legally entitled
to them or not, yet nothing has been paid over to them for sales since
made. All the receipts, except a portion of my commissions, have been
paid out on account of expenses, and to secure an interest for you in the
N.O. & O. line."

It is easy to understand that the Vails should have been somewhat
suspicious when little or nothing in the way of cash was coming in to
them, but they seem not to have realized that Morse and Kendall were in
the same boat, and living more on hope than cash. Mr. Kendall enlarges
somewhat on this point in a letter of June 22, 1855:--

"Most heartily will I concur in a sale of all my interests in the
Telegraph at any reasonable rate to such a company as you describe. I
fully appreciate your reasons for desiring such a consummation, and, in
addition to them, have others peculiar to my own position. Any one who
has a valuable patent can profit by it only by a constant fight with some
of the most profligate and, at the same time, most shrewd members of
society. I have found myself not only the agent of yourself and the
Messrs. Vail to sell your patent rights, but the soldier to fight your
battles, as well in the country as in the courts of justice. Almost
single-handed, with the deadly enmity of one of the patentees, and the

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6 Things You May Not Know About Samuel Morse - HISTORY

Actually, no. That's in International Morse. "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT" was sent in American Morse.

Notice how the O isn't a "---", but a "- -", and the R isn't a ".-." but a ". ..".

Oh, and Fark's headline filter chopped off the trailing dits of the question mark. It should be ..--..

Because the systems we worked on in the Army didn't allow for the entry of punctuation (it did funky things to the system), we always had to enter that kind of stuff as strings of letters. So I *STILL* hear the question mark as IMI, the period as AAA, and the comma as MIM.

I actually consider this day to be the first day of modern communications. Prior to the invention of the electric telegraph, information could only travel as fast as it could be carried. Sure, there were exceptions like optical telegraphs, but they were very expensive, limited to just government use, and useless at night or in bad weather.

Imagine if you had to write a letter to your friend on the opposite side of the country and it would take weeks for that letter to get there, and you'd have to wait weeks to receive a reply.

This didn't change for *MILLENNIA*. George Washington faced the same sort of communications delays that Alexander the Great faced 2,100 years before.

But along came the electric telegraph, and you could have a message sent across the country (once the wire was strung) within an hour. Once we were able to lay long distances of underwater cable, you could fully expect to send a message to the other side of the World, and get a response back that very same day, maybe even within a couple of hours.

You might think that the Internet changed everything. It really didn't. The telegraph did. The difference between getting a message to Australia in 6 months and getting it there in 1 hour is a lot greater than the difference between 1 hour and a second or two.

In fact, I submit that what you're posting on is really just a high-speed automated telegraph system. Telegraph worked basically the same way as the Internet does now, at least in concept. Message originates, gets sorted by destination through special facilities, ends up on a main trunk line close to it's destination, then gets routed to the nearest station, and finally delivered. The only real difference is that we're using machines to do all the work instead of telegraphers and messenger boys.

Watch the video: Few people know about this DRILL function!!! Secret function

Facts about First Morse Code Message
Morse Code Fact Details
Date of first message. 24 May 1844
What was the first message sent in Morse code "What hath God Wrought"
Why was this first message in Morse code chosen? The message was taken from the Bible: Numbers 23:23, and it wasrecorded on a paper tape. It had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the young daughter of a friend.
First message end points. Washington and Baltimore.
Distance over which message sent.