1791 - 1826 (34 years)
Has more than 250 ancestors but no descendants in this family tree.
||Samuel Finley Breese Morse |
||27 Apr 1791
||2 Apr 1826
||28 Jan 2002 |
- Artist, portrait painter, inventor of telegraph and Morse code, established first telegraph line.
His family was wealthy and well connected. "Finley's" first career was painting, which he studied in the US and Europe. He became a member of Britain's Royal Academy, and helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City. (He also twice ran for Mayor of New York, unsuccessfully.)
In 1832, Morse became intrigued by the telegraph, a device first proposed in 1753 and first built in 1774. Through 1833, the machines were impractical, requiring 26 separate wires, one for each letter of the alphabet. In that year, two German engineers had invented a five-wire model; but Morse wanted to be the first to reduce the number of wires to one. In 1838, Morse made this possible by creating a code that used different numbers to represent the letters of the English alphabet and the ten digits.
Morse's first telegraph device produced an EKG-like line on tickertape. The dips in the line had to be de-coded into letters and numbers using a dictionary composed by Morse --- this assuming that the pen or pencil wrote clearly, which did not always happen. Morse began a twofold search, for improvements and for government funding.
In 1842, Morse convinced Congress to provide $30,000 (nearly $500,000 in 2000 money) in support of his plan to "wire" the United States. Meanwhile, Morse --- who shined as an "ideas man" but was not a competent engineer --- solicited and received advice from a number of American and European telegraphy experts, including Joseph Henry of Princeton, who had invented a working telegraph in 1831, and Louis Breguet of Paris, from whose long-distance telegraph Morse actually stole an essential component. Most of the mechanical development of Morse's telegraph and its code was done by his assistants, most notably Alfred Vail and William Baxter.
In 1844, Morse finally filed for a patent (granted 1849) of the printing telegraph which he had been developing since 1832. He had already proved that his device worked over short distances; and the Federal funds he raised had allowed him to string a wire from Baltimore to Washington. On May 11, 1844, Morse sent the first inter-city message. Soon thereafter, he gave the first public demonstration, in which he sent a message from the chamber of the Supreme Court to the Mount Clair train depot in Baltimore. The message itself was borrowed from the Bible by the daughter of the Commissioner of Patents: "What hath God wrought?"
The person on the receiving end of that transmission was Alfred Vail, who was credited by Franklin T. Pope (later a partner of Thomas Edison) with inventing the "dots and dashes" version of "Morse Code" that became standard. This was a great improvement, as it did not require printing or decoding, but could be "sound read" by operators.
The telegraph spread across the US more quickly than had the railroads, whose routes the wires often followed. By 1854, there were 23,000 miles of telegraph wire in operation. In 1851, Western Union was founded, and in 1868, the first successful trans-Atlantic cable link was established. Samuel Morse died in 1872. Although he did not invent the telegraph, and probably did not invent the familiar version of the code that bears his name, there is no doubt that his promotion and popularization of the telegraph sped its acceptance and utilization throughout the US and then the world.