Sunday, October 25, 2009

Samuel Morse

Since his name has come up in our conversation I thought I would do a brief post on American painter Samuel Finley Breese Morse 1791-1872. The son of a preacher, Morse was born in Charlestown (next to Boston) Massachusetts. He attended Phillips Academy and then Yale.

Morse traveled to England with American painter Washington Allston. The next time you are in Harvard Square walk over to the fence and look into the old burying ground there, and you can see his grave with the name Allston plainly marked on the stone. After training with Allston, Morse studied at the Royal Academy . Returning home he became a portrait painter, even painting President John Adams.In 1821 he painted a picture of Congress that is his best known work.

Morse was commissioned to paint a portrait in Washington and was executing it when a messenger arrived on horseback to inform him that his wife had died. By the time he could get back to his home in New Haven Connecticut she was already buried. He turned his grief to constructive use by working to discover a way to communicate quickly over long distances.

Although others worked on telegraphy at the same time, Morse was eventually credited with its invention. He sent a demonstration telegram from one room in the Capitol to another. His first message was "What hath God Wrought", a quotation from the book of Numbers.

Morse's patent of the telegraph was ignored and his claim to it disputed until he defended it legally in a case that went before the supreme court in 1853. The court under Justice Taney
(who later delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case) found in his favor.

I will tell you more tomorrow as I must close tonight due to exhaustion. This is, incidentally, the 300th post I have done in a row without missing a day.Tomorrow night I will discuss Morse some more and show you the DARK side of his history, so stay tuned.

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