Samuel Morse (1791 – 1872) American Painter and Inventor

Samuel Finley Breese Morse is best known for his creation of the single wire telegraph system and the Morse Code, but he was also a gifted painter.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was the first child of a geographer and pastor, Jedidiah and his wife Elizabeth Ann. His full name is a combination of his parents’ surnames.

Samuel Morse – Early Life

Morse’s father favoured and preserved Puritan traditions and preached the Calvinist faith. This faith is known as the Reformed faith and believes in the rule of God over all things. However, his father also wanted to provide his son with other frameworks for his education through Federalism. Morse eventually studied religious philosophy, mathematics and horse science at Yale College. To support the cost of his education, Morse painted portraits and graduated in 1810

Samuel Morse – The Painter

In addition to his portrait painting, Morse developed his art to include historic scenes. In his painting the Landing of the Pilgrims, the images portray the beliefs of Calvinistic faith through clothing and facial features. The painting attracted the interest of a famous artist, Washington Alston, which eventually led to Morse being admitted to the Royal Academy in England. Here, Morse developed an appreciation of other art including Neo-classical and Renaissance models and this produced his first work of art Dying Hercules.

Morse returned to the United States in 1815 and spent the following ten years producing work which portrayed the culture and life of his home country. During this time, he began to question his fathers’ religious opinions and by accepted portrait work for Unitarians. He produced two significant pieces of art which depicted his favour for democratic nationalism, The Hall of Congress and the Marquis of Lafayette.

Samuel Morse – The Telegraph

Following a period of travelling around Europe to improve his painting skills, Morse met Charles Thomas Jackson on his return home. He watched some of Jackson’s experiments with an electromagnet. It was from these observations that Morse developed the idea of a single wire telegraph. He started to develop a code immediately brushing all painting projects aside.

Following some problems with the telegraph signal, Morse made a breakthrough with his invention and was joined by Alfred Vail who with skills, vision and money helped to advance the development of the system greatly. Morse received much scepticism from the general public and Congress about the communication method but in 1844 Morse officially opened an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore with the famous words ‘What hath God wrought’. In 1847 Morse received a patent for the invention and in 1851 the Morse telegraphic apparatus was adopted as the European standard.

Samuel Morse was a gifted artist and promoted his developing ideals and beliefs through his paintings, both scenic and the portraits he agreed to produce. He was also interested in the interaction between science and religion and provided money for the development of this. But it his legacy in the development of the Morse Code which will always be associated with his name.

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