Concise Biography, History & Facts About Samuel Finley Breese Morse
Samuel Finley Breese Morse
Lifespan - Born Apr 27 1791 - Died Apr 2 1872
Father - Reverend Jedidiah Morse
Place of Birth - Charlestown, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Education - Phillips Academy Andover - Yale College - Studied painting in England
Career - Painter, Inventor, Professor
An Idea is Conceived
In the winter of 1832 during a trip from Havre to New York, Samuel Morse found himself in conversation with Jackson, a fellow-passenger on the ship, the conversation eventually moved on to electrical developments on both sides of the Atlantic, Morse came to the conclusion that information should be able to be transmitted instantaneously over wires a considerable distance, he immediately set himself the task of developing such a system. The following day he conceived and sketched a basic system for recording electric impulses representing data. He relentlessly worked on his idea for the remainder of the voyage, and on arrival in New York attempted the construction of a prototype apparatus.
Morse was by profession a portrait painter and had no choice but continue his artistic work in order to earn a living and fund his experiments. Morse had however graduated from Yale College, where he had originally worked on electrical experiments before moving on to art. He knew, to a degree at least, he was capable of the initial development of his ideas.
Morse spent every spare minute of his time on his apparatus we now call the telegraph. Morse made up for his lack of mechanical knowledge with ingenuity, but it was not until 1837 had he felt sufficiently happy to to make application for a patent (number 1,647) to enable him to secure and protect his rights to his invention the "Electromagnetic telegraph".
Morse, writes to a friend:
"Up to the autumn of 1837 my telegraphic apparatus existed in so rude a form that I felt reluctance to have it seen. My means were very limited, so limited as to preclude the possibility of constructing an apparatus of such mechanical finish as to warrant my success in venturing upon its public exhibition. I had no wish to expose to ridicule the representative of so many hours of laborious thought. Prior to the summer of 1837 I depended upon my pencil for subsistence. Indeed, so straitened were my circumstances that in order to save time to carry out my invention and to economize my scanty means I had for months lodged and eaten in my studio, procuring food in small quantities from some grocery, and preparing it myself. To conceal from my friends the stinted manner in which I lived, I was in the habit of bringing food to my room in the evenings; and this was my mode of life for many years".
Development Grinds to a halt!
After five years of work it became clear he need skilled engineers if he was to succeed, help he could not afford. Morse had no choice but surrender a quarter interest in his invention in order to obtain the help be so desperately required.
The Prototype is Completed
With money now available Professor Morse lost no time in completing his apparatus and presenting it to the public. On January 6, 1838, he first operated his system successfully, over a wire three miles long, in the company of a few personal friends, at Morristown, New Jersey. In the following month he made a similar exhibition before the faculty of the New York University, it proved to be of great interest to all the scientists present. Shortly after, the telegraph was taken to Philadelphia and exhibited at the Franklin Institute, where Morse received the highest recommendation from the committee of science and arts, with strong support for gaining government aid for demonstrating the practical uses of the telegraph.
The Telegraph impresses the President
Morse removed his telegraph to Washington, where he demonstrated its operation to President Van Buren, his Cabinet and foreign ministers and members of both Houses of Congress. A bill was rapidly introduced in Congress appropriating thirty thousand dollars for the purpose of providing an experimental telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore, to test in use, its practicality. The bill was favourably received by the committee on commerce, but made no further progress until the very closing hour of the expiring session of 1843 when the appropriation was finally secured.
Telegraph tested for practicality
The plan of construction devised by Professor Morse for the experimental telegraph line consisted of insulated wires contained in a lead pipe underground. This was to be rapidly accomplished using a specially designed plough which would allow the pipe containing the wires to be automatically buried underground. The method worked to the complete satisfaction of all concerned, at a cost much lower than the work could have been accomplished any other way. Two wires were used to form the circuit, (at that time it was not known that a common earth, and just one cable could be used). For insulation the wires were covered with cotton-yarn and soaked in a bath of shellac varnish. On completion of the first ten miles of line, the insulation was found to be defective, the shellac had failed and allowed the wires to short out at numerous points.
A Serious Setback
No rubber or plastic insulation existed in the USA at this time, it was a very serious setback. Twenty-three thousand dollars of the Government appropriation had been expended, the work already completed was a total write off. Only seven thousand dollars of the available fund remained, and this appeared inadequate to complete the undertaking under any conceivable plan. There seemed to be no alternative but to apply to Congress for additional appropriation. This option, however, was regarded as almost hopeless by everybody involved.
An idea from England
Samuel Morse finally visited the site where the pipe-laying was still proceeding, and, calling the superintendent aside, confided in him the fact that cable was a failure, and that to conserve the remaining money all work must be stopped, but without the newspapers finding out the true reason for its suspension. The quick-witted superintendent immediately proved his loyalty, re-starting the powerful ploughing machine, "Accidentally" ran in to a large rock breaking the plough. The newspapers published sensational accounts of the accident and announced that it would require several weeks to repair. The real trouble was kept from the public giving Morse time to look for a solution. After long and careful consideration, and after learning that overhead cables were being used in England, using the air gap as an insulator, Samuel Morse reluctantly decided to erect his telegraph wires on poles.
May 24st 1844 - Success!
The line was was finally completed between Washington and Baltimore, it proved to be both effective, and within budget! The first message sent was "What hath God wrought!" Shortly after the completion of the line, the National Democratic Convention, which was debating the nomination of Polk and Dallas for President and Vice-President, assembled in Baltimore. Reports of the convention proceedings were promptly telegraphed to the capital city, where the telegraph office was filled with Members of Congress with a vested interest in the nomination result. The instant telegraph reports coming from the Convention to Washington removed all doubts regarding the practicality of the Morse Telegraph system.
The First Nationwide instant Communication System is born!
During 1846 incorporated companies were formed, who extended the telegraph lines from New York to Boston, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, and within the next three years nearly every important town in the United States and Canada, from St. Louis and New Orleans to Montreal and Halifax, benefited from instant telegraphic communication. After fifteen years of hardship, often finding it difficult to afford food, Samuel Morse had the satisfaction, of knowing that the telegraph system had finally achieved, not only scientific success, but financial success as well!
Samuel Finley Breese Morse