Morse, Samuel Finley Breese

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Morse, Samuel Finley Breese,

1791–1872, American inventor and artist, b. Charlestown, Mass., grad. Yale, 1810. He studied painting in England under Washington AllstonAllston, Washington
, 1779–1843, American painter and author, b. Georgetown co., S.C. After graduating from Harvard (1800), where he composed music and wrote poetry (published in 1813 as The Sylphs of the Seasons
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 and achieved some success. He returned to the United States in 1815, took up portrait painting, and gained a considerable reputation in this field. Associated with the Hudson River schoolHudson River school,
group of American landscape painters, working from 1825 to 1875. The 19th-century romantic movements of England, Germany, and France were introduced to the United States by such writers as Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper.
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, he also executed a number of landscapes and, less successfully, various historical works. A founder (1825) of the National Academy of Design, he spent the years from 1829 to 1832 in further European study and upon his return became a professor of fine arts at New York Univ. An outspoken opponent of Catholic immigration to the United States, he was an unsuccessful Nativist candidate for mayor of New York City in 1836.

Morse's interest in electricity, aroused in his college days, was further stimulated by the lectures of James F. Dana in 1827 and later by contacts with university faculty. Learning in 1832 of AmpèreAmpère, André Marie
, 1775–1836, French physicist, mathematician, and natural philosopher. He was professor of mathematics at the École Polytechnique, Paris, and later at the Collège de France.
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's idea for the electric telegraph, Morse worked for the next 12 years, with the aid of the chemist Leonard Gale, physicist Joseph HenryHenry, Joseph,
1797–1878, American physicist, b. Albany, N.Y., educated at Albany Academy. He taught (1826–32) mathematics and natural philosophy at Albany Academy and was professor of natural philosophy (1832–46) at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey).
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, and machinist Alfred Vail to perfect his own version of the instrument. So many phases of the telegraph, however, had already been anticipated by other inventors, especially in Great Britain, Germany, and France, that Morse's originality as the inventor of telegraphy has been questioned; even the Morse codeMorse code
[for S. F. B. Morse], the arbitrary set of signals used on the telegraph (see code). It may also be used with a flash lamp for visible signaling. The international (or continental) Morse code is a simplified form generally used in radio telegraphy.
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 did not differ greatly from earlier codes, including the semaphore. In any case, in 1844 Morse demonstrated to Congress the practicability of his instrument by transmitting the famous message "What hath God wrought" over a wire from Washington to Baltimore. Morse subsequently was compelled to defend his invention in court, although by then he commanded the acclaim of the world. He later experimented with submarine cable telegraphy. Both Morse and John DraperDraper, John William,
1811–82, American scientist, philosopher, and historian, b. near Liverpool, England, M.D. Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1836. In 1839 he became professor of chemistry at the Univ. of the City of New York.
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 were instrumental in introducing the daguerreotype in the United States.


See his letters and journals, ed. by E. L. Morse (1914, repr. 1973); biographies by C. Mabee (1943, repr. 1969), P. Staiti (1989), and K. Silverman (2003).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Morse, Samuel Finley Breese


born Apr. 27, 1791, in Charlestown, Mass.; died Apr. 2, 1872, in New York. American painter and inventor in the field of telegraphy.

Morse painted historical scenes and formal portraits. He was one of the founders and the first president (1826–45) of the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1837 he invented an electromagnetic telegraph apparatus. In 1838 he developed a telegraph code, called the Morse code, which is still in use. Telegraph apparatus developed by Morse was used in the first commercial telegraph line in America, between Washington and Baltimore (1844).


Kamenskii, A. V. Edison i Morze. St. Petersburg, 1900.
Wilson, M. Amerikanskie uchenye i izobretateli. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
“Centennial of Morse Telegraph.” Railway Age, 1944, vol. 116, no. 23, pp. 1070–74.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.