Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals
Samuel F. B. Morse

Part 1 out of 9

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[Illustration: Sam'l. F.B. Morse]









_Published November 1914_

"Th' invention all admir'd, and each how he
To be th' inventor miss'd, so easy it seem'd
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought




OCTOBER 1, 1832--FEBRUARY 28, 1833

Packet-ship Sully.--Dinner-table conversation.--Dr. Charles T. Jackson.--
First conception of telegraph.--Sketch-book.--Idea of 1832 basic
principle of telegraph of to-day.--Thoughts on priority.--Testimony of
passengers and Captain Pell.--Difference between "discovery" and
"invention."--Professor E.N. Hereford's paper.--Arrival in New York.--
Testimony of his brothers.--First steps toward perfection of the
invention.--Letters to Fenimore Cooper



Still painting.--Thoughts on art.--Picture of the Louvre.--Rejection as
painter of one of the pictures in the Capitol.--John Quincy Adams.--James
Fenimore Cooper's article.--Death blow to his artistic ambition.--
Washington Allston's letter.--Commission by fellow artists.--Definite
abandonment of art.--Repayment of money advanced.--Death of Lafayette.--
Religious controversies.--Appointed Professor in University of City of
New York.--Description of first telegraphic instrument.--Successful
experiments.--Relay.--Address in 1853



First exhibitions of the Telegraph.--Testimony of Robert G. Rankin and
Rev. Henry B. Tappan.--Cooke and Wheatstone.--Joseph Henry, Leonard D.
Gale, and Alfred Vail.--Professor Gale's testimony.--Professor Henry's
discoveries.--Regrettable controversy of later years.--Professor Charles
T. Jackson's claims.--Alfred Vail.--Contract of September 23, 1837.--Work
at Morristown, New Jersey.--The "Morse Alphabet."--Reading by sound.--
First and second forms of alphabet


OCTOBER 3, 1837--MAY 18, 1838

The Caveat.--Work at Morristown.--Judge Vail.--First success.--Resolution
in Congress regarding telegraphs.--Morse's reply.--Illness.--Heaviness of
first instruments.--Successful exhibition in Morristown.--Exhibition in
New York University.--First use of Morse alphabet.--Change from first
form of alphabet to present form.--Trials of an inventor.--Dr. Jackson.--
Slight friction between Morse and Vail.--Exhibition at Franklin
Institute, Philadelphia.--Exhibitions in Washington.--Skepticism of
public.--F.O.J. Smith.--F.L. Pope's estimate of Smith.--Proposal for
government telegraph.--Smith's report.--Departure for Europe


JUNE, 1838--JANUARY 21. 1839

Arrival in England.--Application for letters patent.--Cooke and
Wheatstone's telegraph.--Patent refused.--Departure for Paris.--Patent
secured in France.--Earl of Elgin.--Earl of Lincoln.--Baron de
Meyendorff.--Russian contract.--Return to London.--Exhibition at the Earl
of Lincoln's.--Letter from secretary of Lord Campbell, Attorney-General.
--Coronation of Queen Victoria.--Letters to daughter.--Birth of the Count
of Paris.--Exhibition before the Institute of France.--Arago; Baron
Humboldt.--Negotiations with the Government and Saint-Germain Railway.--
Reminiscences of Dr. Kirk.--Letter of the Honorable H. L. Ellsworth.--
Letter to F.O.J. Smith.--Dilatoriness of the French


JANUARY 6, 1839--MARCH 9, 1839

Despondent letter to his brother Sidney.--Longing for a home.--Letter to
Smith.--More delays.--Change of ministry.--Proposal to form private
company.--Impossible under the laws of France.--Telegraphs a government
monopoly.--Refusal of Czar to sign Russian contract.--Dr. Jackson.--M.
Amyot.--Failure to gain audience of king.--Lord Elgin.--Earl of Lincoln.
--Robert Walsh prophesies success.--Meeting with Earl of Lincoln in later
years.--Daguerre.--Letter to Mrs. Cass on lotteries.--Railway and
military telegraphs.--Skepticism of a Marshal of France


APRIL 15, 1839--SEPTEMBER 30, 1840

Arrival in New York.--Disappointment at finding nothing done by Congress
or his associates.--Letter to Professor Henry.--Henry's reply.--
Correspondence with Daguerre.--Experiments with daguerreotypes.--
Professor Draper.--First group photograph of a college class.--Failure of
Russian contract.--Mr. Chamberlain.--Discouragement through lack of
funds.--No help from his associates.--Improvements in telegraph made by
Morse.--Humorous letter


JUNE 20, 1840--AUGUST 12, 1842

First patent issued.--Proposal of Cooke and Wheatstone to join forces
rejected.--Letter to Rev. E.S. Salisbury.--Money advanced by brother
artists repaid.--Poverty.--Reminiscences of General Strother, "Porte
Crayon."--Other reminiscences.--Inaction in Congress.--Flattering letter
of F.O.J. Smith.--Letter to Smith urging action.--Gonon and Wheatstone.--
Temptation to abandon enterprise.--Partners all financially crippled.--
Morse alone doing any work.--Encouraging letter from Professor Henry.--
Renewed enthusiasm.--Letter to Hon. W.W. Boardman urging appropriation of
$3500 by Congress.--Not even considered.--Despair of inventor


JULY 16, 1842--MARCH 26, 1843

Continued discouragements.--Working on improvements.--First submarine
cable from Battery to Governor's Island.--The Vails refuse to give
financial assistance.--Goes to Washington.--Experiments conducted at the
Capitol.--First to discover duplex and wireless telegraphy.--Dr. Fisher.
--Friends in Congress.--Finds his statuette of Dying Hercules in basement
of Capitol.--Alternately hopes and despairs of bill passing Congress.--
Bill favorably reported from committee.--Clouds breaking.--Ridicule in
Congress.--Bill passes House by narrow majority.--Long delay in Senate.--
Last day of session.--Despair.--Bill passes.--Victory at last


MARCH 15, 1848--JUNE 18, 1844

Work on first telegraph line begun.--Gale, Fisher, and Vail appointed
assistants.--F.O.J. Smith to secure contract for trenching.--Morse not
satisfied with contract.--Death of Washington Allston.--Reports to
Secretary of the Treasury.--Prophesies Atlantic cable.--Failure of
underground wires.--Carelessness of Fisher.--F.O.J. Smith shows cloven
hoof.--Ezra Cornell solves a difficult problem.--Cornell's plan for
insulation endorsed by Professor Henry.--Many discouragements.--Work
finally progresses favorably.--Frelinghuysen's nomination as
Vice-President reported by telegraph.--Line to Baltimore completed.--
First message.--Triumph.--Reports of Democratic Convention.--First
long-distance conversation.--Utility of telegraph established.--Offer to
sell to Government


JUNE 23, 1844--OCTOBER 9, 1845

Fame and fortune now assured.--Government declines purchase of
telegraph.--Accident to leg gives needed rest.--Reflections on ways of
Providence.--Consideration of financial propositions.--F.O.J. Smith's
fulsome praise.--Morse's reply.--Extension of telegraph proceeds slowly.
--Letter to Russian Minister.--Letter to London "Mechanics' Magazine"
claiming priority and first experiments in wireless telegraphy.--Hopes
that Government may yet purchase.--Longing for a home.--Dinner at Russian
Minister's.--Congress again fails him.--Amos Kendall chosen as business
agent.--First telegraph company.--Fourth voyage to Europe.--London,
Broek, Hamburg.--Letter of Charles T. Fleischmann.--Paris.--Nothing
definite accomplished


DECEMBER 20, 1845--APRIL 19, 1848

Return to America.--Telegraph affairs in bad shape.--Degree of LL.D. from
Yale.--Letter from Cambridge Livingston.--Henry O'Reilly.--Grief at
unfaithfulness of friends.--Estrangement from Professor Henry.--Morse's
"Defense."--His regret at feeling compelled to publish it.--Hopes to
resume his brush.--Capitol panel.--Again disappointed.--Another
accident.--First money earned from telegraph devoted to religious
purposes.--Letters to his brother Sidney.--Telegraph matters.--Mexican
War.--Faith in the future.--Desire to be lenient to opponents.--Dr.
Jackson.--Edward Warren.--Alfred Vail remains loyal.--Troubles in
Virginia.--Henry J. Rogers.--Letter to J.D. Reid about O'Reilly.--F.O.J.
Smith again.--Purchases a home at last.--"Locust Grove," on the Hudson,
near Poughkeepsie.--Enthusiastic description.--More troubles without, but
peace in his new home


JANUARY 9, 1848--DECEMBER 19, 1849

Preparation for lawsuits.--Letter from Colonel Shaffner.--Morse's reply
deprecating bloodshed.--Shaffner allays his fears.--Morse attends his
son's wedding at Utica.--His own second marriage.--First of great
lawsuits.--Almost all suits in Morse's favor.--Decision of Supreme Court
of United States.--Extract from an earlier opinion.--Alfred Vail leaves
the telegraph business.--Remarks on this by James D. Reid.--Morse
receives decoration from Sultan of Turkey.--Letter to organizers of
Printers' Festival.--Letter concerning aviation.--Optimistic letter from
Mr. Kendall.--Humorous letter from George Wood.--Thomas R. Walker.--
Letter to Fenimore Cooper.--Dr. Jackson again.--Unfairness of the press.
--Letter from Charles C. Ingham on art matters.--Letter from George
Vail.--F.O.J. Smith continues to embarrass.--Letter from Morse to Smith


MARCH 5, 1850--NOVEMBER 10, 1854

Precarious financial condition.--Regret at not being able to make loan.--
False impression of great wealth.--Fears he may have to sell home.--
F.O.J. Smith continues to give trouble.--Morse system extending
throughout the world.--Death of Fenimore Cooper.--Subscriptions to
charities, etc.--First use of word "Telegram."--Mysterious fire in
Supreme Court clerk's room.--Letter of Commodore Perry.--Disinclination
to antagonize Henry.--Temporary triumph of F.O.J. Smith.--Order gradually
emerging.--Expenses of the law.--Triumph in Australia.--Gift to Yale
College.--Supreme Court decision and extension of patent.--Social
diversions in Washington.--Letters of George Wood and P. H. Watson on
extension of patent.--Loyalty to Mr. Kendall; also to Alfred Vail.--
Decides to publish "Defense."--Controversy with Bishop Spaulding.--Creed
on Slavery.--Political views.--Defeated for Congress


JANUARY 8, 1855--AUGUST 14, 1856

Payment of dividends delayed.--Concern for welfare of his country.--
Indignation at corrupt proposal from California.--Kendall hampered by the
Vails.--Proposition by capitalists to purchase patent rights.--Cyrus W.
Field.--Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company.--Suggestion of Atlantic
Cable.--Hopes thereby to eliminate war.--Trip to Newfoundland.--Temporary
failure.--F.O.J. Smith continues to give trouble.--Financial conditions
improve.--Morse and his wife sail for Europe.--Feted in London.--
Experiments with Dr. Whitehouse.--Mr. Brett.--Dr. O'Shaughnessy and the
telegraph in India.--Mr. Cooke.--Charles R. Leslie.--Paris.--Hamburg.--
Copenhagen.--Presentation to king.--Thorwaldsen Museum.--Oersted's
daughter.--St. Petersburg.--Presentation to Czar at Peterhoff


AUGUST 23, 1856--SEPTEMBER 15, 1858

Berlin.--Baron von Humboldt.--London, successful cable experiments with
Whitehouse and Bright.--Banquet at Albion Tavern.--Flattering speech of
W. F. Cooke.--Returns to America.--Troubles multiply.--Letter to the
Honorable John Y. Mason on political matters.--Kendall urges severing of
connection with cable company.--Morse, nevertheless, decides to
continue.--Appointed electrician of company.--Sails on U.S.S. Niagara.--
Letter from Paris on the crinoline.--Expedition sails from Liverpool.--
Queenstown harbor.--Accident to his leg.--Valencia.--Laying of cable
begun.--Anxieties.--Three successful days.--Cable breaks.--Failure.--
Returns to America.--Retires from cable enterprise.--Predicts in 1858
failure of apparently successful laying of cable.--Sidney E. Morse.--The
Hare and the Tortoise.--European testimonial: considered niggardly by
Kendall.--Decorations, medals, etc., from European nations.--Letter of
thanks to Count Walewski


SEPTEMBER 3. 1858--SEPTEMBER 21, 1863

Visits Europe again with a large family party.--Regrets this.--Sails for
Porto Rico with wife and two children.--First impressions of the
tropics.--Hospitalities.--His son-in-law's plantation.--Death of Alfred
Vail.--Smithsonian exonerates Henry.--European honors to Morse.--First
line of telegraph in Porto Rico.--Banquet.--Returns home.--Reception at
Poughkeepsie.--Refuses to become candidate for the Presidency.--Purchases
New York house.--F.O.J. Smith claims part of European gratuity.--Succeeds
through legal technicality.--Visit of Prince of Wales.--Duke of
Newcastle.--War clouds.--Letters on slavery, etc.--Matthew Vassar.--
Efforts as peacemaker.--Foresees Northern victory.--Gloomy forebodings.--
Monument to his father.--Divides part of European gratuity with widow of
Vail.--Continued efforts in behalf of peace.--Bible arguments in favor of


FEBRUARY 26, 1864--NOVEMBER 8, 1867

Sanitary Commission.--Letter to Dr. Bellows.--Letter on "loyalty."--His
brother Richard upholds Lincoln.--Letters of brotherly reproof.--
Introduces McClellan at preelection parade.--Lincoln reelected.--Anxiety
as to future of country.--Unsuccessful effort to take up art again.--
Letter to his sons.--Gratification at rapid progress of telegraph.--
Letter to George Wood on two great mysteries of life.--Presents portrait
of Allston to the National Academy of Design.--Endows lectureship in
Union Theological Seminary.--Refuses to attend fifty-fifth reunion of his
class.--Statue to him proposed.--Ezra Cornell's benefaction.--American
Asiatic Society.--Amalgamation of telegraph companies.--Protest against
stock manipulations.--Approves of President Andrew Johnson.--Sails with
family for Europe.--Paris Exposition of 1867.--Descriptions of
festivities.--Cyrus W. Field.--Incident in early life of Napoleon III.--
Made Honorary Commissioner to Exposition.--Attempt on life of Czar.--Ball
at Hotel de Ville.--Isle of Wight.--England and Scotland.--The
"Sounder."--Returns to Paris


NOVEMBER 28, 1867--JUNE 10. 1871

Goes to Dresden.--Trials financial and personal.--Humorous letter to E.S.
Sanford.--Berlin.--The telegraph in the war of 1866.--Paris.--Returns to
America.--Death of his brother Richard.--Banquet in New York.--Addresses
of Chief Justice Chase, Morse, and Daniel Huntington.--Report as
Commissioner finished.--Professor W.P. Blake's letter urging recognition
of Professor Henry.--Morse complies.--Henry refuses to be reconciled.--
Reading by sound.--Morse breaks his leg.--Deaths of Amos Kendall and
George Wood.--Statue in Central Park.--Addresses of Governor Hoffman and
William Cullen Bryant.--Ceremonies at Academy of Music.--Morse bids
farewell to his children of the telegraph


JUNE 14, 1871--APRIL 16, 1872

Nearing the end.--Estimate of the Reverend F.B. Wheeler.--Early poem.--
Leaves "Locust Grove" for last time.--Death of his brother Sidney.--
Letter to Cyrus Field on neutrality of telegraph.--Letter of F.O.J. Smith
to H.J. Rogers.--Reply by Professor Gale.--Vicious attack by F.O.J.
Smith.--Death prevents reply by Morse.--Unveils statue of Franklin in
last public appearance.--Last hours.--Death.--Tributes of James D. Reid,
New York "Evening Post," New York "Herald," and Louisville
"Courier-Journal."--Funeral.--Monument in Greenwood Cemetery.--Memorial
services in House of Representatives, Washington.--Address of James G.
Blaine.--Other memorial services.--Mr. Prime's review of Morse's


From a photograph.


Now in the National Museum, Washington.



Given to General Thomas S. Cummings at time of transmission by
Professor S.F.B. Morse, New York University, Wednesday, January 24,
1838. Presented to the National Museum at Washington by the family
of General Thomas S. Cummings of New York, February 13, 1906.


The two keys and the relay are in the National Museum, Washington.
The Washington-Baltimore instrument is owned by Cornell University.

From a portrait by Daniel Huntington.


From a daguerreotype.

From an ambrotype.



From a photograph by Sarony.




OCTOBER 1, 1832--FEBRUARY 28, 1833

Packet-ship Sully.--Dinner-table conversation.--Dr. Charles T. Jackson.--
First conception of telegraph.--Sketch-book.--Idea of 1832 basic
principle of telegraph of to-day.--Thoughts on priority.--Testimony of
passengers and Captain Pell.--Difference between "discovery" and
"invention."--Professor E.N. Horsford's paper.--Arrival in New York.--
Testimony of his brothers.--First steps toward perfection of the
invention.--Letters to Fenimore Cooper.

The history of every great invention is a record of struggle, sometimes
Heart-breaking, on the part of the inventor to secure and maintain his
rights. No sooner has the new step in progress proved itself to be an
upward one than claimants arise on every side; some honestly believing
themselves to have solved the problem first; others striving by dishonest
means to appropriate to themselves the honor and the rewards, and these
sometimes succeeding; and still others, indifferent to fame, thinking
only of their own pecuniary gain and dishonorable in their methods. The
electric telegraph was no exception to this rule; on the contrary, its
history perhaps leads all the rest as a chronicle of "envy, hatred,
malice, and all uncharitableness." On the other hand, it brings out in
strong relief the opposing virtues of steadfastness, perseverance,
integrity, and loyalty.

Many were the wordy battles waged in the scientific world over the
questions of priority, exclusive discovery or invention, indebtedness to
others, and conscious or unconscious plagiarism. Some of these questions
are, in many minds, not yet settled. Acrimonious were the legal struggles
fought over infringements and rights of way, and, in the first years of
the building of the lines to all parts of this country, real warfare was
waged by the workers of competing companies.

It is not my purpose to treat exhaustively of any of these battles,
scientific, legal, or physical. All this has already been written down by
abler pens than mine, and has now become history. My aim in following the
career of Morse the Inventor is to shed a light (to some a new light) on
his personality, self-revealed by his correspondence, tried first by
hardships, poverty, and deep discouragement, and then by success,
calumny, and fame. Like other men who have achieved greatness, he was
made the target for all manner of abuse, accused of misappropriating the
ideas of others, of lying, deceit, and treachery, and of unbounded
conceit and vaingloriousness. But a careful study of his notes and
correspondence, and the testimony of others, proves him to have been a
pure-hearted Christian gentleman, earnestly desirous of giving to every
one his just due, but jealous of his own good name and fame, and fighting
valiantly, when needs must be, to maintain his rights; guilty sometimes
of mistakes and errors of judgment; occasionally quick-tempered and testy
under the stress of discouragement and the pressure of poverty, but frank
to acknowledge his error and to make amends when convinced of his fault;
and the calm verdict of posterity has awarded him the crown of greatness.

Morse was now forty-one years old; he had spent three delightful years in
France and Italy; had matured his art by the intelligent study of the
best of the old masters; had made new friends and cemented more strongly
the ties that bound him to old ones; and he was returning to his dearly
loved native land and to his family with high hopes of gaining for
himself and his three motherless children at least a competence, and of
continuing his efforts in behalf of the fine arts.

From Mr. Cooper's and Mr. Habersham's reminiscences we must conclude
that, in the background of his mind, there existed a plan, unformed as
yet, for utilizing electricity to convey intelligence. He was familiar
with much that had been discovered with regard to that mysterious force,
through his studies under Professors Day and Silliman at Yale, and
through the lectures and conversation of Professors Dana and Renwick in
New York, so that the charge which was brought against him that he knew
absolutely nothing of the subject, can be dismissed as simply proving the
ignorance of his critics.

Thus prepared, unconsciously to himself, to receive the inspiration which
was to come to him like a flash of the subtle fluid which afterwards
became his servant, he went on board the good ship Sully, Captain Pell
commanding, on the 1st of October, 1832. Among the other passengers were
the Honorable William C. Rives, of Virginia, our Minister to France, with
his family; Mr. J.F. Fisher, of Philadelphia; Dr. Charles T. Jackson, of
Boston, who was destined to play a malign role in the subsequent history
of the telegraph, and others. The following letter was written to his
friend Fenimore Cooper from Havre, on the 2d of October:--

"I have but a moment to write you one line, as in a few hours I shall be
under way for dear America. I arrived from England by way of Southampton
a day or two since, and have had every moment till now occupied in
preparations for embarking. I received yours from Vevay yesterday and
thank you for it. Yes, Mr. Rives and family, Mr. Fisher, Mr. Rogers, Mr.
Palmer and family, and a full cabin beside accompany me. What shall I do
with such an _antistatistical_ set? I wish you were of the party to shut
their mouths on some points. I shall have good opportunity to talk with
Mr. Rives, whom I like notwithstanding. I think he has good American
feeling in the main and means well, although I cannot account for his
permitting you to suffer in the chambers (of the General). I will find
out _that_ if I can.

"My journey to England, change of scene and air, have restored me
wonderfully. I knew they would. I like John's country; it is a garden
beautifully in contrast with France, and John's people have excellent
qualities, and he has many good people; but I hate his aristocratic
system, and am more confirmed in my views than ever of its oppressive and
unjust character. I saw a great deal of Leslie; he is the same good
fellow that he always was. Be tender of him, my dear sir; I could mention
some things which would soften your judgment of his political feelings.
One thing only I can now say,--remember he has married an English wife,
whom he loves, and who has never known America. He keeps entirely aloof
from politics and is wholly absorbed in his art. Newton is married to a
Miss Sullivan, daughter of General Sullivan, of Boston, an accomplished
woman and a belle. He is expected in England soon.

"I found almost everybody out of town in London. I called and left a card
at Rogers's, but he was in the country, so were most of the artists of my
acquaintance. The fine engraver who has executed so many of Leslie's
works, Danforth, is a stanch American; he would be a man after your
heart; he admires you for that very quality.--I must close in great

The transatlantic traveller did not depart on schedule time in 1832, as
we find from another letter written to Mr. Cooper on October 5:--

"Here I am yet, wind-bound, with a tremendous southwester directly in our
teeth. Yesterday the Formosa arrived and brought papers, etc., to the
10th September. I have been looking them over. Matters look serious at
the South; they are mad there; great decision and prudence will be
required to restore them to reason again, but they are so hot-headed, and
are so far committed, I know not what will be the issue. Yet I think our
institutions are equal to any crisis....

"_October 6, 7 o'clock._ We are getting under way. Good-bye."

It is greatly to be regretted that Morse did not, on this voyage as on
previous ones, keep a careful diary. Had he done so, many points relating
to the first conception of his invention would, from the beginning, have
been made much clearer. As it is, however, from his own accounts at a
later date, and from the depositions of the captain of the ship and some
of the passengers, the story can be told.

The voyage was, on the whole, I believe, a pleasant one and the company
in the cabin congenial. One night at the dinner-table the conversation
chanced upon the subject of electro-magnetism, and Dr. Jackson described
some of the more recent discoveries of European scientists--the length of
wire in the coil of a magnet, the fact that electricity passed
instantaneously through any known length of wire, and that its presence
could be observed at any part of the line by breaking the circuit. Morse
was, naturally, much interested and it was then that the inspiration,
which had lain dormant in his brain for many years, suddenly came to him,
and he said: "If the presence of electricity can be made visible in any
part of the circuit, I see no reason why intelligence may not be
transmitted instantaneously by electricity."

The company was not startled by this remark; they soon turned to other
subjects and thought no more of it. Little did they realize that this
exclamation of Morse's was to mark an epoch in civilization; that it was
the germ of one of the greatest inventions of any age, an invention which
not only revolutionized the methods by which intelligence was conveyed
from place to place, but paved the way for the subjugation, to the uses
of man in many other ways, of that mysterious fluid, electricity, which
up to this time had remained but a plaything of the laboratory. In short,
it ushered in the Age of Electricity. Least of all, perhaps, did that Dr.
Jackson, who afterwards claimed to have given Morse all his ideas,
apprehend the tremendous importance of that chance remark. The fixed idea
had, however, taken root in Morse's brain and obsessed him. He withdrew
from the cabin and paced the deck, revolving in his mind the various
means by which the object sought could be attained. Soon his ideas were
so far focused that he sought to give them expression on paper, and he
drew from his pocket one of the little sketch-books which he always
carried with him, and rapidly jotted down in sketches and words the ideas
as they rushed from his brain. This original sketch-book was burned in a
mysterious fire which, some years later, during one of the many telegraph
suits, destroyed many valuable papers. Fortunately, however, a certified
copy had wisely been made, and this certified copy is now in the National
Museum in Washington, and the reproduction here given of some of its
pages will show that Morse's first conception of a Recording Electric
Magnetic Telegraph is practically the telegraph in universal use to-day.


His first thought was evidently of some system of signs which could be
used to transmit intelligence, and he at once realized that nothing could
be simpler than a point or a dot, a line or dash, and a space, and a
combination of the three. Thus the first sketch shows the embryo of the
dot-and-dash alphabet, applied only to numbers at first, but afterwards
elaborated by Morse to represent all the letters of the alphabet.

Next he suggests a method by which these signs may be recorded
permanently, evidently by chemical decomposition on a strip of paper
passed along over two rollers. He then shows a message which could be
sent by this means, interspersed with ideas for insulating the wires in
tubes or pipes. And here I want to call attention to a point which has
never, to my knowledge, been noticed before. In the message, which, in
pursuance of his first idea, adhered to by him for several years, was to
be sent by means of numbers, every word is numbered conventionally except
the proper name "Cuvier," and for this he put a number for each letter.
How this was to be indicated was not made clear, but it is evident that
he saw at once that all proper names could not be numbered; that some
other means must be employed to indicate them; in other words that each
letter of the alphabet must have its own sign. Whether at that early
period he had actually devised any form of alphabet does not appear,
although some of the depositions of his fellow passengers would indicate
that he had. He himself put its invention at a date a few years after
this, and it has been bitterly contested that he did not invent it at
all. I shall prove, in the proper place, that he did, but I think it is
proved that it must have been thought of even at the early date of 1832,
and, at all events, the dot-and-dash as the basis of a conventional code
were original with Morse and were quite different from any other form of
code devised by others.

The next drawing of a magnet lifting sixty pounds shows that Morse was
familiar with the discoveries of Arago, Davy, and Sturgeon in
electro-magnetism, but what application of them was to be made is not

The last sketch is to me the most important of all, for it embodies the
principle of the receiving magnet which is universally used at the
present day. The weak permanent magnet has been replaced by a spring, but
the electro-magnet still attracts the lever and produces the dots and
dashes of the alphabet; and this, simple as it seems to us "once found,"
was original with Morse, was absolutely different from any other form of
telegraph devised by others, and, improved and elaborated by him through
years of struggle, is now recognized throughout the world as the

It was not yet in a shape to prove to a skeptical world its practical
utility; much had still to be done to bring it to perfection; new
discoveries had still to be made by Morse and by others which were
essential to its success; the skill, the means, and the faith of others
had to be enlisted in its behalf, but the actual invention was there and
Morse was the inventor.

How simple it all seems to us now, and yet its very simplicity is its
sublimest feature, for it was this which compelled the admiration of
scientists and practical men of affairs alike, and which gradually forced
into desuetude all other systems of telegraphy until to-day the Morse
telegraph still stands unrivalled.

That many other minds had been occupied with the same problem was a fact
unknown to the inventor at the time, although a few years later he was
rudely awakened. A fugitive note, written many years later, in his
handwriting, although speaking of himself in the third person, bears
witness to this. It is entitled "Good thought":--

"A circumstance which tends to confuse, in fairly ascertaining priority
of invention, is that a subsequent state of knowledge is confounded in
the general mind with the state of knowledge when the invention is first
announced as successful. This is certainly very unfair. When Morse
announced his invention, what was the general state of knowledge in
regard to the telegraph? It should be borne in mind that a knowledge of
the futile attempts at electric telegraphs previous to his successful one
has been brought out from the lumber garret of science by the research of
eighteen years. Nothing was known of such telegraphs to many scientific
men of the highest attainments in the centres of civilization. Professor
Morse says himself (and certainly he has not given in any single instance
a statement which has been falsified) that, at the time he devised his
system, he supposed himself to be the first person that ever put the
words 'electric telegraph' together. He supposed himself at the time the
originator of the phrase as well as the thing. But, aside from his
positive assertion, the truth of this statement is not only possible but
very probable. The comparatively few (very few as compared with the mass
who now are learned in the facts) who were in the habit of reading the
scientific journals may have read of the thought of an electric telegraph
about the year 1832, and even of Ronald's, and Betancourt's, and Salva's,
and Lomond's impracticable schemes previously, and have forgotten them
again, with thousands of other dreams, as the ingenious ideas of
visionary men; ideas so visionary as to be considered palpably
impracticable, declared to be so, indeed, by Barlow, a scientific man of
high standing and character; yet the mass of the scientific as well as
the general public were ignorant even of the attempts that had been made.
The fact of any of them having been published in some magazine at the
time, whose circulation may be two or three thousand, and which was soon
virtually lost amid the shelves of immense libraries, does not militate
against the assertion that the world was ignorant of the fact. We can
show conclusively the existence of this ignorance respecting telegraphs
at the time of the invention of Morse's telegraph."

The rest of this note (evidently written for publication) is missing, but
enough remains to prove the point.

Thus we have seen that the idea of his telegraph came to Morse as a
sudden inspiration and that he was quite ignorant of the fact that others
had thought of using electricity to convey intelligence to a distance.
Mr. Prime in his biography says: "Of all the great inventions that have
made their authors immortal and conferred enduring benefit upon mankind,
no one was so completely grasped at its inception as this."

One of his fellow passengers, J. Francis Fisher, Esq., counsellor-at-law
of Philadelphia, gave the following testimony at Morse's request:--

"In the fall of the year 1832 I returned from Europe as a passenger with
Mr. Morse in the ship Sully, Captain Pell master. During the voyage the
subject of an electric telegraph was one of frequent conversation. Mr.
Morse was most constant in pursuing it, and _alone_ the one who seemed
disposed to reduce it to a practical test, and I recollect that, for this
purpose, he devised a _system of signs for letters_ to be indicated and
marked by a quick succession of strokes or shocks of the galvanic
current, and I am sure of the fact that it was deemed by Mr. Morse
perfectly competent to effect the result stated. I did not suppose that
any other person on board the ship claimed any merit in the invention, or
was, in fact, interested to pursue it to maturity as Mr. Morse then
seemed to be, nor have I been able since that time to recall any fact or
circumstance to justify the claim of any person other than Mr. Morse to
the invention."

This clear statement of Mr. Fisher's was cheerfully given in answer to a
request for his recollections of the circumstances, in order to combat
the claim of Dr. Charles T. Jackson that he had given Morse all the ideas
of the telegraph, and that he should be considered at least its joint
inventor. This was the first of the many claims which the inventor was
forced to meet. It resulted in a lawsuit which settled conclusively that
Morse was the sole inventor, and that Jackson was the victim of a mania
which impelled him to claim the discoveries and achievements of others as
his own. I shall have occasion to refer to this matter again.

It is to be noted that Mr. Fisher refers to "signs for letters." Whether
Morse actually had devised or spoken of a conventional alphabet at that
time cannot be proved conclusively, but that it must have been in his
mind the "Cuvier" referred to before indicates.

Others of his fellow-passengers gave testimony to the same effect, and
Captain Pell stated under oath that, when he saw the completed instrument
in 1837, he recognized it as embodying the principles which Morse had
explained to him on the Sully; and he added: "Before the vessel was in
port, Mr. Morse addressed me in these words: 'Well, Captain, should you
hear of the telegraph one of these days as the wonder of the world,
remember the discovery was made on board the good ship Sully.'"

Morse always clung tenaciously to the date of 1832 as that of his
invention, and, I claim, with perfect justice. While it required much
thought and elaboration to bring it to perfection; while he used the
published discoveries of others in order to make it operate over long
distances; while others labored with him in order to produce a practical
working apparatus, and to force its recognition on a skeptical world, the
basic idea on which everything else depended was his; it was original
with him, and he pursued it to a successful issue, himself making certain
new and essential discoveries and inventions. While, as I have said, he
made use of the discoveries of others, these men in turn were dependent
on the earlier investigations of scientists who preceded them, and so the
chain lengthens out.

There will always be a difference of opinion as to the comparative value
of a new discovery and a new invention, and the difference between these
terms should be clearly apprehended. While they are to a certain extent
interchangeable, the word "discovery" in science is usually applied to
the first enunciation of some property of nature till then unrecognized;
"invention," on the other hand, is the application of this property to
the uses of mankind. Sometimes discovery and invention are combined in
the same individual, but often the discoverer is satisfied with the fame
arising from having called attention to something new, and leaves to
others the practical application of his discovery. Scientists will always
claim that a new discovery, which marks an advance in knowledge in their
chosen field, is of paramount importance; while the world at large is
more grateful to the man who, by combining the discoveries of others and
adding the culminating link, confers a tangible blessing upon humanity.

Morse was completely possessed by this new idea. He worked over it that
day and far into the night. His vivid imagination leaped into the future,
brushing aside all obstacles, and he realized that here in his hands was
an instrument capable of working inconceivable good. He recalled the days
and weeks of anxiety when he was hungry for news of his loved ones; he
foresaw that in affairs of state and of commerce rapid communication
might mean the avoidance of war or the saving of a fortune; that, in
affairs nearer to the heart of the people, it might bring a husband to
the bedside of a dying wife, or save the life of a beloved child;
apprehend the fleeing criminal, or commute the sentence of an innocent
man. His great ambition had always been to work some good for his
fellow-men, and here was a means of bestowing upon them an inestimable

After several days of intense application he disclosed his plan to Mr.
Rives and to others. Objections were raised, but he was ready with a
solution. While the idea appeared to his fellow-passengers as chimerical,
yet, as we have seen, his earnestness made so deep an impression that
when, several years afterwards, he exhibited to some of them a completed
model, they, like Captain Pell, instantly recognized it as embodying the
principles explained to them on the ship.

Without going deeply into the scientific history of the successive steps
which led up to the invention of the telegraph, I shall quote a few
sentences from a long paper written by the late Professor E.N. Horsford,
of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and included in Mr. Prime's biography:--

"What was needed to the _original conception_ of the Morse recording

"1. A knowledge that soft wire, bent in the form of a horseshoe, could be
magnetized by sending a galvanic current through a coil wound round the
iron, and that it would lose its magnetism when the current was

"2. A knowledge that such a magnet had been made to lift and drop masses
of iron of considerable weight.

"3. A knowledge, or a belief, that the galvanic current could be
transmitted through wires of great length.

"These were all. Now comes the conception of devices for employing an
agent which could produce reciprocal motion to effect registration, and
the invention of an alphabet. In order to this invention it must be seen
how up and down--reciprocal--motion could be produced by the opening and
closing of the circuit. Into this simple band of vertical tracery of
paths in space must be thrown the shuttle of time and a ribbon of paper.
It must be seen how a lever-pen, alternately dropping upon and rising at
defined intervals from a fillet of paper moved by independent clock-work,
would produce the fabric of the alphabet and writing and printing.

"Was there anything required to produce these results which was not known
to Morse?...

"He knew, for he had witnessed it years before, that, by means of a
battery and an electro-magnet, reciprocal motion could be produced. He
knew that the force which produced it could be transmitted along a wire.
He _believed_ that the battery current could be made, through an
electro-magnet, to produce physical results at a _distance_. He saw in
his mind's eye the existence of an agent and a medium by which reciprocal
motion could be not only produced but controlled at a distance. The
question that addressed itself to him at the outset was, naturally, this:
'How can I make use of the simple up-and-down motion of opening and
closing a circuit to write an intelligible message at one end of a wire,
and at the same time print it at the other?'... Like many a kindred work
of genius it was in nothing more wonderful than in its simplicity.... Not
one of the brilliant scientific men who have attached their names to the
history of electro-magnetism had brought the means to produce the
practical registering telegraph. Some of them had ascended the tower that
looked out on the field of conquest. Some of them brought keener vision
than others. Some of them stood higher than others. But the genius of
invention had not recognized them. There was needed an inventor. Now what
sort of a want is this?

"There was required a rare combination of qualities and conditions. There
must be ingenuity in the adaptation of available means to desired ends;
there must be the genius to see through non-essentials to the fundamental
principle on which success depends; there must be a kind of skill in
manipulation; great patience and pertinacity; a certain measure of
culture, and the inventor of a recording telegraph must be capable of
being inspired by the grandeur of the thought of writing, figuratively
speaking, with a pen a thousand miles long--with the thought of a postal
system without the element of time. Moreover the person who is to be the
inventor must be free from the exactions of well-compensated, everyday,
absorbing duties--perhaps he must have had the final baptism of poverty.

"Now the inventor of the registering telegraph did not rise from the
perusal of any brilliant paper; he happened to be at leisure on
shipboard, ready to contribute and share in the after-dinner conversation
of a ship's cabin, when the occasion arose. Morse's electro-magnetic
telegraph was mainly an invention employing powers and agencies through
mechanical devices to produce a given end. It involved the combination of
the results of the labors of others with a succession of special
contrivances and some discoveries of the inventor himself. There was an
ideal whole almost at the outset, but involving great thought, and labor,
and patience, and invention to produce an art harmonious in its
organization and action."

After a voyage of over a month Morse reached home and landed at the foot
of Rector Street on November 15, 1832. His two brothers, Sidney and
Richard, met him on his arrival, and were told at once of his invention.
His brother Richard thus described their meeting:--

"Hardly had the usual greetings passed between us three brothers, and
while on our way to my house, before he informed us that he had made,
during his voyage, an important invention, which had occupied almost all
his attention on shipboard--one that would astonish the world and of the
success of which he was perfectly sanguine; that this invention was a
means of communicating intelligence by electricity, so that a message
could be written down in a permanent manner by characters at a distance
from the writer. He took from his pocket and showed from his sketch-book,
in which he had drawn them, the kind of characters he proposed to use.
These characters were dots and spaces representing the ten digits or
numerals, and in the book were sketched other parts of his
electro-magnetic machinery and apparatus, actually drawn out in his

The other brother, Sidney, also bore testimony:--

"He was full of the subject of the telegraph during the walk from the
ship, and for some days afterwards could scarcely speak about anything
else. He expressed himself anxious to make apparatus and try experiments
for which he had no materials or facilities on shipboard. In the course
of a few days after his arrival he made a kind of cogged or saw-toothed
type, the object of which I understood was to regulate the interruptions
of the electric current, so as to enable him to make dots, and regulate
the length of marks or spaces on the paper upon which the information
transmitted by his telegraph was to be recorded.

"He proposed at that time a single circuit of wire, and only a single
circuit, and letters, words, and phrases were to be indicated by
numerals, and these numerals were to be indicated by dots and other marks
and spaces on paper. It seemed to me that, as wire was cheap, it would be
better to have twenty-four wires, each wire representing a letter of the
alphabet, but my brother always insisted upon the superior advantages of
his single circuit."

Thus we see that Morse, from the very beginning, and from intuition, or
inspiration, or whatever you please, was insistent on one of the points
which differentiated his invention from all others in the same field,
namely, its simplicity, and it was this feature which eventually won for
it a universal adoption. But, simple as it was, it still required much
elaboration in order to bring it to perfection, for as yet it was but an
idea roughly sketched on paper; the appliances to put this idea to a
practical test had yet to be devised and made, and Morse now entered upon
the most trying period of his career. His three years in Europe, while
they had been enjoyed to the full and had enabled him to perfect himself
in his art, had not yielded him large financial returns; he had not
expected that they would, but based his hopes on increased patronage
after his return. He was entirely dependent on his brush for the support
of himself and his three motherless children, and now this new
inspiration had come as a disturbing element. He was on the horns of a
dilemma. If he devoted himself to his art, as he must in order to keep
the wolf from the door, he would not have the leisure to perfect his
invention, and others might grasp the prize before him. If he allowed
thoughts of electric currents, and magnets, and batteries to monopolize
his attention, he could not give to his art, notoriously a jealous
mistress, that worship which alone leads to success.

An added bar to the rapid development of his invention was the total lack
(hard to realize at the present day) of the simplest essentials. There
were no manufacturers of electrical appliances; everything, even to the
winding of the wires around the magnets, had to be done laboriously by
hand. Even had they existed Morse had but scant means with which to
purchase them.

This was his situation when he returned from Europe in the fall of 1832,
and it is small wonder that twelve years elapsed before he could prove to
the world that his revolutionizing invention was a success, and the
wonder is great that he succeeded at all, that he did not sink under the
manifold discouragements and hardships, and let fame and fortune elude
him. Unknown to him many men in different lands were working over the
same problem, some of them of assured scientific position and with good
financial backing; is it then remarkable that Morse in later years held
himself to be but an instrument in the hands of God to carry out His
will? He never ceased to marvel at the amazing fact that he, poor,
scoffed at or pitied, surrounded by difficulties of every sort, should
have been chosen to wrest the palm from the hands of trained scientists
of two continents. To us the wonder is not so great, for we, if we have
read his character aright as revealed by his correspondence, can see that
in him, more than in any other man of his time, were combined the
qualities necessary to a great inventor as specified by Professor
Horsford earlier in this chapter.

In following Morse's career at this critical period it will be necessary
to record his experiences both as painter and inventor, for there was no
thought of abandoning his profession in his mind at first; on the
contrary, he still had hopes of ultimate success, and it was his sole
means of livelihood. It is true that he at times gave way to fits of
depression. In a letter to his brother Richard before leaving Europe he
had thus given expression to his fears:--

"I have frequently felt melancholy in thinking of my prospects for
encouragement when I return, and your letter found me in one of those
moments. You cannot, therefore, conceive with what feelings I read your
offer of a room in your new house. Give me a resting-place and I will yet
move the country in favor of the arts. I return with some hopes but many
fears. Will my country employ me on works which may do it honor? I want a
commission from Government to execute two pictures from the life of
Columbus, and I want eight thousand dollars for each, and on these two I
will stake my reputation as an artist."

It was in his brother Richard's house that he took the first step towards
the construction of the apparatus which was to put his invention to a
practical test. This was the manufacture of the saw-toothed type by which
he proposed to open and close the circuit and produce his conventional
signs. He did not choose the most appropriate place for this operation,
for his sister-in-law rather pathetically remarked: "He melted the lead
which he used over the fire in the grate of my front parlor, and, in his
operation of casting the type, he spilled some of the heated metal upon
the drugget, or loose carpeting, before the fireplace, and upon a
flagbottomed chair upon which his mould was placed."

He was also handicapped by illness just after his return, as we learn
from the following letter to his friend Fenimore Cooper. In this letter
he also makes some interesting comments on New York and American affairs,
but, curiously enough, he says nothing of his invention:

"_February 21, 1833._ Don't scold at me. I don't deserve a scolding if
you knew all, and I do if you don't know all, for I have not written to
you since I landed in November. What with severe illness for several
weeks after my arrival, and the accumulation of cares consequent on so
long an absence from home, I have been overwhelmed and distracted by
calls upon my time for a thousand things that pressed upon me for
immediate attention; and so I have put off and put off what I have been
longing (I am ashamed to say for weeks if not months) to do, I mean to
write to you.

"The truth is, my dear sir, I have so much to say that I know not where
to commence. I throw myself on your indulgence, and, believing you will
forgive me, I commence without further apology.

"First, as to things at home. New York is _improved_, as the word goes,
wonderfully. You will return to a strange city; you will not recognize
many of your acquaintances among the old buildings; brand-new buildings,
stores, and houses are taking the place of the good, staid, modest houses
of the early settlers. _Improvement_ is all the rage, and houses and
churchyards must be overthrown and upturned whenever the Corporation
plough is set to work for the widening of a narrow, or the making of a
new, street.

"I believe you sometimes have a fit of the blues. It is singular if you
do not with your temperament. I confess to many fits of this disagreeable
disorder, and I know nothing so likely to induce one as the finding,
after an absence of some years from home, the great hour-hand of life
sensibly advanced on all your former friends. What will be your
sensations after six or seven years if mine are acute after three years'

"I have not been much in society as yet. I have many visitations, but,
until I clear off the accumulated rubbish of three years which lies upon
my table, I must decline seeing much of my friends. I have seen twice
your sisters the Misses Delancy, and was prevented from being at their
house last Friday evening by the severest snow-storm we have had this
season. Our friends the Jays I have met several times, and have had much
conversation with them about you and your delightful family. Mr. P.A. Jay
is a member of the club, so I see him every Friday evening. Chancellor
Kent also is a member, and both warm friends of yours....

"My time for ten or twelve days past has been occupied in answering a
pamphlet of Colonel Trumbull, who came out for the purpose of justifying
his opposition to measures which had been devised for uniting the two
Academies. I send you the first copy hot from the press. There is a great
deal to dishearten in the state of feeling, or rather state of no
feeling, on the arts in this city. The only way I can keep up my spirits
is by resolutely resisting all disposition to repine, and by fighting
perseveringly against all the obstacles that hinder the progress of art.

"I have been told several times since my return that I was born one
hundred years too soon for the arts in our country. I have replied that,
if that be the case, I will try and make it but fifty. I am more and more
persuaded that I have quite as much to do with the pen for the arts as
the pencil, and if I can in my day so enlighten the public mind as to
make the way easier for those that come after me, I don't know that I
shall not have served the cause of the fine arts as effectively as by
painting pictures which might be appreciated one hundred years after I am
gone. If I am to be the Pioneer and am fitted for it, why should I not
glory as much in felling trees and clearing away the rubbish as in
showing the decorations suited to a more advanced state of

"You will certainly have the blues when you first arrive, but the longer
you stay abroad the more severe will be the disease. Excuse my
predictions.... The Georgia affair is settled after a fashion; not so the
nullifiers; they are infatuated. Disagreeable as it will be, they will be
put down with disgrace to them."

In another letter to Mr. Cooper, dated February 28, 1833, he writes in
the same vein:--

"The South Carolina business is probably settled by this time by Mr.
Clay's compromise bill, so that the legitimates of Europe may stop
blowing their twopenny trumpets in triumph at our _disunion_. The same
clashing of interests in Europe would have caused twenty years of war and
torrents of bloodshed; with us it has caused three or four years of wordy
war and some hundreds of gallons of ink; but no necks are broken, nor
heads; all will be in _statu ante bello_ in a few days....

"My dear sir, you are wanted at home. I want you to encourage me by your
presence. I find the pioneer business has less of romance in the reality
than in the description, and I find some tough stumps to pry up and heavy
stones to roll out of the way, and I get exhausted and desponding, and I
should like a little of your sinew to come to my aid at such times, as it
was wont to come at the Louvre....

"There is nothing new in New York; everybody is driving after money, as
usual, and there is an alarm of fire every half-hour, as usual, and the
pigs have the freedom of the city, as usual; so that, in these respects
at least, you will find New York as you left it, except that they are not
the same people that are driving after money, nor the same houses burnt,
nor the same pigs at large in the street.... You will all be welcomed
home, but come prepared to find many, very many things in taste and
manners different from your own good taste and manners. Good taste and
good manners would not be conspicuous if all around possessed the same



Still painting.--Thoughts on art.--Picture of the Louvre.--Rejection as
painter of one of the pictures in the Capitol.--John Quincy Adams.--James
Fenimore Cooper's article.--Death blow to his artistic ambition.--
Washington Allston's letter.--Commission by fellow artists.--Definite
abandonment of art.--Repayment of money advanced.--Death of Lafayette.--
Religious controversies.--Appointed Professor in University of City of
New York.--Description of first telegraphic instrument.--Successful
experiments.--Relay.--Address in 1853.

It was impossible for the inventor during the next few years to devote
himself entirely to the construction of a machine to test his theories,
impatient though he must have been to put his ideas into practical form.
His two brothers came nobly to his assistance, and did what lay in their
power and according to their means to help him; but it was always
repugnant to him to be under pecuniary obligations to any one, and, while
gratefully accepting his brothers' help, he strained every nerve to earn
the money to pay them back. We, therefore, find little or no reference in
the letters of those years to his invention, and it was not until the
year 1835 that he was able to make any appreciable progress towards the
perfection of his telegraphic apparatus. The intervening years were spent
in efforts to rouse an interest in the fine arts in this country; in hard
work in behalf of the still young Academy of Design; and in trying to
earn a living by the practice of his profession.

"During this time," he says, "I never lost faith in the practicability of
the invention, nor abandoned the intention of testing it as soon as I
could command the means." But in order to command the means, he was
obliged to devote himself to his art, and in this he did not meet with
the encouragement which he had expected and which he deserved. His ideals
were always high, perhaps too high for the materialistic age in which he
found himself. The following fugitive note will illustrate the trend of
his thoughts, and is not inapplicable to conditions at the present day:--

"Are not the refining influences of the fine arts needed, doubly needed,
in our country? Is there not a tendency in the democracy of our country
to low and vulgar pleasures and pursuits? Does not the contact of those
more cultivated in mind and elevated in purpose with those who are less
so, and to whom the former look for political favor and power,
necessarily debase that cultivated mind and that elevation of purpose?
When those are exalted to office who best can flatter the low appetites
of the vulgar; when boorishness and ill manners are preferred to polish
and refinement, and when, indeed, the latter, if not avowedly, are in
reality made an objection, is there not danger that those who would
otherwise encourage refinement will fear to show their favorable
inclination lest those to whom they look for favor shall be displeased;
and will not habit fix it, and another generation bear it as its own
inherent, native character?"

That he was naturally optimistic is shown by a footnote which he added to
this thought, dated October, 1833:--

"These were once my fears. There is doubtless danger, but I believe in
the possibility, by the diffusion of the highest moral and intellectual
cultivation through every class, of raising the lower classes in

But while in his leisure moments he could indulge in such hopeful dreams,
his chief care at that time, as stated at the beginning of this chapter,
was to earn money by the exercise of his profession. His important
painting of the Louvre, from which he had hoped so much, was placed on
exhibition, and, while it received high praise from the artists, its
exhibition barely paid expenses, and it was finally sold to Mr. George
Clarke, of Hyde Hall, on Otsego Lake, for thirteen hundred dollars,
although the artist had expected to get at least twenty-five hundred
dollars for it. In a letter to Mr. Clarke, of June 30, 1834, he says:--

"The picture of the Louvre was intended originally for an exhibition
picture, and I painted it in the expectation of disposing of it to some
person for that purpose who could amply remunerate himself from the
receipts of a well-managed exhibition. The time occupied upon this
picture was fourteen months, and at much expense and inconvenience, so
that that sum [$2500] for it, if sold under such circumstances, would not
be more than a fair compensation.

"I was aware that but few, if any, gentlemen in our country would be
willing to expend so large a sum on a single picture, although in fact
they would, in this case, purchase seven-and-thirty in one.

"I have lately changed my plans in relation to this picture and to my art
generally, and consequently I am able to dispose of it at a much less
price. I have need of funds to prosecute my new plans, and, if this
picture could now realize the sum of twelve hundred dollars it would at
this moment be to me equivalent in value to the sum first set upon it."

The change of plans no doubt referred to his desire to pursue his
electrical experiments, and for this ready money was most necessary, and
so he gladly, and even gratefully, accepted Mr. Clarke's offer of twelve
hundred dollars for the painting and one hundred dollars for the frame.
Even this was not cash, but was in the form of a note payable in a year!
His enthusiasm for his art seems at this period to have been gradually
waning, although he still strove to command success; but it needed a
decisive stroke to wean him entirely from his first love, and Fate did
not long delay the blow.

His great ambition had always been to paint historical pictures which
should commemorate the glorious events in the history of his beloved
country. In the early part of the year 1834 his great opportunity had,
apparently, come, and he was ready and eager to grasp it. There were four
huge panels in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington, which were still
to be filled by historical paintings, and a committee in Congress was
appointed to select the artists to execute them.

Morse, president of the National Academy of Design, and enthusiastically
supported by the best artists in the country, had every reason to suppose
that he would be chosen to execute at least one of these paintings.
Confident that he had but to make his wishes known to secure the
commission, he addressed the following circular letter to various members
of Congress, among whom were such famous men as Daniel Webster, John C.
Calhoun, Henry Clay, and John Quincy Adams, all personally known to

March 7, 1834.

MY DEAR SIR,--I perceive that the Library Committee have before them the
consideration of a resolution on the expediency of employing four artists
to paint the remaining four pictures in the Rotunda of the Capitol. If
Congress should pass a resolution in favor of the measure, I should
esteem it a great honor to be selected as one of the artists.

I have devoted twenty years of my life, of which seven were passed in
England, France, and Italy, studying with special reference to the
execution of works of the kind proposed, and I must refer to my
professional life and character in proof of my ability to do honor to the
commission and to the country.

May I take the liberty to ask for myself your favorable recommendation to
those in Congress who have the disposal of the commissions?

With great respect, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,

While this letter was written in 1834, the final decision of the
committee was not made until 1837, but I shall anticipate a little and
give the result which had such a momentous effect on Morse's career.
There was every reason to believe that his request would be granted, and
he and his friends, many of whom endorsed by letter his candidacy, had no
fear as to the result; but here again Fate intervened and ordered

Among the committee men in Congress to whom this matter was referred was
John Quincy Adams, ex-President of the United States. In discussing the
subject, Mr. Adams submitted a resolution opening the competition to
foreign artists as well as to American, giving it as his opinion that
there were no artists in this country of sufficient talent properly to
execute such monumental works. The artists and their friends were,
naturally, greatly incensed at this slur cast upon them, and an indignant
and remarkably able reply appeared anonymously in the New York "Evening
Post." The authorship of this article was at once saddled on Morse, who
was known to wield a facile and fearless pen. Mr. Adams took great
offense, and, as a result, Morse's name was rejected and his great
opportunity passed him by. There can be no reasonable doubt that, had he
received this commission, he would have deferred the perfecting of his
telegraphic device until others had so far distanced him in the race that
he could never have overtaken them.

Instead of his having been the author of the "Evening Post" article, it
transpired that he had not even heard of Mr. Adams's resolution until his
friend Fenimore Cooper, the real author of the answer, told him of both
attack and reply.

This was the second great tragedy of Morse's life; the first was the
untimely death of his young wife, and this other marked the death of his
hopes and ambitions as an artist. He was stunned. The blow was as
unexpected as it was overwhelming, and what added to its bitterness was
that it had been innocently dealt by the hand of one of his dearest
friends, who had sought to render him a favor. The truth came out too
late to influence the decision of the committee; the die was cast, and
his whole future was changed in the twinkling of an eye; for what had
been to him a joy and an inspiration, he now turned from in despair. He
could not, of course, realize at the time that Fate, in dealing him this
cruel blow, was dedicating him to a higher destiny. It is doubtful if he
ever fully realized this, for in after years he could never speak of it
unmoved. In a letter to this same friend, Fenimore Cooper, written on
November 20, 1849, he thus laments:--

"Alas! My dear sir, the very name of _pictures_ produces a sadness of
heart I cannot describe. Painting has been a smiling mistress to many,
but she has been a cruel jilt to me. I did not abandon her, she abandoned
me. I have taken scarcely any interest in painting for many years. Will
you believe it? When last in Paris, in 1845, I did not go into the
Louvre, nor did I visit a single picture gallery.

"I sometimes indulge a vague dream that I may paint again. It is rather
the memory of past pleasures, when hope was enticing me onward only to
deceive me at last. Except some family portraits, valuable to me from
their likenesses only, I could wish that every picture I ever painted was
destroyed. I have no wish to be remembered as a painter, for I never was
a painter. My ideal of that profession was, perhaps, too exalted--I may
say is too exalted. I leave it to others more worthy to fill the niches
of art."

Of course his self-condemnation was too severe, for we have seen that
present-day critics assign him an honorable place in the annals of art,
and while, at the time of writing that letter, he had definitely
abandoned the brush, he continued to paint for some years after his
rejection by the committee of Congress. He had to, for it was his only
means of earning a livelihood, but the old enthusiasm was gone never to
return. Fortunately for himself and for the world, however, he
transferred it to the perfecting of his invention, and devoted all the
time he could steal from the daily routine of his duties to that end.

His friends sympathized with him most heartily and were indignant at his
rejection. Washington Allston wrote to him:--

I have learned the disposition of the pictures. I had hoped to find your
name among the commissioned artists, but I was grieved to find that all
my efforts in your behalf have proved fruitless. I know what your
disappointment must have been at this result, and most sincerely do I
sympathize with you. That my efforts were both sincere and conscientious
I hope will be some consolation to you.

But let not this disappointment cast you down, my friend. You have it
still in your power to let the world know what you can do. Dismiss it,
then, from your mind, and determine to paint all the better for it. God
bless you.

Your affectionate friend

The following sentences from a letter written on March 14, 1837, by
Thomas Cole, one of the most celebrated of the early American painters,
will show in what estimation Morse was held by his brother artists:--

"I have learned with mortification and disappointment that your name was
not among the _chosen_, and I have feared that you would carry into
effect your resolution of abandoning the art and resigning the presidency
of our Academy. I sincerely hope you will have reason to cast aside that
resolution. To you our Academy owes its existence and present prosperity,
and if, in after times, it should become a great institution, your name
will always be coupled with its greatness. But, if you leave us, I very
much fear that the fabric will crumble to pieces. You are the keystone of
the arch; if you remain with us time may furnish the Academy with another
block for the place. I hope my fears may be vain, and that circumstances
will conspire to induce you to remain our president."

Other friends were equally sympathetic and Morse did retain the
presidency of the Academy until 1845.

To emphasize further their regard for him, a number of artists, headed by
Thomas S. Cummings, unknown to Morse, raised by subscription three
thousand dollars, to be given to him for the painting of some historical
subject. General Cummings, in his "Annals of the Academy," thus describes
the receipt of the news by the discouraged artist:--

"The effect was electrical; it roused him from his depression and he
exclaimed that never had he read or known of such an act of professional
generosity, and that he was fully determined to paint the picture--his
favorite subject, 'The Signing of the First Compact on board the
Mayflower,'--not of small size, as requested, but of the size of the
panels in the Rotunda. That was immediately assented to by the committee,
thinking it possible that one or the other of the pictures so ordered
might fail in execution, in which case it would afford favorable
inducements to its substitution, and, of course, much to Mr. Morse's
profit; as the artists from the first never contemplated taking
possession of the picture so executed. It was to remain with Mr. Morse,
and for his use and benefit."

The enthusiasm thus roused was but a flash in the pan, however; the wound
he had received was too deep to be thus healed. Some of the money was
raised and paid to him, and he made studies and sketches for the
painting, but his mind was now on his invention, and the painting of the
picture was deferred from year to year and finally abandoned. It was
characteristic of him that, when he did finally decide to give up the
execution of this work, he paid back the sums which had been advanced to
him, with interest.

Another grief which came to him in the summer of 1834 (to return to that
year) was the death of his illustrious friend General Lafayette. The last
letter received from him was written by his amanuensis and unsigned, and
simply said:--

"General Lafayette, being detained by sickness, has sent to the reporter
of the committee the following note, which the said reporter has read to
the House."

The note referred to is, unfortunately, missing. This letter was written
on April 29 and the General died on May 20. Morse sent a letter of
sympathy to the son, George Washington Lafayette, a member of the Chamber
of Deputies, in which the following sentiments occur:--

"In common with this whole country, now clad in mourning, with the lovers
of true liberty and of exalted philanthropy throughout the world, I
bemoan the departure from earth of your immortal parent. Yet I may be
permitted to indulge in additional feelings of more private sorrow at the
loss of one who honored me with his friendship, and had not ceased, till
within a few days of his death, to send to me occasional marks of his
affectionate remembrance. Be assured, my dear Sir, that the memory of
your father will be especially endeared to me and mine."

Morse's admiration of Lafayette was most sincere, and he was greatly
influenced in his political feelings by his intercourse with that famous
man. Among other opinions which he shared with Lafayette and other
thoughtful men, was the fear of a Roman Catholic plot to gain control of
the Government of the United States. He defended his views fearlessly and
vigorously in the public press and by means of pamphlets, and later
entered into a heated controversy with Bishop Spaulding of Kentucky.

I shall not attempt to treat exhaustively of these controversies, but
think it only right to refer to them from time to time, not only that the
clearest possible light may be shed upon Morse's character and
convictions, but to show the extraordinary activity of his brain, which,
while he was struggling against obstacles of all kinds, not only to make
his invention a success, but for the very means of existence, could yet
busy itself with the championing of what he conceived to be the right.

To illustrate his point of view I shall quote a few extracts from a
letter to R.S. Willington, Esq., who was the editor of a journal which is
referred to as the "Courier." This letter was written on May 20, 1835,
when Morse's mind, we should think, would have been wholly absorbed in
the details of the infant telegraph:--

"With regard to the more important matter of the Conspiracy, I perceive
with regret that the evidence which has been convincing to so many minds
of the first order, and which continues daily to spread conviction of the
truth of the charge I have made, is still viewed by the editors of the
'Courier' as inconclusive. My situation in regard to those who dissent
from me is somewhat singular. I have brought against the absolute
Governments of Europe a charge of conspiracy against the liberties of the
United States. I support the charge by facts, and by reasonings from
those facts, which produce conviction on most of those who examine the
matter.... But those that dissent simply say, 'I don't think there is a
conspiracy'; yet give no reasons for dissent. The Catholic journals very
artfully make no defense themselves, but adroitly make use of the
Protestant defense kindly prepared for them....

"No Catholic journal has attempted any refutation of the charge. It
cannot be refuted, for it is true. And be assured, my dear sir, it is no
extravagant prediction when I say that the question of Popery and
Protestantism, or Absolutism and Republicanism, which in these two
opposite categories are convertible terms, is fast becoming and will
shortly be the _great absorbing question_, not only of this country but
of the whole civilized world. I speak not at random; I speak from long
and diligent observation in Europe, and from comparison of the state of
affairs in this country with the state of public opinion in Europe.

"We are asleep, sir, when every freeman should be awake and look to his
arms.... Surely, if the danger is groundless, there can be no harm in
endeavoring to ascertain its groundlessness. If you were told your house
was on fire you would hardly think of calling the man a maniac for
informing you of it, even if he should use a tone of voice and gestures
somewhat earnest and impassioned. The course of some of our journals on
the subject of Popery has led to the belief that they are covertly under
the control of the Jesuits. And let me say, sir, that the modes of
control in the resources of this insidious society, notorious for its
political arts and intrigues, are more numerous, more powerful, and more
various than an unsuspicious people are at all conscious of....

"Mr. Y. falls into the common error and deprecates what he calls a
_religious_ controversy, as if the subject of Popery was altogether
religious. History, it appears to me, must have been read to very little
purpose by any one who can entertain such an error in regard to the
cunningest political despotism that ever cursed mankind. I must refer you
to the preface of the second edition, which I send you, for my reasonings
on that point. If they are not conclusive, I should be glad to be shown
wherein they are defective. If they are conclusive, is it not time for
every patriot to open his eyes to the truth of the fact that we are
politically attacked under guise of a religious system, and is it not a
serious question whether our political press should advocate the cause of
foreign enemies to our government, or help to expose and repel them?"

It was in the year 1835 that Morse was appointed Professor of the
Literature of the Arts of Design in the University of the City of New
York, and here again we can mark the guiding hand of Fate. A few years
earlier he had been tentatively offered the position of instructor of
drawing at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but this
offer he had promptly but courteously declined. Had he accepted it he
would have missed the opportunity of meeting certain men who gave him
valuable assistance. As an instructor in the University he not only
received a small salary which relieved him, in a measure, from the
grinding necessity of painting pot-boilers, but he had assigned to him
spacious rooms in the building on Washington Square, which he could
utilize not only as studio and living apartments, but as a workshop. For
these rooms, however, he paid a rent, at first of $325 a year, afterwards
of $400.

Three years had clasped since his first conception of the invention, and,
although burning to devote himself to its perfecting, he had been
compelled to hold himself in check and to devote all his time to
painting. Now, however, an opportunity came to him, for he moved into the
University building before it was entirely finished, and the stairways
were in such an embryonic state that he could not expect sitters to
attempt their perilous ascent. This enforced leisure gave him the chance
he had long desired and he threw himself heart and soul into his
electrical experiments. Writing of this period in later years he thus
records his struggles:--

Now in the National Museum, Washington]

"There I immediately commenced, with very limited means, to experiment
upon my invention. My first instrument was made up of an old picture or
canvas frame fastened to a table; the wheels of an old wooden clock moved
by a weight to carry the paper forward; three wooden drums, upon one of
which the paper was wound and passed over the other two; a wooden
pendulum, suspended to the top piece of the picture or stretching-frame,
and vibrating across the paper as it passes over the centre wooden drum;
a pencil at the lower end of the pendulum in contact with the paper; an
electro-magnet fastened to a shelf across the picture or stretching
frame, opposite to an armature made fast to the pendulum; a type rule and
type, for breaking the circuit, resting on an endless band composed of
carpet-binding; which passed over two wooden rollers, moved by a wooden
crank, and carried forward by points projecting from the bottom of the
rule downward into the carpet-binding; a lever, with a small weight on
the upper side, and a tooth projecting downward at one end, operated on
by the type, and a metallic fork, also projecting downward, over two
mercury cups; and a short circuit of wire embracing the helices of the
electro-magnet connected with the positive and negative poles of the
battery and terminating in the mercury cups."

This first rude instrument was carefully preserved by the inventor, and
is now in the Morse case in the National Museum at Washington. A
reproduction of it is here given.

I shall omit certain technical details in the inventor's account of this
first instrument, but I wish to call attention to his ingenuity in
adapting the means at his disposal to the end desired. Much capital has
been made, by those who opposed his claims, out of the fact that this
primitive apparatus could only produce a V-shaped mark, thus--

__ __ _
\/|__| |/\/ |/\/|__/

--and not a dot and a dash, which they insist was of later introduction
and by another hand. But a reference to the sketches made on board the
Sully will show that the original system of signs consisted of dots and
lines, and that the first conception of the means to produce these signs
was by an up-and-down motion of a lever controlled by an electro-magnet.
It is easy to befog an issue by misstating facts, but the facts are here
to speak for themselves, and that Morse temporarily abandoned his first
idea, because he had not the means at his disposal to embody it in
workable form and had recourse to another method for producing
practically the same result, only shows wonderful ingenuity on his part.
It can easily be seen that the waving line traced by the first

__ __ _
\/|__| |/\/ |/\/|__/ --can be translated by reading the lower part into

a i u
. - . . . . - of the final Morse alphabet.

The beginnings of every great invention have been clumsy and uncouth
compared with the results attained by years of study and elaboration
participated in by many clever brains. Contrast the Clermont of Fulton
with the floating palaces of the present day, the Rocket of Stephenson
with the powerful locomotives of our mile-a-minute fliers, and the
hand-press of Gutenberg with the marvellous and intricate Hoe presses of
modern times. And yet the names of those who first conceived and wrought
these primitive contrivances stand highest in the roll of fame; and with
justice, for it is infinitely easier to improve on the suggestion of
another than to originate a practical advance in human endeavor.

Returning again to Morse's own account of his early experiments I shall
quote the following sentences:--

"With this apparatus, rude as it was, and completed before the first of
the year 1836, I was enabled to and did mark down telegraphic,
intelligible signs, and to make and did make distinguishable sounds for
telegraphing; and, having arrived at that point, I exhibited it to some
of my friends early in that year, and among others to Professor Leonard
D. Gale, who was a college professor in the University. I also
experimented with the chemical power of the electric current in 1836, and
succeeded, in marking my telegraphic signs upon paper dipped in turmeric
and solution of the sulphate of soda (as well as other salts) by passing
the current through it. I was soon satisfied, however, that the
electro-_magnetic_ power was more available for telegraphic purposes and
possessed many advantages over any other, and I turned my thoughts in
that direction.

"Early in 1836 I procured forty feet of wire, and, putting it in the
circuit, I found that my battery of one cup was not sufficient to work my
instrument. This result suggested to me the probability that the
magnetism to be obtained from the electric current would diminish in
proportion as the circuit was lengthened, so as to be insufficient for
any practical purposes at great distances; and, to remove that probable
obstacle to my success, I conceived the idea of combining two or more
circuits together in the manner described in my first patent, each with
an independent battery, making use of the magnetism of the current on the
first to close and break the second; the second the third; and so on."

Thus modestly does he refer to what was, in fact, a wonderful discovery,
the more wonderful because of its simplicity. Professor Horsford thus
comments on it:--

"In 1835 Morse made the discovery of the _relay_, the most brilliant of
all the achievements to which his name must be forever attached. It was a
discovery of a means by which the current, which through distance from
its source had become feeble, could be reenforced or renewed. This
discovery, according to the different objects for which it is employed,
is variously known as the registering magnet, the local circuit, the
marginal circuit, the repeater, etc."

Professor Horsford places the date of this discovery in the year 1835,
but Morse himself, in the statement quoted above, assigned it to the
early part of 1836.

It is only fair to note that the discovery of the principle of the relay
was made independently by other scientists, notably by Davy, Wheatstone,
and Henry, but Morse apparently antedated them by a year or two, and
could not possibly have been indebted to any of them for the idea. This
point has given rise to much discussion among scientists which it will
not be necessary to enter into here, for all authorities agree in
according to Morse independent invention of the relay.

"Up to the autumn of 1837," again to quote Morse's own words, "my
telegraphic apparatus existed in so rude a form that I felt a 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, at which time Mr. Alfred Vail's attention
became attracted to my telegraph, 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 my 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 my food to my room in the evenings, and this was my mode of
life for many years."

Nearly twenty years later, in 1853, Morse referred to this trying period
in his career at a meeting of the Association of the Alumni of the

"Yesternight, on once more entering your chapel, I saw the same marble
staircase and marble floors I once so often trod, and so often with a
heart and head overburdened with almost crushing anxieties. Separated
from the chapel by but a thin partition was that room I occupied, now
your Philomathean Hall, whose walls--had thoughts and mental struggles,
with the alternations of joys and sorrows, the power of being
daguerreotyped upon them--would show a thickly studded gallery of
evidence that there the Briarean infant was born who has stretched forth
his arms with the intent to encircle the world. Yes, that room of the
University was the birthplace of the Recording Telegraph. Attempts,
indeed, have been made to assign to it other parentage, and to its
birthplace other localities. Personally I have very little anxiety on
this point, except that the truth should not suffer; for I have a
consciousness, which neither sophistry nor ignorance can shake, that that
room is the place of its birth, and a confidence, too, that its cradle is
in hands that will sustain its rightful claim."

The old building of the University of the City of New York on Washington
Square has been torn down to be replaced by a mercantile structure; the
University has moved to more spacious quarters in the upper part of the
great city; but one of its notable buildings is the Hall of Fame, and
among the first names to be immortalized in bronze in the stately
colonnade was that of Samuel F.B. Morse.



First exhibitions of the Telegraph.--Testimony of Robert G. Rankin and
Rev. Henry B. Tappan.--Cooke and Wheatstone.--Joseph Henry, Leonard D.
Gale, and Alfred Vail.--Professor Gale's testimony.--Professor Henry's
discoveries.--Regrettable controversy of later years.--Professor Charles
T. Jackson's claims.--Alfred Vail.--Contract of September 23, 1837.--Work
at Morristown. New Jersey.--The "Morse Alphabet."--Reading by sound.--
first and second forms of alphabet.

In after years the question of the time when the telegraph was first
exhibited to others was a disputed one; it will, therefore, be well to
give the testimony of a few men of undoubted integrity who personally
witnessed the first experiments.

Robert G. Rankin, Esq., gave his reminiscences to Mr. Prime, from which I
shall select the following passages:--

"Professor Morse was one of the purest and noblest men of any age. I
believe I was among the earliest, outside of his family circle, to whom
he communicated his design to encircle the globe with wire....

"Some time in the fall of 1835 I was passing along the easterly walk of
Washington Parade-Ground, leading from Waverly Place to Fourth Street,
when I heard my name called. On turning round I saw, over the
picketfence, an outstretched arm from a person standing in the middle or
main entrance door of the unfinished University building of New York, and
immediately recognized the professor, who beckoned me toward him. On
meeting and exchanging salutations,--and you know how genial his were,--
he took me by the arm and said:

"'I wish you to go up in my sanctum and examine a piece of mechanism,
which, if you may not believe in, _you_, at least, will not laugh at, as
I fear some others will. I want you to give me your frank opinion as a
friend, for I know your interest in and love of the applied sciences.'"

Here follow a description of what he saw and Morse's explanation, and,
then he continues:--

"A long silence on the part of each ensued, which was at length broken by
my exclamation: 'Well, professor, you have a pretty play!--theoretically
true but practically useful only as a mantel ornament, or for a mistress
in the parlor to direct the maid in the cellar! But, professor, _cui
bono?_ In imagination one can make a new earth and improve all the land
communications of our old one, but my unfortunate practicality stands in
the way of my comprehension as yet.'

"We then had a long conversation on the subject of magnetism and its
modifications, and if I do not recollect the very words which clothed his
thoughts, they were substantially as follows.

"He had been long impressed with the belief that God had created the
great forces of nature, not only as manifestations of his own infinite
power, but as expressions of good-will to man, to do him good, and that
every one of God's great forces could yet be utilized for man's welfare;
that modern science was constantly evolving from the hitherto hidden
secrets of nature some new development promotive of human welfare; and
that, at no distant day, magnetism would do more for the advancement of
human sociology than any of the material forces yet known; that he would
scarcely dare to compare spiritual with material forces, yet that,
analogically, magnetism would do in the advancement of human welfare what
the Spirit of God would do in the moral renovation of man's nature; that
it would educate and enlarge the forces of the world.... He said he had
felt as if he was doing a great work for God's glory as well as for man's
welfare; that such had been his long cherished thought. His whole soul
and heart appeared filled with a glow of love and good-will, and his
sensitive and impassioned nature seemed almost to transform him in my
eyes into a prophet."

It required, indeed, the inspirational vision of a prophet to foresee, in
those narrow, skeptical days, the tremendous part which electricity was
to play in the civilization of a future age, and I wish again to lay
stress on the fact that it was the telegraph which first harnessed this
mysterious force, and opened the eyes of the world to the availability of
a power which had lain dormant through all the ages, but which was now,
for the first time, to be brought under the control of man, and which was
destined to rival, and eventually to displace, in many ways, its elder
brother steam. Was not Morse's ambition to confer a lasting good on his
fellowmen more fully realized than even he himself at that time

The Reverend Henry B. Tappan, who in 1835 was a colleague of Morse's in
the New York University and afterwards President of the University of
Michigan, gave his testimony in reply to a request from Morse, and, among
other things, he said:--

"In 1835 you had advanced so far that you were prepared to give, on a
small scale, a practical demonstration of the possibility of transmitting
and recording words through distance by means of an electro-magnetic
arrangement. I was one of the limited circle whom you invited to witness
the first experiments. In a long room of the University you had wires
extended from end to end, where the magnetic apparatus was arranged.

"It is not necessary for me to describe particulars which have now become
familiar to every one. The fact which I recall with the liveliest
interest, and which I mentioned in conversation at Mr. Bancroft's as one
of the choicest recollections of my life, was that of the first
transmission and recording of a telegraphic dispatch.

"I suppose, of course, that you had already made these experiments before
the company arrived whom you had invited. But I claim to have witnessed
_the first transmission and recording of words_ by lightning ever made
public.... The arrangement which you exhibited on the above mentioned
occasion, as well as the mode of receiving the dispatches, were
substantially the same as those you now employ. I feel certain that you
had then already grasped the whole invention, however you may have since
perfected the details."

Others bore testimony in similar words, so that we may regard it as
proved that, both in 1835 and 1836, demonstrations were made which,
uncouth though they were, compared to present-day perfection, proved that
the electric telegraph was about to emerge from the realms of fruitless
experiment. Among these witnesses were Daniel Huntington, Hon. Hamilton
Fish, and Commodore Shubrick; and several of these gentlemen asserted
that, at that early period, Morse confidently predicted that Europe and
America would eventually be united by an electric wire.

The letters written by Morse during these critical years have become
hopelessly dispersed, and but few have come into my possession. His
brothers were both in New York, so that there was no necessity of writing
to them, and the letters written to others cannot, at this late day, be
traced. As he also, unfortunately, did not keep a journal, I must depend
on the testimony of others, and on his own recollections in later years
for a chronicle of his struggles. The pencil copy of a letter written to
a friend in Albany, on August 27, 1837, has, however, survived, and the
following sentences will, I think, be found interesting:--

"Thanks to you, my dear C----, for the concern you express in regard to
my health. It has been perfectly good and is now, with the exception of a
little anxiety in relation to the telegraph and to my great pictorial
undertaking, which wears the furrows of my face a little deeper. My
Telegraph, in all its essential points, is tested to my own satisfaction
and that of the scientific gentlemen who have seen it; but the machinery
(all which, from its peculiar character, I have been compelled to make
myself) is imperfect, and before it can be perfected I have reason to
fear that other nations will take the hint and rob me both of the credit
and the profit. There are indications of this in the foreign journals
lately received. I have a defender in the 'Journal of Commerce' (which I
send you that you may know what is the progress of the matter), and
doubtless other journals of our country will not allow foreign nations to
take the credit of an invention of such vast importance as they assign to
it, when they learn that it certainly belongs to America.

"There is not a thought in any one of the foreign journals relative to
the Telegraph which I had not expressed nearly five years ago, on my
passage from France, to scientific friends; and when it is considered how
quick a hint flies from mind to mind and is soon past all tracing back to
the original suggester of the hint, it is certainly by no means
improbable that the excitement on the subject in England has its origin
from my giving the details of the plan of my Telegraph to some of the
Englishmen or other fellow-passengers on board the ship, or to some of
the many I have since made acquainted with it during the five years

In this he was mistaken, for the English telegraph of Cooke and
Wheatstone was quite different in principle, using the deflection, by a
current of electricity, of a delicately adjusted needle to point to the
letters of the alphabet. While this was in use in England for a number of
years, it was gradually superseded by the Morse telegraph which proved
its decided superiority. It is also worthy of note that in this letter,
and in all future letters and articles, he, with pardonable pride, uses a
capital T in speaking of his Telegraph.

One of the most difficult of the problems which confront the historian
who sincerely wishes to deal dispassionately with his subject is justly
to apportion the credit which must be given to different workers in the
same field of endeavor, and especially in that of invention; for every
invention is but an improvement on something which has gone before. The
sail-boat was an advance on the rude dugout propelled by paddles. The
first clumsy steamboat seemed a marvel to those who had known no other
propulsive power than that of the wind or the oar. The horse-drawn
vehicle succeeded the litter and the palanquin, to be in turn followed by
the locomotive; and so the telegraph, as a means of rapidly communicating
intelligence between distant points, was the logical successor of the
signal fire and the semaphore.

In all of these improvements by man upon what man had before
accomplished, the pioneer was not only dependent upon what his
predecessors had achieved, but, in almost every case, was compelled to
call to his assistance other workers to whom could be confided some of
the minutiae which were essential to the successful launching of the new

I have shown conclusively that the idea of transmitting intelligence by
electricity was original with Morse in that he was unaware, until some
years after his first conception, that anyone else had ever thought of
it. I have also shown that he, unaided by others, invented and made with
his own hands a machine, rude though it may have been, which actually did
transmit and record intelligence by means of the electric current, and in
a manner entirely different from the method employed by others. But he
had now come to a point where knowledge of what others had accomplished
along the same line would greatly facilitate his labors, and when the
assistance of one more skilled in mechanical construction was a great
desideratum, and both of these essentials were at hand. It is quite
possible that he might have succeeded in working out the problem
absolutely unaided, just as a man might become a great painter without
instruction, without a knowledge of the accumulated wisdom of those who
preceded him, and without the assistance of the color-maker and the
manufacturer of brushes and canvas. But the artist is none the less a
genius because he listens to the counsels of his master, profits by the
experience of others, and purchases his supplies instead of grinding his
own colors and laboriously manufacturing his own canvas and brushes.

The three men to whom Morse was most indebted for material assistance in
his labors at this critical period were Professor Joseph Henry, Professor
Leonard D. Gale, and Alfred Vail, and it is my earnest desire to do full
justice to all of them. Unfortunately after the telegraph had become an
assured success, and even down to the present day, the claims of Morse
have been bitterly assailed, both by well-meaning persons and by the
unscrupulous who sought to break down his patent rights; and the names of
these three men were freely used in the effort to prove that to one or
all of them more credit was due than to Morse.

Now, after the lapse of nearly three quarters of a century, the verdict
has been given in favor of Morse, his name alone is accepted as that of
the Inventor of the Telegraph, and in this work it is my aim to prove
that the judgment of posterity has not erred, but also to give full
credit to those who aided him when he was most in need of assistance. My
task in some instances will be a delicate one; I shall have to prick some
bubbles, for the friends of some of these men have claimed too much for
them, and, on that account, have been bitter in their accusations against
Morse. I shall also have to acknowledge some errors of judgment on the
part of Morse, for the malice of others fomented a dispute between him
and one of these three men, which caused a permanent estrangement and was
greatly to be regretted.

The first of the three to enter into the history of the telegraph was
Leonard D. Gale, who, in 1836, was a professor in the University of the
City of New York, and he has given his recollections of those early days.
Avoiding a repetition of facts already recorded I shall quote some
sentences from Professor Gale's statement. After describing the first
instrument, which he saw in January of 1836, he continues:--

"During the years 1836 and beginning of 1837 the studies of Professor
Morse on his telegraph I found much interrupted by his attention to his
professional duties. I understood that want of pecuniary means prevented
him from procuring to be made such mechanical improvements, and such
substantial workmanship, as would make the operation of his invention
more exact.

"In the months of March and April, 1837, the announcement of an
extraordinary telegraph on the visual plan (as it afterwards proved to
be), the invention of two French gentlemen of the names of Gonon and
Servell, was going the rounds of the papers. The thought occurred to me,
as well as to Professor Morse and some others of his friends, that the
invention of his electro-magnetic telegraph had somehow become known, and
was the origin of the new telegraph thus conspicuously announced. This
announcement at once aroused Professor Morse to renewed exertions to
bring the new invention creditably before the public, and to consent to a
public announcement of the existence of his invention. From April to
September, 1837, Professor Morse and myself were engaged together in the
work of preparing magnets, winding wire, constructing batteries, etc., in
the University for an experiment on a larger, but still very limited
scale, in the little leisure that each had to spare, and being at the
same time much cramped for funds....

"The latter part of August, 1887, the operation of the instruments was
shown to numerous visitors at the University....

"On Saturday, the 2d of September, 1837, Professor Daubeny, of the
English Oxford University, being on a visit to this country, was invited
with a few friends to see the operation of the telegraph, in its then
rude form, in the cabinet of the New York University, where it had then
been put up with a circuit of seventeen hundred feet of copper wire
stretched back and forth in that long room. Professor Daubeny, Professor
Torrey, and Mr. Alfred Vail were present among others. This exhibition of
the telegraph, although of very rude and imperfectly constructed
machinery, demonstrated to all present the practicability of the
invention, and it resulted in enlisting the means, the skill, and the
zeal of Mr. Alfred Vail, who, early the next week, called at the rooms
and had a more perfect explanation from Professor Morse of the character
of the invention."

It was Professor Gale who first called Morse's attention to the
discoveries of Professor Joseph Henry, especially to that of the
intensity magnet, and he thus describes the interesting event:--

"Morse's machine was complete in all its parts and operated perfectly
through a circuit of some forty feet, but there was not sufficient force
to send messages to a distance. At this time I was a lecturer on
chemistry, and from necessity was acquainted with all kinds of galvanic
batteries, and knew that a battery of one or a few cups generates a large
quantity of electricity capable of producing heat, etc., but not of
projecting electricity to a great distance, and that, to accomplish this,
a battery of many cups is necessary. It was, therefore, evident to me
that the one large cup-battery of Morse should be made into ten or
fifteen smaller ones to make it a battery of intensity so as to project
the electric fluid.... Accordingly I substituted the battery of many cups
for the battery of one cup. The remaining defect in the Morse machine, as
first seen by me, was that the coil of wire around the poles of the
electro-magnet consisted of but a few turns only, while, to give the
greatest projectile power, the number of turns should be increased from
tens to hundreds, as shown by Professor Henry in his paper published in
the 'American Journal of Science,' 1831.... After substituting the
battery of twenty cups for that of a single cup, we added some hundred or
more turns to the coil of wire around the poles of the magnet and sent a
message through two hundred feet of conductors, then through one thousand
feet, and then through ten miles of wire arranged on reels in my own
lecture-room in the New York University in the presence of friends."

This was a most important step in hastening the reduction of the
invention to a practical, workable basis and I wish here to bear
testimony to the great services of Professor Henry in making this
possible. His valuable discoveries were freely given to the world with no
attempt on his part to patent them, which is, perhaps, to be regretted,
but much more is it to be deplored that, in, the litigation which ensued
a few years later, Morse and Henry were drawn into a controversy,
fostered and fomented by others for their own pecuniary benefit, which
involved the honor and veracity of both of these distinguished men. Both
were men of the greatest sensitiveness, proud and jealous of their own
integrity, and the breach once made was never healed. Of the rights and
wrongs of this controversy I may have occasion later on to treat more in
detail, although I should much prefer to dismiss it with the
acknowledgment that there was much to deplore in what was said and
written by Morse, although he sincerely believed himself to be in the
right, and much to regret in some of the statements and actions of Henry.


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