Samuel Finley Breese Morse by Hattie E. Macomber
If everything were now as it was in 1791, what a queer place this
world of ours would be to us!
A hundred years ago!
Suppose we imagine ourselves living in the year 1800.
The railroads then were very few and poor.
"Fulton's Folly," the first steamboat, had not yet frightened the
sailors in New York Harbor, with its long line of black smoke.
Lighting by means of gas was yet unknown.
Electric lights were not even dreamed of.
Even kerosene, which we think makes so poor a light, was then
So there are many, many things, common and useful to us now, which
were unknown to the world in 1800.
You have heard of the giant, Steam.
There is yet another giant which God has placed in the world for
This is Electricity.
Is it not strange that this great power should have been so long
unused in the world?
Boys and girls can understand how useful this power now is.
So you will be interested in knowing something of the man who helped
to introduce to the world this great giant, electricity.
The baby who was given this long name, Samuel Finley Breese Morse,
was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
The date of his birth was April 27, 1791.
He was called Samuel Finley for his great-grandfather.
His mother's name, as a girl, was Elizabeth Breese.
You will see that he won fame enough to cover each and every one of
Finley Morse had, as he grew older, two brothers younger than
Their names were Sidney E. Morse, and Richard Cary Morse.
Finley was sent first to an old lady's school.
He was but four years old when he started.
The school was very near his home.
The school mistress was known as, "Old Ma'am Rand."
She was an invalid and unable to leave her chair.
So she had a long rattan.
When the children did not mind, she could, with her long rattan,
reach them at the further side of the room.
One punishment of Mrs. Rand's was to pin a naughty child to her
As early as this part of his life, Finley Morse tried his hand at
He drew Mrs. Rand's picture upon a chest of drawers.
Instead of a pencil he used a pin.
So Mrs. Rand pinned him to her dress.
Of course he did not like that.
He tried to get away.
This tore the dress.
Then Mrs. Rand had to use her rattan.
When seven years of age Finley was sent to school at Andover.
He went to Phillip's Academy.
While there the father wrote letters to his boy.
He gave his boy good advice.
He told him about George Washington.
He also told him about another great man.
This man was a statesman of Holland.
He did all the business for that republic.
Yet he had time to go to evening amusements.
Some one asked this statesman how he did this.
He said there was nothing so easy, for that it was only doing one
thing at a time, and never putting off anything until to-morrow that
could be done to-day.
Finley's parents were always kind to him.
He soon became a manly boy.
He was the kind of boy who seemed to know that he must one day be a
So he worked hard at school.
He began early to think and act for himself.
When he was but thirteen he wrote a sketch of the "Life of
He sent it to his father.
This his father kept carefully.
It showed the genius, learning and taste of his boy.
This bright boy was ready for college at the age of fourteen.
But his father thought it best to keep him at home for a year.
Finley, when a boy, was always fond of drawing.
When but fifteen, he painted a fairly good picture in water colors.
This represented a room in his father's house.
His father, his two brothers and himself stood by a table.
His mother sat in a chair.
On the table was a globe, at which they were all looking.
His room at college was covered with pictures of his own making.
One of these was called, "Freshmen Climbing the Hill of Science."
The poor fellows were scrambling to the top of a hill on their hands
Finley had taken no lessons in art, yet he drew many portraits.
The other boys were all delighted to have their pictures drawn by
They paid him a dollar apiece.
This kept him in spending money.
He also painted upon ivory.
For these he had five dollars each.
So, when Finley Morse graduated from Yale college, he was more fond
of drawing and painting than of anything else.
Finley at this time was a fine looking boy.
He had a pleasant smile.
He was always courteous.
Every one liked him.
He was as fond of a frolic as any one.
At one time the college cooks did not do their work to suit the
So the boys gave them a mock trial.
They sent a report of the trial to the college president.
The bad cooks were dismissed.
Afterwards the boys had better things to eat.
At another time the boys went to a paper mill near by.
They bought a great quantity of paper.
This they made into a baloon.
It was eighteen feet in length.
They filled it with air, and sent it on its journey.
It sailed finely, and soon was out of sight.
They tried it again.
The second time it took fire and was soon nothing but ashes.
About this time Finley heard his first lecture upon electricity.
After graduating, he returned to his father's house in Charlestown.
There he wrote a letter to his brothers with a queer kind of ink.
The writing did not show at all until heated by fire.
His brothers had to write to him to find out how to read it.
About this time Finley made a new friend.
This friend was Washington Allston.
Mr. Allston was a great painter.
He learned to love Finley Morse.
Mr. Allston spent most of his time in London.
Finley begged his people to allow him to go to London with Mr.
They finally gave their consent.
So Mr. Morse made his first voyage across the Atlantic.
They landed at Liverpool.
They had to go from there to London in a stage coach.
As soon as he arrived he wrote to his parents.
In his letter he said that he wished they could hear from each other
in an instant.
"But three thousand miles are not passed over in an instant.
So we must wait four long weeks before we can hear from each other
Even then he longed for a telegraph.
In London he had the help of another great artist.
This was Benjamin West.
He, too, was an American.
Mr. Morse wished to become a student in the Royal Academy.
He had to make a drawing of Hercules.
Hercules, you know, was one of the heroes of early Greece.
The story is that he did very many brave deeds.
Finley's drawing was to be taken to Mr. West.
He worked very hard upon it for two weeks.
Then he went to Mr. West with it.
Mr. West said, "Very well, sir, very well; go on and finish it."
"It is finished," replied Finley.
"Oh, no," said Mr. West. "Look here, and here, and here."
So, when the mistakes were pointed out, Finley saw them.
He took the drawing home and worked patiently for another week.
Then he brought it to Mr. West again.
Mr. West handed it back to Mr. Morse, saying:
"Very well indeed, sir. Go on and finish it."
"Is it not finished?" said Mr. Morse, for he was almost discouraged.
"See," said Mr. West, "you have not marked this muscle nor that
So another three days were spent on the drawing.
Again it was taken back.
"Very clever indeed," said Mr. West, "very clever. Now go on and
"I cannot finish it," replied Mr. Morse.
Then the old man patted him on the shoulder and said:
"Well, I have tried you long enough.
"Now, sir, you have learned more by this drawing than you would have
learned in double the time by a dozen half finished drawings.
"Finish one picture, sir, and you are a painter."
Mr. Morse took this good advice.
He went to work upon a large picture.
It was a picture of the "Dying Hercules."
He first modeled his picture in clay.
This he did so well that he received a gold medal for it. This was
on May 13, 1813.
His picture, too, was given great praise.
It was counted as one of the twelve best among the two thousand
So Mr. Morse went on patiently and carefully in this work.
He made many good friends in London.
One of these friends was the poet, Coleridge.
Mr. Morse was a great comfort to his parents.
He was careful with his money.
He and a young Mr. Leslie, lived and painted together.
He spent all his money to get helps in his work.
He visited all the picture galleries, and spent days in the study of
At this time England and America were at war.
Americans were sometimes made prisoners and kept in the prisons of
Mr. Morse tried to help some of them.
You have heard of the great French general, Napoleon.
You know of the many wars he had.
In 1815, Napoleon met his enemies, the English and Prussians.
They had a battle at Waterloo.
Napoleon was defeated.
The people of England were anxious for news.
But how slowly news came in those days!
It took many days to carry the good tidings.
The battle was fought on the 18th day of June.
It was not until July that the news came of the victory of the
Mr. Morse wrote about it to his parents.
He told how anxiously the people had waited.
Finally the people heard the booming of cannon.
The bells were rung.
People laughed and cried for joy.
Would it not seem strange to us now to wait for our news so long?
Yet the inventor of the telegraph had to wait often very long.
But at last the time came for Mr. Morse to return to America.
He sailed in August, 1815.
He bore with him the good wishes of his many friends in London.
He had a stormy voyage.
A ship signaled his ship for help.
The captain did not wish to send help.
He said he had all he could do to attend to his own ship.
Mr. Morse told him that, if he did not help them, he would publish
the facts when they reached America.
So the captain thought better of it.
He helped to save the ship.
When he landed on his return Mr. Morse found that the people of
America had heard of him.
They knew of the fine pictures he had painted.
He was now but twenty-four years of age.
He set up a studio in Boston.
But the people of America were not as interested in art then as now.
He waited many months for something to do.
But nobody came for a picture.
He left Boston almost penniless.
Then he began painting portraits in different places.
He received fifteen dollars for each portrait.
He went to Concord, New Hampshire.
There he met a beautiful young lady.
Her name was Lucretia P. Walker.
She had a very sweet temper.
She always used good sense.
Mr. Morse became more and more successful with his portraits.
He received more money for them.
He went on a journey to the South.
There he found much to do.
He made three thousand dollars.
Then he came back to Concord.
There he married Miss Walker.
Mr. and Mrs. Morse lived for a few years in South Carolina.
Then they came to New Haven, Connecticut.
His father came to live with them there.
Mr. Morse began to paint a great picture at Washington.
It was called "The House of Representatives."
Washington is the capital city of the United States.
The picture, when finished, was very beautiful.
It was sold at last to an Englishman.
About this time a great friend of America visited Washington.
Have you heard of General La Fayette?
You can read what great things he did for our country.
Every American loved him then.
Even the people who live now, love his memory.
Mr. Morse was engaged to paint the portrait of General La Fayette.
He began the picture.
Before he had finished, he received dreadful news from home.
His loved wife had died very suddenly.
He hastened home.
It seemed too hard to bear.
Not long afterwards he lost his father.
He then went to live in New York.
There he worked hard at his art.
His artist friends made him president of their society.
This was the National Academy.
While in New York he heard some lectures about electricity.
He thought about it and talked much with his friends.
He wished to visit beautiful Italy.
So, in 1829, he sailed for Europe.
His friends there gave him a hearty welcome.
He visited many cities.
He met General La Fayette again.
He visited him in his home.
Mr. Morse had always been fond of inventions.
He himself invented a pump at one time.
At another, he tried his hand at making a machine for cutting
He was always experimenting with colors, and other things used by
The year 1832 had arrived.
You will see, by and by, that it is a good date to remember.
People knew almost nothing about speed in traveling.
In that year the longest railroad was in the southern part of the
It was one hundred thirty-five miles long.
The next longer was in England.
It was thirty miles long.
The next was in Massachusetts.
It was ten miles long.
The mails were carried in coaches.
On the first day of October, 1832, Mr. Morse sailed for America.
The name of this ship was the "Sully."
The passengers were much interested in some things which had lately
been found out about electricity.
People had long known that lightning and electricity were the same.
Signals had been made with electricity.
But the thought which came to Mr. Morse had never entered the mind
of man before.
He could think of nothing but a telegraph.
He thought night and day.
He seemed to see the end from the beginning.
As he sat upon the deck of the ship after dinner, he drew out a
little note book.
He began his plan in this little book.
From the beginning he said, "If a message will go ten miles without
dropping, I can make it go around the globe."
And he said this again and again during the years that came after.
Sleep forsook him.
But one morning at the breakfast table he announced his plan.
He showed it to the passengers.
And five years after, when the model was built, it was found to be
like the one shown that morning on board the ship "Sully."
"The steed called Lightning (say the Fates)
Was tamed in the United States;
'Twas Franklin's hand that caught the horse,
'Twas harnessed by Professor Morse."
Upon landing in America a long struggle began.
For twelve long years, Mr. Morse worked to get people to notice his
DIAGRAM SHOWING THE MORSE ALPHABET AND ARRANGEMENT OF THE TELEGRAPH LINE.
It would take much money to construct a real telegraph.
But money Mr. Morse did not have.
He had three motherless children to provide for.
He lived in a room in a fifth story of a building belonging to his
This room was his study, studio, bed chamber, parlor, kitchen,
drawing room and work shop.
On one side of the room was his cot bed.
On the other were his tools.
He brought his simple food to his room at night.
This he did, that no one might see how little he had to eat.
He often gave lessons in painting.
One pupil did not pay promptly.
Mr. Morse asked to be paid.
The pupil gave him ten dollars, asking if he would accept it.
He said it would keep him from starving.
He had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours.
The government, at this time, was giving some work to American
Mr. Morse knew he deserved to have a picture to paint.
But, through a mistake, he was not given one.
He felt much hurt by this.
But perhaps he would not have pushed his telegraph through, if he
had been given plenty of painting to do.
As it was, Morse, the painter, became Morse, the inventor.
It was not until 1837 that Mr. Morse had his wonderful invention
ready to exhibit.
During that year many people saw it.
Many thought it a silly toy.
Few dreamed of its importance.
Mr. Alfred Vail, whose father and brother had large brass and iron
works, was one of those who believed in it.
Mr. Vail decided to assist Mr. Morse.
He was young and liked machinery.
Long after, Mr. Morse said that much of the success of the telegraph
was due to Mr. Vail.
In 1838, Mr. Morse asked Congress to give him aid.
He wished to build a telegraph between Baltimore and Washington.
The President and others saw the telegraph exhibited.
A gentleman, named Mr. F.O.J. Smith, helped Mr. Morse with money.
But many Congressmen laughed at the idea.
Do you not think they felt ashamed when they found how great a thing
they had been laughing at?
While waiting for Congress to decide, Mr. Morse went to Europe
He tried to get a patent in London, but it was refused him.
The French people gave him a paper which didn't mean much.
He met some great men, however, who did all they could for him.
Did you ever see a daguerreotype?
It is an old fashioned portrait.
Perhaps you can find some at home.
Mr. Morse met in Paris the man who first took these pictures.
His name was Mr. Daguerre.
You see how the pictures were named.
He was exhibiting his pictures at this time.
So the two greatest things in Paris in those days were the
electro-magnetic telegraph and daguerreotypes.
Mr. Daguerre and Mr. Morse became fast friends.
Mr. Daguerre taught Mr. Morse how to take daguerreotypes.
When Mr. Morse returned to America, he took some portraits of this
He also taught others how to do so.
Having returned to America, he found plenty to do.
He wished to try the telegraph under water.
He arranged about two miles of wire.
He put it into New York Harbor.
A row boat was used in placing it.
It was a beautiful moonlight night.
People walking along the shore might well wonder what kind of fish
were to be caught with such a long line.
At day break Professor Morse was ready for his experiment.
Two or three characters were sent on the line.
Then no more could be sent.
Some sailors, in pulling up their anchor, had caught the wire.
They pulled in about two hundred feet.
Then they cut the wire.
So ended the first cable.
The Vails had been good friends to Mr. Morse.
But they became afraid to spend any more money.
Then, indeed, Mr. Morse was in despair.
A bill had been brought before Congress, asking for thirty thousand
This was to build the trial telegraph line.
Oh, how anxiously Mr. Morse waited!
Delay after delay came.
Many Congressmen in their speeches, made all manner of fun of the
Twilight came upon the evening of March 3rd, 1842.
It was the last day of the session of Congress.
There were still one hundred and nineteen bills to dispose of.
It seemed impossible that the telegraph bill could be reached.
Mr. Morse had patiently waited all day.
At last he gave up all hope.
He left the building and went to his hotel.
He planned to leave for New York on an early train.
As he came down to breakfast next morning, a young lady met him.
"I have come to congratulate you," she exclaimed.
"Upon what?" inquired the professor.
"Upon the passage of your bill," she replied.
"Impossible! Its fate was sealed last evening.
You must be mistaken."
"Not at all," said the young lady; "father sent me to tell you that
your bill was passed. It was passed just five minutes before the
close of the session."
Mr. Morse was almost overcome with the news.
He promised the young lady that she should send the first message
over the new line.
Mr. Morse received a sad message in the midst of his joy.
This was the news of the death of his dearest friend, Mr. Allston.
He hastened to the home of his friend in Cambridge.
The brush with which Mr. Allston had been painting was still moist.
Mr. Morse begged this as a memorial of his friend.
He afterwards gave it to the National Academy.
Now that the bill was passed, how hard he and his friend worked to
build the line!
They tried putting the wires underground.
But this proved very expensive.
Then they tried the poles as we have them now.
This succeeded nicely.
1844 was the year for the appointing of a new President.
The Whig party were to hold their convention at Baltimore, in May.
The managers of the telegraph worked hard to get the line done
before the meeting.
And, although the line was not finished, signals were arranged by
which the message could be given.
At last the day came.
Henry Clay was nominated for President.
The news was sent by the wires to Washington.
Passengers arrived from Baltimore an hour later.
They were astonished to find the news already known.
On the 24th of May the line was ready for its test.
Every one was anxious.
Mr. Vail was at the Baltimore end of the line.
Miss Ellsworth, the young lady who had the promise of sending the
first message, was with Mr. Morse.
Remember the twelve long, weary, anxious years, during which Mr.
Morse had worked and waited.
It was an anxious moment.
Miss Ellsworth chose her message from the Bible.
It is found in Numbers, 23rd chapter, 23rd verse.
The words are: "What hath God wrought!"
This was received at once by Mr. Vail.
Professor Morse said this of the words of the message:—
"It baptized the American Telegraph with the name of the author."
He meant by this, that God was the author of the telegraph.
What a glad, happy time followed!
Everybody congratulated Mr. Morse.
The democratic convention took place two days later.
There was much excitement.
James K. Polk was nominated for President.
All sorts of messages were sent over the new telegraph line.
Mr. Morse loved his country.
And through his whole life worked for its interests.
He rejoiced in having his invention called an American invention.
He was at one time in Europe.
His friend, Mr. F.O.J. Smith, was embarking on his voyage for home.
Mr. Morse said to him:—
"When you arrive in sight of dear America, bless it for me.
"And when you land, kiss the very ground for me.
"Land of lands! Oh, that all our country-men would but know their
"God hath not dealt so with any nation.
"We ought to be the best, as well as the happiest and most
prosperous of all nations.
"Nor should we forget to whom we are in debt for all these
"'Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any
There were still many hard things for Mr. Morse to endure.
Wicked men tried to steal his invention from him.
They pretended to have invented telegraphs.
The nations of Europe did not treat him justly.
But, little by little, the telegraph lines were built over the
Little, by little, the world came to know and love the name of
Samuel F.B. Morse.
Honors of all sorts were given him.
But, through all, he was the same kind, patient man.
The Sultan of Turkey was the first foreign prince to honor Mr.
But he was followed by many others.
You have noticed that Mr. Morse never had a chance to enjoy a home.
In 1847, he bought a beautiful home upon the Hudson.
In the following year he married Miss Griswold, a lady born at Sault
They called their new home Locust Grove.
There they enjoyed life greatly.
Professor Morse had a telegraph instrument in his study.
He afterwards bought a beautiful home in New York City.
There they spent their winters.
These words were written by a friend to Mrs. Morse, alluding to her
"Though he did not 'snatch the thunder from the heaven,' he gave the
electric current thought, and bound the earth in light."
To Mr. Morse belongs also the honor of the submarine telegraph.
A successful telegraph of this kind was laid near New York City.
Other gentlemen became interested in this.
Chief among these were Mr. Cyrus W. Field and his brother David
The story of the cable laid across the Atlantic is a long one.
But Mr. Morse lived to see this, too, a success.
When Mr. Morse was eighty years of age, his statue was erected in
Central Park, New York.
This was done by the telegraph operators of the country.
It represented Mr. Morse as sending the first message of the
telegraph, "What hath God wrought."
Mr. Morse was present when the statue was unveiled.
In 1872 he became very ill.
His busy life was at an end.
The whole country mourned, as news flashed over the wires that
Professor Morse was dying.
The light was going out of those bright, kind eyes.
The fingers that harnessed the steed, Lightning were powerless.
The great brain, that had worked so hard for the world, was ready
The great heart, that never kept an unkind thought, ceased to beat.
All America mourned for him.
Messages were received from Europe, Asia and Africa, paying tribute
to the dead.
Few men have lived such lives as did Samuel Finley Breese Morse.