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S. F. B. Morse: A Great American Who Invented The Telegraph
by [?]

Surely it would do the college boy of today good to read that list of expenses. It might be a revelation to him.

A postscript to the letter adds, “The students are very fond of raising balloons at present. I will (with your leave) when I return home, make one. They are pleasant sights.”

At that time, he was as much interested in drawing as he was in electrical experiments, and could get a remarkable likeness of anyone who would pose for him. As there were no photographs in those days, his portraits were in great demand, and needing money, to help with his expenses he began to paint miniatures to order, his price being five dollars for those painted on ivory, and one dollar for profiles, and he says, “Everybody is ready to engage me at that price.”

When his college course was at an end Finley wished to take up painting for a profession, but of this his parents did not approve, so for a short time he was apprenticed to a bookshop-keeper, but was so unhappy that Dr. and Mrs. Morse finally decided to let him become an artist, and when he was nineteen years old he went to Europe with the well-known artist, Washington Allston, to study art. In London he met Benjamin West, the famous painter, to whom Morse “a young pilgrim from the United States, modest and gentle, with his foot not yet on the first rung of the ladder of fame” made a great appeal, and West took the youth under his personal supervision, and felt enormous pride in his progress, for Finley’s picture of the dying Hercules at the Royal Academy exhibition was named as one of the twelve best among two thousand exhibited, and his cast of Hercules took the gold medal at the Adelphi Society of Fine Arts.

Back again in America after four years abroad, young Morse had years of struggle ahead, but with undaunted courage continued to work, and at last, despite all obstacles won success as an artist. But of that no more in this brief sketch which has to do with the Inventor.

We have seen the child in school, the boy in college, the budding artist in his training, have watched him painting and making electrical experiments with equal enthusiasm, and now he is no longer a boy, but Morse, the man, when on that April day in 1832 we find him on the deck of the packet-ship Sully. There, alone with the mighty influences of Nature and his new idea, he is working out the first crude principles of the Telegraph system which in after years was to be such a revolutionizing factor in civilization and commerce.

Came years of struggle against what seemed to be overwhelming obstacles, but Morse was equal to the emergencies of the case and we have one more glimpse of him as the man who succeeded.

After twelve years of hard work to achieve his ends, a bill was passed by the Senate appropriating thirty thousand dollars for testing the Morse Telegraph. A young woman, Miss Ellsworth, had the good fortune to carry the news to Mr. Morse, who was so overjoyed that he could scarcely find his voice to thank her. When at last he spoke, it was to promise that she should choose the first message to be sent across the wires of his Telegraph.

A glimpse of his achievement–at its crowning moment of success.

The Assembly room of the United States Supreme Court with one of the Morse Telegraph instruments installed in it. A group of distinguished officers and private individuals, waiting with intense interest to see the invention tested.

With perfect calmness the Inventor took his seat at the instrument, laid his hands on the key-board now familiar to us all, and in the Morse code sent the message chosen by Miss Ellsworth. Slowly–steadily, successfully he wrote the chosen words,–


The message was instantaneously received in Baltimore by a Mr. Vail who did not know beforehand what message was to be sent. He returned it immediately to Washington, so that within a single moment those inspired words were flashed back and forth through a circuit of eighty miles.–The Telegraph system had begun to work!

A great American by inheritance, and by achievement, we do Samuel Finley Breese Morse homage, for his ideals are those for which our forefathers gave their lives. When that first message flashed over the wires to Baltimore and back, the Inventor said humbly and reverently, “The message baptizes the Telegraph with the name of its author,–for that author is God.”