Friday, April 24, 2009

-. ..- -- -... . .-. ... ..--- ...-- ..--- ...-- STOP

He was a young artist on the rise; Dying Hercules and Judgment of Jupiter were already considered masterpieces by the British public. His paintings embodied Americanism—the rise of common man over the aristocracy. He was an admirer and friend of James Fenimore Cooper, whose The Last of the Mohicans proved to the world the value of American culture. If he could be a success in London, he could certainly reach equally great heights in America. Deciding in 1815 that he had studied in Britain long enough, he returned home to the United States. His talents brought him to Washington, DC to paint the official portrait of President James Monroe. John Quincy Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette also sat for him.

And now, Congress was expanding the Capitol. Murals would be needed to cover the halls and rotunda. Congress was calling on artists to submit designs depicting the young nation and democracy. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and he desperately needed this accolade. Economic recession had slowed his commissions. When he submitted his design, Samuel F.B. Morse was confident that the commission would be his. To prepare for the Capitol project, Morse sailed to Europe in 1829 to improve his skill.

In 1832, Morse learnt that he had lost the Capitol commission. Dreams shattered, he gave up on a career as an artist. Broke, he returned to America to take up a position as a professor at New York University. But fortune smiled upon him, for it was on the boat home that he met Dr. Charles T. Jackson, who introduced him Michael Faraday’s theories of electrical current. Always intrigued by science and invention (he was an early fan of photography), Morse studied electromagnetism and designed his first telegraph machine.

His new machine needed funding. In New York he found the financial backing of entrepreneur Alfred Vail, who assisted Morse in improving the telegraph design so that it was smaller, sleeker, and had a button for typing dots and dashes. It was this version that received a patent in 1840. In 1842 it was time to test the range of the electrical current. Morse and Vail set up a wire from Governor’s Island and Manhattan (a two mile range), but the test failed when a boat sailed in to the wire, snapping it.

Persistent, Morse returned to Washington, DC submitting a bill requesting $30,000 to run a telegraph line from the Supreme Court Chamber in Washington to the B & O Rail Station in Baltimore. Congress stalled on the bill for over a year. Just as a once again defeated Morse was about to leave town, he heard news that the bill had passed! The 38 mile experimental line was completed in 1844. On May 24, 1844 (as of today that’s 164 years and 11 months ago) Morse officially opened the line for communication. Sitting in the old Supreme Court Chamber, Morse typed out his famous first message, “What Hath God Wrought!” The message was received in the B& O Rail Station, but no one paid much attention. In fact, Samuel Morse had to write his own newspaper article proclaiming its success, “The Electric Telegraph Triumphant.”

It wasn’t until three days later when Morse sent news of James K. Polk’s presidential nomination from a deadlocked Democratic Convention in Baltimore across the wire to the Capitol that the nation finally took notice. The journalists and public were astounded! The ability to transfer information within minutes had just rendered the postal service obsolete! Ok, well maybe that last part is an exaggeration as we still continued to use snail mail, but the telegraph had changed the speed at which Americans lived their lives. “3 cheers have been given here for Polk and 3 for the Telegraph!” was the message of the day, and the rest is history!

Note: Morse asked a US Patent Commissioner’s daughter Annie Ellsworth to compose the first message. To find out the source of “What Hath God Wrought!” translate the blog title. Or, cheat and look it up on Wikipedia.

Source: Kenneth Silverman, Lightning Man.
Thomas Streissguth,
Communications: Sending the Message.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUMUEL MORSE! April 27, 1791! You don't look a day older!

No comments:

Post a Comment