Samuel Morse: Inventor Of The Telegraph, Failed Painter, Photographer

By | May 22, 2020

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Samuel Morse upset his father by becoming a painter. (

You may only know Samuel Morse for that code he invented, but there was much more to the man than dots and dashes. He was also a mediocre student who dreamed (much to his parents' chagrin) of being an artist, a pro-slavery and anti-Catholic intellectual, and a widower whose infamous moment of inspiration stemmed from his wife's tragic death.

Who Was Samuel Morse?

When he was born on April 27, 1791 in Massachusetts, he was given the name Samuel Finley Breese Morse, but he often (understandably) shortened his name to Samuel F. B. Morse. His father, a noted geographer and clergyman, had high hopes for his son, but Morse proved to be a lazy student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and then Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. During his time at Yale, however, he did discover two passions: painting and the new science of electricity. When he announced his intentions to be a portrait painter, you could say his father was less than pleased.

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Morse tried to paint all the masterpieces of the Louvre in one painting. (

Morse Studied In Europe

His father must have gotten over his anger about his son's career choice, because in 1811, he helped pay for Samuel to travel to England to study painting. It wasn't a great time to be an American in England, as the War of 1812 famously broke out the next year, but Morse remained an outspoken American loyalist. When he returned home, however, he found that patriotism ran so high in the United States following the war that his English style of painting was frowned upon, and he struggled to find work until he adapted to a more American sensibility. One of Morse's good friends, novelist James Fenimore Cooper, experienced the same backlash against his writing style, giving the two buddies something to commiserate over.