Samuel Morse

The crazy story 

of how a portrait painter became an inventor. 

The crazy story of how a portrait painter became an inventor. 

Samuel Morse, 1840

I'm an image

Samuel Morse, 1840

Did you know?

1

Morse, before the Morse code. Did you know that before he became known as an inventor, Samuel Morse was a painter ? He trained in England and was admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts .

1

Morse, before the Morse code. Did you know that before he became known as an inventor, Samuel Morse was a painter ? He trained in England and was admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts .

Self-Portrait , 1812 from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

2

A portrait painter. His body of work includes many portraits of political figures, such as former USA presidents John Adams and James Monroe .

2

A portrait painter. His body of work includes many portraits of political figures, such as former USA presidents John Adams and James Monroe .

3

Tragedy strikes. Morse was in Washington, D.C. painting the portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, the leading French supporter of the American Revolution, when a horse messenger delivered a letter informing him that his wife Lucretia had fallen gravely ill

 

The next day, he received a second letter mentioning his wife had died suddenly: 

 

My heart is in pain and deeply sorrowful, while I announce to you the sudden and unexpected death of your dear and deservedly loved wife” wrote his father.

 

Not only did he receive the news too late to return to his wife before her death, but by the time he traveled back to his home in New Haven, she had already been buried. That tragic experience (and slow communication) might have inspired his future invention.

I'm an image

Gallery of the Louvre , 1831-33 from the Terra Foundation for American Art

4

Masterpieces within a masterpiece. In painting the  Gallery of the Louvre Morse hoped to educate and inspire the American public with images of great European artwork he saw at the Louvre. In Paris, he was struck by the idea to paint 38 miniature reproductions on a single, but substantial, canvas (6  x 9 ft./ 1.8 x 2.75 m) . The painting, completed in the USA upon his return, was a flop.

4

Masterpieces within a masterpiece. In painting the  Gallery of the Louvre Morse hoped to educate and inspire the American public with images of great European artwork he saw at the Louvre. In Paris, he was struck by the idea to paint 38 miniature reproductions on a single, but substantial, canvas (6  x 9 ft./ 1.8 x 2.75 m) . The painting, completed in the USA upon his return, was a flop.

5

The end of his painting career. “Painting has been a smiling mistress to many, but she has been a cruel jilt to me” wrote the painter. Morse would shift his focus away from art to instead develop a new way to communicate over long distances.  

5

The end of his painting career. “Painting has been a smiling mistress to many, but she has been a cruel jilt to me” wrote the painter. Morse would shift his focus away from art to instead develop a new way to communicate over long distances.  

I'm an image

Look closely: this prototype of the Morse telegraph receiver is made of an artist canvas stretcher. 

6

Becoming Morse. Morse would later develop the concept of a single-wire telegraph. Coupled with his code of dots and dashes, Morse developed what would become the primary language of telegraphy in the world. It is still the standard for rhythmic transmission of data.

6

Becoming Morse. Morse would later develop the concept of a single-wire telegraph. Coupled with his code of dots and dashes, Morse developed what would become the primary language of telegraphy in the world. It is still the standard for rhythmic transmission of data.

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