Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born on April 27, 1791, in Charlestown, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Jedidiah Morse, a pastor who was as well known for his geography as Noah Webster, a friend of the family, was known for his dictionaries.
At Yale College, Morse was an indifferent student, but his interest was aroused by lectures of the newly-developing subject of electricity, and he painted miniature portraits. After college, to the discomfort parents, Morse directed his enthusiasm to painting, which he studied in England. After settling in New York City in 1825, he became one of the most respected painters of his time.
Morse was a very friendly guy. Being a natural leader, he was a founder and the first president of the National Academy of Design, but was lost his campaigns to become mayor of New York or a Congressman. In 1832, while returning on the ship from another period of studying art in Europe, Morse heard a conversation about the newly discovered electromagnet and got the idea of an electric telegraph. He mistakenly thought that the idea of such a telegraph was new, helping to give him the go ahead and push the idea forward. By 1835 he probably had his first telegraph model working in the New York University building where he taught art. Being poor, Morse used materials like an old artist's canvas stretcher to hold his invention, a home-made battery and an old clock-work to move the paper on which dots and dashes were to be recorded.
In 1837 Morse got two partners to help him develop his telegraph. One was Leonard Gale, a quiet professor of science at New York University who taught him how to increase voltage by increasing the number of turns around the electromagnet. The other was Alfred Vail, a young man who made available both his mechanical skills and his family's New Jersey iron works to help make a better telegraph model.
With the aid of his new partners, Morse applied for a patent for his new telegraph in 1837, which he described as including a dot and dash code to represent numbers, a dictionary to turn the numbers into words and a saw-tooth type for sending signals. Morse was giving nearly all his time to the telegraph.
By 1838, at an exhibition of his telegraph in New York, Morse transmitted ten words per minute. He got rid...