I know I know, this isn’t a photograph, but it’s the only picture I could find of Samuel F. B. Morse, Phillips Academy graduate and famous artist and engineer. Samuel Morse Hall is the math building on campus, a building I enter almost daily. I’ve always wanted to learn more about who the building was named for.
Morse was born in 1791 into a famous family. His father, Pastor Jedidiah Morse, wrote two books and was a friend of Adams and Washington. Jedidiah used the money from his books to put his sons through school. In college, Samuel enjoyed his lectures at Yale, particularly the ones in his electricity class. In his free time, Morse painted portraits of his friends in ivory and sold them for $5. At age 19, Morse moved to England to study art. He became interested in photography while studying painting, and he became a well-known portrait artist. In 1825 he moved to New York with a growing passion for invention. He patented three pumps and ran (unsuccessfully) for mayor twice. In 1832, he became interested in telegraphy.
Up until this point, the telegraph was amost useless and required 26 wires for every letter of the alphabet. With two partners and a box of wiring, Morse worked on creating a more efficient telegraph. In 1837 he unveiled his first one-wire telegraph. He even developed an alphabet of dots and dashes to translate the messages, now named Morse Code. In 1842, Congress granted Morse $30,000 to “wire” the country. Telegraphs grew faster than railroads and soon stretched across the states. In 1844, Morse filed for a patent and held the first public demonstration of his invention, sending the message “What hath God wrought?” to Baltimore. “By 1854, there were 23,000 miles of telegraph wire in operation,” reports an MIT article.
Later in his life, Morse shared his wealth with Yale Univerisity and artists. He died in 1872 in New York. A statue of Morse now stands in Central Park to honor his work.