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Samuel Morse, Electric Telegraph Inventor
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Daguerreotype image of Samuel Morse

Daguerreotype image of Samuel Morse

Telegraph Inventor

Samuel Morse, a well-regarded portrait painter, used available supplies, including art materials, to create the telegraph.

Morse, an art professor at New York University, looked to invention to make his fortune. As a student at Yale, he had studied chemistry and electricity. He and his brother patented a new kind of water pump for use in hand-operated fire engines and experimented briefly with steamboat designs.

What was the initial idea for the telegraph?

While studying art in Europe in 1832, Morse saw a visual telegraph that used moveable arms on tall masts to send signals. On the ship returning to the United States, Morse had conversations with other passengers about the newly discovered electromagnet and realized that pulses of electricity could be used to convey information over wires. He was sure he could create an electric telegraph.

Morse’s idea was to use an electromagnet to make a mark on a piece of paper each time a switch was operated. To send a message, you would write it out, go to a special dictionary to find the number assigned to each word, and then send those numbers by flipping the switch. The switch operated the electromagnet, which was connected to a pencil that made marks on a moving strip of paper. The receiver translated these marks back from numbers into words using the same dictionary.

Next: What Did Morse Use To Build His First Telegraph? ›

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