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Collection Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793 to 1919

About this Collection

Approximately 6,500 items from the Samuel F. B. Morse Papers in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress have been digitized, including correspondence, diaries, printed matter, maps, drawings and miscellany. These document Morse's invention of the electromagnetic telegraph, his participation in the development of telegraph systems in the United States and abroad, his career as a painter, his family life, his travels, and his interest in early photography, religion, and the nativist movement. Digital materials date from 1793 to 1919, but most are from 1807 to 1872.

The Archival Collection

The Samuel F. B. Morse Papers are housed in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. The Morse Papers were given to the Library of Congress by his son, Edward Lind Morse, and his granddaughter, Leila Livingston Morse, between 1916 and 1944. Other items were added to the papers through purchase and gift between 1922 and 1995.

The Morse Papers consist primarily of correspondence but also include diaries, scrapbooks, clippings, printed matter, maps, drawings, and other miscellaneous materials. These manuscripts span the years 1793 to 1944, but the bulk of the papers dates from 1807 to 1872. The more than 10,000 items document Morse's life as artist and inventor and highlight his development of the electromagnetic telegraph, his career as a portrait painter, and his interest in the nativist movement.

The Morse Papers are arranged into eight series: General Correspondence and Related Documents; Family Correspondence; Letterbooks; Diaries and Notebooks; Scrapbooks, Clippings, and Newspapers; Printed Matter; Miscellany; and Addition. The collection was microfilmed in 1975 and makes up thirty-five reels. Some materials from the Scrapbooks, Clippings, and Newspapers series as well as the whole Addition series were never microfilmed.

  • General Correspondence and Related Documents, 1793-1877, n.d.
    Family, personal, and business letters sent and received, supplemented by clippings, drawings, contracts and agreements, drafts of writings, notes, and receipts. The letters document Morse's family, his career as an artist, his development of the telegraph, patent lawsuits, scientific exchanges, and politics. Arranged in groupings of bound volumes and unbound letters and chronologically therein.
  • Letterbooks, 1854-1872
    Letterpress copies of letters sent. Most of Morse's outgoing correspondence is found here. Several volumes are indexed. Arranged chronologically.
  • Diaries and Notebooks, 1805-ca. 1840
    Diaries and notebooks describing Morse's European travels and containing sketches and observations on art and architecture. One diary from Morse's youth. Diaries are arranged chronologically and notebooks arranged by subject.
  • Scrapbooks, Clippings, and Newspapers, 1842-1861
    Bound and loose newspaper clippings, newspapers, and broadsides relating to art, the telegraph, and Morse. Grouped by type of material and arranged in approximate chronological order.
  • Printed Matter, 1826-1919
    Books, pamphlets, magazines, and broadsides relating to art, the telegraph, and Morse. Arranged by subject matter.
  • Miscellany, 1830-1855, n.d.
    Correspondence, notes, maps, drawings, broadsides, speeches, telegraph message tape, and other materials.
  • Addition, 1827-1871
    Mostly correspondence from Morse to his brother Sidney and other individuals. Arranged by recipient or sender and then chronologically.

The Online Collection

The online presentation of the Samuel F. B. Morse Papers totals about 6,500 library items, or approximately 50,000 digital images. The Family Correspondence series and some folders from the Miscellany and Printed Matter series were not scanned because they are made up of twentieth-century materials that are outside the time range of Morse's life and would present copyright problems. Most of the scrapbooks were also omitted because the poor condition of the originals resulted in unacceptable microfilm images: the paste used to affix clippings in scrapbooks has bled through, making the images blotchy, dark, and nearly impossible to read. Twenty-two original letters from the Addition series were digitized in-house at the Library of Congress and included in this online presentation.