Skip to main content

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

Art and Travel

These items highlight Morse's love of art, which motivated him to travel to Europe, where he became inspired to invent the electromagnetic telegraph.

Samuel F. B. Morse's passport, 4 November 1829

Before he invented the telegraph, Morse traveled to Europe twice to study art. This was the passport he used for his trip in 1829. In it, he identified himself as an "Historical Painter and President of the National Academy of Design." However, Morse would soon become better known as an inventor. It was on his voyage home from that trip in 1832 on the Sully that he first envisioned the electromagnetic telegraph.

Sketch from Morse's August 1831 Diary

In 1829, Morse left the United States to spend nearly three years studying art in Europe. He visited London and Switzerland, but spent much of his time in Paris and Italy. During these years, Morse kept a series of diaries in which he recorded observations of his travels and descriptions of Roman Catholicism. There are also a considerable number of sketches, such as this one. Morse sketched a wide variety of subjects: copies of the Old Masters, landscapes, historic buildings, and people he saw during his travels.

Morse met the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825 after he received a commission from the City of New York to paint the Frenchman's portrait during his last visit to the United States. They developed a friendship that lasted until Lafayette's death in 1834. This note from Lafayette, in which he refers to Morse as his "dear friend," conveys the warm friendship the two men shared.

Letter from Lafayette to Samuel F. B. Morse, September 1832

"I still have an Artist's heart, while deprived by long disuse of an artist's skill," Morse writes wistfully in this letter to his friend, Daniel Huntington, president of the National Academy of Design. Reminiscing about his own career as a struggling painter, he informs his friend of his plans to donate stocks to a fund that assists poor artists. To achieve financial success, Morse found he had to abandon his life as an artist and turned to the telegraph. In his later years, he made contributions to other various institutions and organizations, including Vassar College, Yale College, churches, and mission societies.

Letter from Samuel F. B. Morse to Daniel Huntington, 26 December 1864
 Back to top