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

1840-1872

From the grant of his patent for the telegraph in 1840 to his death in 1872.

  • 1840

    Morse is granted a United States patent for his telegraph.

    Morse opens a daguerreotype portrait studio in New York with John William Draper. Morse teaches the process to several others, including Mathew Brady, the future Civil War photographer.

  • Spring 1841

    Morse runs again as a nativist candidate for mayor of New York City. A forged letter appears in a newspaper announcing that Morse has withdrawn from the election. In the confusion, he receives fewer than one hundred votes.

  • October 1842

    Morse experiments with underwater transmissions. Two miles of cable is submerged between the Battery and Governor's Island in New York Harbor and signals are sent successfully.

  • March 3, 1843

    Congress votes to appropriate $30,000 for an experimental telegraph line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland. Construction of the telegraph line begins several months later. Initially, the cable is placed in lead pipes underground, using a machine designed by Ezra Cornell; when that fails, above-ground poles are used.

  • May 24, 1844

    Morse sends the telegraph message "What hath God wrought?" from the Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to the B & O Railroad Depot in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • January 3, 1845

    In England, John Tawell is arrested for the murder of his mistress. He escapes by train to London, but his description is wired ahead by telegraph and police are waiting for him when he arrives.

  • Spring 1845

    Morse selects Amos Kendall, former U.S. Postmaster-General, to be his agent. Vail and Gale agree to take on Kendall as their agent as well. In May, Kendall and F. O. J. Smith create the Magnetic Telegraph Company to extend the telegraph from Baltimore to Philadelphia and New York..

  • Summer 1845

    Morse returns to Europe to promote and secure his telegraph rights.

  • Summer 1846

    The telegraph line is extended from Baltimore to Philadelphia. New York is now connected to Washington, D.C., Boston, and Buffalo.

    Different telegraph companies begin to appear, sometimes building competing lines side by side. Morse's patent claims are threatened, especially by the telegraph companies of Henry O'Reilly.

  • 1847

    Morse buys Locust Grove, an estate overlooking the Hudson River near Poughkeepsie, New York.

  • August 10, 1848

    Morse marries Sarah Elizabeth Griswold, a second cousin twenty-six years his junior.

    The Associated Press is formed by six New York City daily newspapers in order to pool the expense of telegraphing foreign news.

  • July 25, 1849

    Morse's fourth child, Samuel Arthur Breese Morse, is born.

  • 1850

    There are an estimated twelve thousand miles of telegraph lines run by twenty different companies in the United States.

  • April 8, 1851

    Fifth child, Cornelia (Leila) Livingston Morse, is born.

  • 1852

    A submarine telegraph cable is successfully laid across the English Channel; direct London to Paris communications begin.

  • January 31,1853

    Sixth child, William Goodrich Morse, is born.

  • 1854

    The U.S. Supreme Court upholds Morse's patent claims for the telegraph. All U.S. companies that use his system begin to pay Morse royalties.

    Morse runs unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Congress in the Poughkeepsie district, New York.

    Morse's telegraph patent is extended for seven years.

    The British and French build telegraph lines to use in the Crimean War. The governments are now able to communicate directly with commanders in the field, and newspaper correspondents are able to wire reports from the front.

  • 1856

    The New York and Mississippi Printing Telegraph Company unites with a number of other smaller telegraph companies to form the Western Union Telegraph Company.

  • March 29, 1857

    Morse's seventh and last child, Edward Lind Morse, is born.

  • 1857-1858

    Morse serves as an electrician for Cyrus W. Field's company during its attempts to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable. The first three tries end in failure.

  • August 16, 1858

    The first transatlantic cable message is sent from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan. However, while this fourth attempt to establish an Atlantic cable is successful, it stops working less than a month after its completion.

  • September 1, 1858

    The governments of ten European countries award Morse four hundred thousand French francs for his invention of the telegraph.

  • 1859

    The Magnetic Telegraph Company becomes a part of Field's American Telegraph Company.

  • 1861

    The Civil War begins. The telegraph is used by both the Union and Confederate forces during the war. Stringing up telegraph wires becomes an important part of military operations.

    [Petersburg, Va. U.S. Military Telegraph battery wagon, Army of the Potomac headquarters]. ca. June 1864-April 1865.
    Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-B8171-7934 DLC
  • October 24, 1861

    Western Union completes the first transcontinental telegraph line to California.

  • 1865

    The International Telegraph Union is founded to set rules and standards for the telegraph industry.

    Another attempt at laying the transatlantic cable fails; the cable breaks after two-thirds of it is laid.

    Morse becomes a charter trustee of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

  • 1866

    Morse sails with his second wife and their four children to France, where they remain until 1868.

    The Atlantic Cable is finally successfully laid. The broken cable from the previous year's attempt is raised and repaired; soon two cables are operational. By 1880, an estimated one hundred thousand miles of undersea telegraph cable have been laid.

    Western Union merges with the American Telegraph Company and becomes the dominant telegraph company in the United States.

  • 1867

    Morse serves as a United States commissioner at the Paris Universal Exposition.

  • June 10, 1871

    A statue of Morse is unveiled in Central Park in New York City. With much fanfare, Morse sends a "farewell" telegraph message around the world from New York.

  • April 2, 1872

    Morse dies in New York City at eighty years of age. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

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