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Samuel Morse

 

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) was an American painter and inventor. After having established his reputation as a portrait painter, in his middle age Morse contributed to the invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European telegraphs. He was a co-developer of the Morse code, and helped to develop the commercial use of telegraphy.

Samuel F. B. Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the first child of the pastor Jedidiah Morse (1761–1826), who was also a geographer, and his wife Elizabeth Ann Finley Breese (1766–1828). His father was a great preacher of the Calvinist faith and supporter of the American Federalist party. He thought it helped preserve Puritan traditions (strict observance of Sabbath, among other things), and believed in the Federalist support of an alliance with Britain and a strong central government. Morse strongly believed in education within a Federalist framework, alongside the instillation of Calvinist virtues, morals and prayers for his first son.

After attending Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Samuel Morse went on to Yale College to receive instruction in the subjects of religious philosophy, mathematics and science of horses. While at Yale, he attended lectures on electricity from Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day, and was a member of the Society of Brothers in Unity. He supported himself by painting. In 1810, he graduated from Yale with Phi Beta Kappa honors.

Morse expressed some of his Calvinist beliefs in his painting, Landing of the Pilgrims, through the depiction of simple clothing as well as the people's austere facial features. His image captured the psychology of the Federalists; Calvinists from England brought to North America ideas of religion and government, thus linking the two countries. This work attracted the attention of the notable artist Washington Allston. Allston wanted Morse to accompany him to England to meet the artist Benjamin West. Allston arranged — with Morse's father — a three-year stay for painting study in England. The two men set sail aboard the Lybia on July 15, 1811.

In England, Morse perfected his painting techniques under Allston's watchful eye; by the end of 1811, he gained admittance to the Royal Academy. At the Academy, he was moved by the art of the Renaissance and paid close attention to the works of Michelangelo andRaphael. After observing and practicing life drawing and absorbing its anatomical demands, the young artist produced his masterpiece, the Dying Hercules. (He first made a sculpture as a study for the painting.)

To some, the Dying Hercules seemed to represent a political statement against the British and also the American Federalists. The muscles symbolized the strength of the young and vibrant United States versus the British and British-American supporters. During Morse's time in Britain, the Americans and British were engaged in the War of 1812. Both societies were conflicted over loyalties. Anti-Federalist Americans aligned themselves with the French, abhorred the British, and believed a strong central government to be inherently dangerous to democracy.

As the war raged on, Morse's letters to his parents became more anti-Federalist in tone. In one such letter, Morse wrote:

"I assert that the Federalists in the Northern States have done more injury to their country by their violent opposition measures than a French alliance could. Their proceedings are copied into the English papers, read before Parliament, and circulated through their country, and what do they say of them... they call them [Federalists] cowards, a base set, say they are traitors to their country and ought to be hanged like traitors.

Although Jedidiah Morse did not change Samuel's political views, he continued as an influence. Critics believe that the elder Morse's Calvinist ideas are integral to Morse's Judgment of Jupiter, another significant work completed in England. Jupiter is shown in a cloud, accompanied by his eagle, with his hand spread above the parties and he is pronouncing judgment. Marpessa, with an expression of compunction and shame, is throwing herself into the arms of her husband. Idas, who tenderly loved Marpessa, is eagerly rushing forward to receive her, while Apollo stares with surprise.

Critics have suggested that Jupiter represents God's omnipotence — watching every move that is made. Some call the portrait a moral teaching by Morse on infidelity. Although Marpessa fell victim, she realized that her eternal salvation was important and desisted from her wicked ways. Apollo shows no remorse for what he did, but stands with a puzzled look. Many American paintings throughout the early nineteenth century had religious themes, and Morse was an early exemplar of this. Judgment of Jupiter allowed Morse to express his support of Anti-Federalism while maintaining his strong spiritual convictions. Benjamin West sought to present the Jupiter at another Royal Academy exhibition, but Morse's time had run out. He left England on August 21, 1815, to return to the United States and begin his full-time career as a painter.

The decade 1815–1825 marked significant growth in Morse's work, as he sought to capture the essence of America's culture and life. He painted the Federalist former President John Adams (1816). The Federalists and Anti-Federalists clashed over Dartmouth College. Morse painted portraits of Francis Brown — the college's president — and Judge Woodward (1817), who was involved in bringing the Dartmouth case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Morse also sought commissions among the elite of Charleston, South Carolina. Morse's 1818 painting of Mrs. Emma Quash symbolized the opulence of Charleston. The young artist was doing well for himself. Between 1819 and 1821, Morse went through great changes in his life, including a decline in commissions due to the Panic of 1819. Unable to stop the rift within Calvinism, his father was forced to resign from his ministerial position, which he had held for three decades. The new branch that formed was the Congregational Unitarians, Morse considered them to be anti-Federalists, as their beliefs were related to religious salvation.

Although Samuel Morse respected his father's religious opinions, he sympathized with the Unitarians. Among the converts to Unitarianism were the prominent Pickerings of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, whom Morse had painted. Some critics thought his sympathies represented his own anti-Federalism. Morse was commissioned to paint President James Monroe in 1820. He embodied Jeffersonian democracy by favoring the common man over the aristocrat.

Morse had moved to New Haven. His commissions for the Hall of Congress (1821) and a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette (1825) engaged his sense of democratic nationalism. The Hall of Congress was designed to capitalize on the success of Francois-Marius Granet's The Capuchin Chapel in Rome, which toured the United States extensively throughout the 1820s, attracting audiences willing to pay the 25-cent admission fee.

The artist chose to paint the House of Representatives,in a similar way, with careful attention to architecture and dramatic lighting. He also wished to select a uniquely American topic that would bring glory to the young nation. His subject did just that, showing American democracy in action. He traveled to Washington D.C. to draw the architecture of the new Capitol, and placed eighty individuals within the painting. He chose to portray a night scene, balancing the architecture of the Rotunda with the figures, and using lamplight to highlight the work. Pairs of people, those who stood alone, individuals bent over their desks working, were each painted simply but with faces of character. Morse chose nighttime to convey that Congress’ dedication to the principles of democracy transcended day.

The Hall of Congress failed to draw a crowd when exhibited in New York City in 1821. By contrast, John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence had won popular acclaim the previous year. Viewers may have felt that the architecture of The Hall of Congressovershadows the individuals, making it hard to appreciate the drama of what was happening.

Morse was honored to paint the Marquis de Lafayette, the leading French supporter of the American Revolution. He felt compelled to paint a grand portrait of the man who helped to establish a free and independent America. He features Lafayette against a magnificent sunset. He has positioned Lafayette to the right of three pedestals: one has a bust of Benjamin Franklin, another of George Washington, and the third seems reserved for Lafayette. A peaceful woodland landscape below him symbolized American tranquility and prosperity as it approached the age of fifty. The developing friendship between Morse and Lafayette, and their discussions of the Revolutionary War, affected the artist after his return to New York City.

In 1826 he helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City. He served as the Academy's President from 1826 to 1845 and again from 1861 to 1862.

From 1830 to 1832, Morse traveled and studied in Europe to improve his painting skills, visiting Italy, Switzerland and France. During his time in Paris, he developed a friendship with the writer James Fennimore Cooper.[3] As a project, he painted miniature copies of 38 of the Louvre's famous paintings on a single canvas (6 ft. x 9 ft), which he entitled The Gallery of the Louvre. He completed the work upon his return to the United States.

On a subsequent visit to Paris in 1839, Morse met Louis Daguerre. He became interested in the latter's daguerreotype—the first practical means of photography. Morse wrote a letter to the New York Observer describing the invention, which was published widely in the American press and provided a broad awareness of the new technology.

Some of Morse's paintings and sculptures are on display at his Locust Grove estate in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Morse married Lucretia Pickering Walker on September 29, 1818, in Concord, New Hampshire. She died on February 7, 1825, shortly after the birth of their third child (Susan b. 1819, Charles b. 1823, James b. 1825). He married his second wife, Sarah Elizabeth Griswold on August 10, 1848 in Utica, New York and had four children.

Despite honors and financial awards received from foreign countries there was no such recognition in the U.S. until he neared the end of his life, when on June 10, 1871 a bronze statue of Samuel Morse was unveiled in Central Park, New York City. An engraved portrait of Morse appeared on the reverse side of the United States two-dollar bill silver certificate series of 1896. He was depicted along with Robert Fulton. An example can be seen on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's website in their "American Currency Exhibit".

A blue plaque was erected to commemorate him at 141 Cleveland Street, London, where he lived from 1812 to 1815.

According to his The New York Times obituary published on April 3, 1872, Morse received respectively the decoration of the Atiq Nishan-i-Iftikhar(English: Order of Glory) [first medal on wearer's right depicted in photo of Morse with medals], set in diamonds, from Sultan Abdulmecid of Turkey (c.1847[44]), a "golden snuff box containing the Prussian gold medal for scientific merit" from the King of Prussia (1851); the Great Gold Medal of Arts and Sciences from the King of Wurttemberg (1852); and the Great Golden Medal of Science and Arts from Emperor of Austria(1855); a cross of Chevalier in the Legion d'honneur from the Emperor of France; the Cross of a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog from the King of Denmark (1856); the Cross of Knight Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, from the Queen of Spain, besides being elected member of innumerable scientific and art societies in this [United States] and other countries. Other awards include Order of the Tower and Swordfrom the kingdom of Portugal (1860); and Italy conferred on him the insignia of chevalier of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus in 1864. Morse's telegraph was recognized as an IEEE Milestone in 1988.

On April 1, 2012, Google announced the release of "Gmail Tap", an April Fools' Day joke that allowed users to use Morse Code to send text from their mobile phones. Morse's great-great-grandnephew Reed Morse—a Google engineer—was instrumental in the prank, which became a real product.

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Biographies of famous people

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