"What hath God wrought?" - First intercity message sent by Telegraph
Samuel Finley Breese Morse is, not shockingly, most widely known for his work with the telegraph. For most of his life, however, he was a painter.
Morse did not invent the telegraph. It had been around since before he was born. He did, however, make a number of improvements to the telegraph, and was instrumental in its promotion, and was largely responsible for its widespread use throughout the United States.
He was born to a rich family in Charlestown, Massachusetts, April 27, 1791. His father was a clergyman, and a geographer. He attended Yale University, where he developed a passion for painting.
He headed off to Britain for 4 years, where became a member of the British Royal Academy, moving back to the United States in 1815. He specialized in historical scenes, and also did portraits to support himself.
He married his first wife, Lucretia, in 1818, however she died in 1825 of heart trouble. They had three children, Susan, Charles, and James.
Gaining a decent reputation, in 1825 he helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City, becoming its first President. He also taught art at New York University.
In 1832, he began thinking about this telegraph thingie, after overhearing some people talking about electromagnetism on a ship voyage. At the time, telegraphs were quite impractical, requiring 26 different wires, one for each letter of the alphabet. Duh.
Morse thought it would be great if someone could get it down to a single wire. So he went ahead and started trying just that.
He constructed his first telegraph in 1835. It didn't look much like the final model. It had a roll of ticker-tape, and a pen or pencil attached that would move up or down in a certain pattern, kind of like a Seismograph. This would then need to be translated into letters. It didn't work all that well.
1836 saw his first of two campaigns to become Mayor of New York City. He ran for, and was apparently a fairly rabid spokesperson for, the Nativist party. This was a group of fairly despicable human beings. A bunch of racist, pro-slavery assholes, who were dead set against immigrants, especially the Jewish and the Irish. Morse himself appeared to especially hate Catholics. His campaign didn't go all that well, which is likely a good thing. He only managed to get 1,550 votes the first time, and garnered a mere 100 the second time he ran, in 1841.
He managed to coax Congress to give him $30,000 to implement his telegraph system in 1842. In the meanwhile, he had been working on it, with a few assistants.
Morse wasn't all that good of an engineer. But he had good ideas, and he knew how to get them implemented. He consulted some experts, like Joseph Henry from Princeton, and Louis Breguet of Paris. Morse apparently actually stole a major component from Mr. Breguet's telegraph.
Most of the work on Morse's telegraph was done by his assistants, Alfred Vail and William Baxter. Vail's family also supplied a lot of the money required for the development of the telegraph.
Vail, working from an earlier version of Morse's, was the one who was responsible for devising the dots and dashes representation of the alphabet that came to be known as Morse Code.
Morse filed for a patent (Patent No. 6,420) on his telegraph in 1844. Using some of the funds given to him by Congress, he had a wire strung from Baltimore to Washington. The first public demonstration of his telegraph was on May 11, 1844, from the chambers of the Supreme Court to the Mount Clair train station in Baltimore.
This new form of long distance communication quickly caught on. In 1851, Ezra Cornell founded Western Union. With the money he made, he started up a University in Ithaca, New York.
Within 10 years, there were over 23,000 miles of telegraph wires crossing the country, much of it following along the rail lines.
In 1847, Samuel bought a plot in Poughkeepsie, New York, and had himself a mansion built there. Now-a-days, there's a museum dedicated to him there.
The next year, Morse found himself a wife, Sarah, a second cousin 26 years younger than himself. Together they had 3 children, Samuel, Cornelia, William, Edward.
Oftentimes he was frustrated with troubles brought to him by the telegraph. He had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to force some of the telegraph companies to pay him the royalties he legally deserved. I also believe that at one point Vail wanted to sue him.
During the later part of his life, he spent a fair amount of time traveling throughout Europe, receiving accolades from the countries there who used his system. A number of them pooled together to give him a 400,000 franc gift, in recognition of his innovation.
Eventually they retired back to Poughkeepsie, living off his savings and the royalties being paid to him by the telegraph companies. He died in 1872, at the age of 81.