by Sean Trainor
The telegraph has become the epitome of an obsolete technology. The last telegram was sent two years ago, and Morse code blinked out a few years before that. But in terms of influence, Samuel Finley Breese Morse—born on this day, April 27, in 1791—is anything but obsolete.
Described by biographer Carleton Mabee as “the American Leonardo,”Morse was a man of varied talents and diverse interests. Trained as a visual artist, Morse became one of the early republic’s finest painters and an early adopter of daguerreotype photography. Morse was also influential in 19th-century American politics—though his impact in this area was less salutary. A three-time candidate for public office, Morse lent his influence to anti-Catholic and proslavery political movements.
Even if Morse’s reputation were limited to his famous invention, however, he would still deserve more attention than he receives. Antiquated though it seems, the telegraph represented a revolution in communications rivaling both the printing press and Internet. Indeed, thanks to Morse’s invention, communication was, for the first time in history, no longer limited to the speed at which a physical message could pass between locations. So long as they were linked by telegraphic wires, humans were liberated from the tyranny of distance; Samuel F. B. Morse had, in the saying of contemporaries, “obliterated time and space.”
The path to this legacy was an unlikely one. Born shortly after George Washington’s inauguration as president, Morse was the eldest son of Josiah Morse: early America’s leading geographer and the minister of a venerable Congregationalist church in Massachusetts…..READ MORE