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In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, American inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland. The message—“What Hath God Wrought?”—was telegraphed back to the Capitol a moment later by Vail. The question, taken from the Bible (Numbers 23:23), had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the daughter of the commissioner of patents.
Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument. During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line. On May 24, 1844, he inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with a message that was fitting given the invention’s future effects on American life.
Just a decade after the first line opened, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it enabled greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.
READ MORE: 6 Things You May Not Know About Samuel Morse
What Hath God Wrought
On May 24, 1844, Professor Samuel F. B. Morse, seated in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, tapped a message into a device of cogs and coiled wires, employing a code that he had recently devised to send a biblical text: “What hath God wrought.” Forty miles away in Baltimore, Morse’s associate Alfred Vail received the electric signals and returned the message. As those who witnessed it understood, this demonstration would change the world.
For thousands of years messages had been limited by the speed messengers could travel and the distance eyes could make out signals, such as flags or smoke. Neither Alexander the Great nor Benjamin Franklin, two thousand years later, had known anything faster than a galloping horse. Now instant long-distance communication was possible for the first time.
At the beginning of the 19th-century, the United States remained an agrarian country of limited technology. Most people lived on isolated farmsteads, their lives revolving around the weather and the hours of daylight. Many people grew their own food many women made their families’ clothes. It was the difficulty of transportation and communication that kept Americans’ lives so primitive. Only people who lived near navigable waterways could easily market their crops and procure the money to buy commodities that were not produced locally, which they could barter with their neighbors or the local storekeeper. With transportation costs high, only luxury goods could bear the costs of long-distance transportation over land. Information from the outside world was a precious luxury.
But 50 years later the United States had experienced a revolution in communications, typified by Morse’s dramatic action. The invention of the steam-powered press, reinforced by radical improvements in papermaking, drove an enormous expansion of the printed media. Improvements in transportation, such as the Erie Canal, the steamboat, and the railroad, facilitated the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines, and books. The printed media affected every aspect of life.
Two of the largest and most widely diffused institutions of 19th-century America worked to foster the communications revolution. Public education provided a literate audience for the printed media. The Post Office Department, the largest activity of the federal government in peacetime, efficiently distributed the ever-increasing number of newspapers and magazines that fed the curiosity of the public and stoked the fires of partisan political debate.
Improvements in transportation and communication liberated people from isolation—economic, intellectual, and political—and brought Americans progressively deeper into a global economy. Meanwhile the United States was extending westward until it reached the Pacific, creating a transcontinental empire that was integrated by these very innovations in transportation and communication.
The telegraph probably lowered the cost of business transactions even more than the Internet has so far today it certainly seemed to contemporaries an even more dramatic innovation. Commercial applications of Morse’s invention followed quickly. Farmers and planters increasingly produced food and fiber for far-off markets. Their merchants and bankers welcomed news of distant prices and credit. The newly invented railroads telegraphed train movements to avoid collisions on the single tracks of the time. The telegraph solved commercial problems and at the same time had huge political consequences.
When Morse tapped out those four words on his electric telegraph 165 years ago, he was not only decoupling communication from travel and enabling and speeding up commerce, but also fostering globalization and encouraging democratic participation.
Life Before the Telegraph
Since the beginning of time, mankind has longed to find ways to simplify life through technology (e.g., the wheel, steam engine, and printing press). However, when it came to communicating over long distances, there never seemed to be a foolproof method.
Some of the earliest forms of communication included fire, smoke, drums, and even the reflection of sun rays. At times, humans or animals such as horses, dogs, and birds were given messages to deliver in the midst of perilous fights.
As time went on, people began to utilize flags, lighthouses, gunpowder, and more. Still, these strategies fell short and were never guaranteed to deliver their important messages.
It wasn’t until Benjamin Franklin explored the significance of electricity in 1759 that the world began to change the way they approached solving everyday problems. Inventors knew there was a better way to communicate over long distances using this flow of electric charge, but how exactly, they weren’t sure.
Book/Printed Material First telegraphic message---24 May 1844
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Note that the Samuel F. B. Morse Papers in the Library of Congress's Manuscript Division consists of personal papers and other manuscript materials. The Library of Congress received the collection as a series of gifts from descendants of Samuel F. B. Morse and through purchases. Works created by Morse, his family, and other individuals may in some cases be subject to copyright. In many of these cases, we were unable to identify a possible rightsholder and have elected to place these items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. Users are reminded that in all cases responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permissions ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item.
- Correspondence from members of the American Geographical and Statistical Society to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the American Geographical Society, 120 Wall Street, No. 100, New York, New York 10005.
- American Protestant Society and American and Foreign Christian Union correspondence made available here with permission from the American and Foreign Christian Union, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 2050, New York, New York 10115.
- Letter from Russell Sturgis, American Institute of Architects, to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006.
- Correspondence from Louis McLane, President, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from CSX Transportation, Inc.
- Letter from Baring Brothers to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the Baring Archive, ING Barings, 60 London Wall, London ECZM 5TQ, United Kingdom.
- Correspondence from Louis Breguet to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Emanuel Breguet, Place Vendôme 20, 75001 Paris, France.
- Letter from Albert Brisbane to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Abigail Mellen and Michael B. McCrary.
- Letters from Thomas Cole to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Edith Cole Silberstein.
- Correspondence from James Fenimore Cooper and Susan F. Cooper to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Henry S. F. Cooper Jr., representing the descendants of James Fenimore Cooper.
- Letters from Peter Cooper and Abram S. Hewitt made available here with permission from Edward R. Hewitt, c/o Carol Salomon, Archives Librarian, Cooper Union Library, 30 Cooper Square, New York, New York 10003.
- Ezra Cornell correspondence made available here with permission from Ezra Cornell and Candace E. Cornell, Ithaca, New York.
- Letter from Erastus Corning to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Erastus Corning III.
- Letter from Caleb Cushing to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from William A. Barron III, 11 Fairfield Lane, Topsham, Maine 04086 and the Estate of Francis A. Goodhue.
- Letter from Richard Henry Dana to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from R. W. Dana.
- Cyrus W. Field correspondence made available here for non-commercial use only with permission from David D. Field.
- Letters from Alvan Fisher to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Adaline F. Grearson.
- Letter from Norvin Green to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Norvin Green, 1037 S. Preston Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40203-2733.
- Letter from James Hall to Reverend Hecker made available here with permission from Clara S. Ailes and Lloyd W. Swift Jr.
- Letter from A. Hiller, President of the Philophronean Society of Hartwick Seminary, to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York 13820.
- Letter from Eben Norton Horsford to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Alice H. Fiske, North Ferry Road, Shelter Island, New York 11964.
- Daniel Huntington correspondence made available here with permission from Eleanor Huntington Remick Seaman.
- Letter from John Taylor Johnston to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Priscilla de F. Williams.
- Amos Kendall correspondence made available here with permission from Christy Van Horn.
- Correspondence from Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, made available here with permission from the Fondation Josée et René de Chambrun, 6 Bis Place du Palais Bourbon, 75007 Paris, France.
- Letters from Benjamin Henry Latrobe and John H. B. Latrobe to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from John H. Heyrman, 6105 Blackburn Lane, Baltimore, Maryland 21212.
- Letters from Charles Robert Leslie to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Professor John Twidell, AMSET Centre, Bridgford House, Horninghold, Leicestershire LE16 8DH, United Kingdom. Email: [email protected]
- Letter from James Marsh to Sidney Morse made available here with permission from David W. Hall, Gainesville, Florida.
- Correspondence from the Mechanics Bank of Baltimore to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Allfirst Bank: c/o Ann B. Ray, Chief Public Relations Officer, Allfirst Bank, 25 S. Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201.
- Correspondence from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10028.
- Correspondence from members of the National Academy of Design to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the National Academy of Design, 1083 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10128.
- Certificate for honorary membership in the New-York Historical Society for Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the New-York Historical Society.
- Letter from Robert Longbottom, Secretary of the Royal Polytechnic Institution, to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the University of Westminster: University Archivist, University of Westminster, 4-12 Little Titchfield Street, London W1W 7UW, United Kingdom.
- Correspondence from William Henry Seward to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the Reverend Ray S. Messenger, 420 Woodside Way, Moravia, New York 13118 and Cornelia M. Rogers.
- Certificate of honorary membership from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences for Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, P.O. Box 50005, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden.
- Correspondence from Benjamin Silliman and Benjamin Silliman Jr. made available here with permission from James D. English, 99 East Rock Road, New Haven, Connecticut 06511.
- Letter from Benjamin Mosby Smith to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Dr. A. J. McKelway Jr., P.O. Box 1109, White Stone, Virginia 22578.
- Letters from Thomas Sully to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from descendants of Thomas Sully: c/o W. Leslie Sully, 2222 Lucerne Court, Henderson, Nevada 89014.
- Letter from Roger Brooke Taney to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from J. Charles Taney, 9 Hillcrest Lane, Old Greenwich, Connecticut 06870 and Chris Taney, 5609 Amos Reeder Road, Boonsboro, Maryland 21713.
- Letter from General Solomon Van Rensselaer to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Margaret Knowles, c/o Lori Fischer, Historic Cherry Hill, 523ˆ South Pearl Street, Albany, New York 12202.
- Letter with resolution from S. M. Buckingham, Secretary of the Executive Committee of Vassar College, to Mrs. Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie, New York 12604.
- Correspondence from Western Union Telegraph Company and telegraph companies later acquired by Western Union (U.S. Telegraphs, California State Telegraph Company, and South Western Telegraph Company) made available here with permission from Western Union Holdings, Inc.
- Letter from Eli Whitney to Jedidiah Morse made available here with permission from Eli Whitney Debevoise II.
- Letter from Captain Charles Wilkes to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Gilbert Wilkes III, 300 West Martin Street, Martinsburg, West Virginia 25401.
- Letter from Emma Willard to Samuel F. B. Morse made available here with permission from Dr. Edward Belt.
- Correspondence and other materials from Lyman Copeland Draper and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin made available here with permission from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706.
What God Hath Wrought tapped out?
what hath God wrought. "What has God done" usually used to express one's awe. The phrase originated in the Bible and, in 1844, Samuel Morse sent it as the first telegram.
Similarly, what has God wrought in Morse code? "What hath God wrought" is a phrase from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 23:23), and may refer to: "What hath God wrought", the official first Morse code message transmitted in the US on May 24, 1844, to officially open the Baltimore&ndashWashington telegraph line. What Hath God Wrought?
Also Know, what hath God wrought Who said it?
Samuel Morse demonstrates the telegraph with the message, &ldquoWhat hath God wrought?&rdquo In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, American inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland.
What does hath mean in Old English?
Hath is an old-fashioned third person singular form of the verb 'have. ' You may also like.
Samuel F. B. Morse is best known for inventing the single-wire telegraph system. He was also the co-inventor of Morse code. How did it all happen? Between 1825 and 1828 Morse’s wife, father, and mother died. In 1829 he traveled to Europe to recover from his grief. On the voyage back home Morse met an inventor by the name of Charles Thomas Jackson. As they talked, Morse became fascinated by the possibility of electronic impulses being carried along a wire for long distances. He made a number of drawings of his ideas while aboard the ship in 1832. Over the years he continued to refine his ideas and received help from a number of other people, especially Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail.
In 1843 Morse received $30,000 from Congress to finance the building of a telegraph line between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. It was on May 24, 1844 that he tapped out the first telegraph message on this line. “What hath God wrought?” It was a young girl by the name of Annie Ellsworth who suggested the words taken from Numbers 23:23 and Morse used it as the first telegraphed message.
Now consider this important question. What did God have to do with this? The word “wrought” means “put together, create, a carefully thought out plan.” We would tend to consider that Samuel Morse was the one who carefully thought out the ideas for the first telegraph and then put those ideas together for the resulting invention. He had help from a number of other people, but ultimately it was Morse who brought everything together for the telegraph. But it was Samuel Morse, who was a committed Christian, who wanted the first telegraphed message to give credit to God for the telegraph. What did God have to do with it? Let’s think about that for a moment.
Samuel Morse was created by God. “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.” The very fact that he was born and lived during the years of 1791 to 1872 was of God. It was in the Lord that Samuel Morse “lived and moved and had his very being.” So every aspect of his brain activity, his ability to move his hands to make drawings, the ability to read and comprehend the things he studied, the ability to have a conversation with a number of people who helped him think through the concepts, all of those things were wrought by God. And by the way, all of the scientific concepts that relate to a single-wire telegraph system are things that God wove into the fabric of the world He created.
The Lord was also providentially involved in Morse’s life. The doctrine of God’s providence says that God decrees all things that comes to pass, and He perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events. That means that He brought people into Samuel Morse’s life at just the right time. He met Charles Thomas Jackson on an ocean voyage and then later became acquainted with Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail. Each of these men had key roles in helping Morse with his invention.
There is more that could be said but you get the idea. As a committed Christian, Samuel Morse was exactly correct when he telegraphed, “What hath God wrought?” The sad thing is that few people think this way anymore. In our culture we are much more comfortable with Neil Armstrong’s first words when he landed on the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Hmm, did God have anything to do with man landing on the moon? Did He get out of the “wrought” business after the telegraph because things were getting too advanced for Him?
No, God is still at work in the world. He is still at work in your life and in mine. Don’t live life in such a way that everything is centered on yourself. “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” When we do that we will be amazed as we consider what God hath wrought in our lives.
The Archival Collection
The Samuel F. B. Morse Papers are housed in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. The Morse Papers were given to the Library of Congress by his son, Edward Lind Morse, and his granddaughter, Leila Livingston Morse, between 1916 and 1944. Other items were added to the papers through purchase and gift between 1922 and 1995.
The Morse Papers consist primarily of correspondence but also include diaries, scrapbooks, clippings, printed matter, maps, drawings, and other miscellaneous materials. These manuscripts span the years 1793 to 1944, but the bulk of the papers dates from 1807 to 1872. The more than 10,000 items document Morse's life as artist and inventor and highlight his development of the electromagnetic telegraph, his career as a portrait painter, and his interest in the nativist movement.
The Morse Papers are arranged into eight series: General Correspondence and Related Documents Family Correspondence Letterbooks Diaries and Notebooks Scrapbooks, Clippings, and Newspapers Printed Matter Miscellany and Addition. The collection was microfilmed in 1975 and makes up thirty-five reels. Some materials from the Scrapbooks, Clippings, and Newspapers series as well as the whole Addition series were never microfilmed.
Family, personal, and business letters sent and received, supplemented by clippings, drawings, contracts and agreements, drafts of writings, notes, and receipts. The letters document Morse's family, his career as an artist, his development of the telegraph, patent lawsuits, scientific exchanges, and politics. Arranged in groupings of bound volumes and unbound letters and chronologically therein.
Letterpress copies of letters sent. Most of Morse's outgoing correspondence is found here. Several volumes are indexed. Arranged chronologically.
Diaries and notebooks describing Morse's European travels and containing sketches and observations on art and architecture. One diary from Morse's youth. Diaries are arranged chronologically and notebooks arranged by subject.
Bound and loose newspaper clippings, newspapers, and broadsides relating to art, the telegraph, and Morse. Grouped by type of material and arranged in approximate chronological order.
Books, pamphlets, magazines, and broadsides relating to art, the telegraph, and Morse. Arranged by subject matter.
Correspondence, notes, maps, drawings, broadsides, speeches, telegraph message tape, and other materials.
Mostly correspondence from Morse to his brother Sidney and other individuals. Arranged by recipient or sender and then chronologically.
In 1830, Joseph Henry was able to use an electromagnet to ring a bell more than a mile away by sending an electric current over a wire. William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone used similar electromagnetism concepts to create an early telegraph, which they patented in 1837. But it was Samuel Morse who invented the commercially viable telegraph system that we know today.
Samuel Morse was a New York University professor in 1835 when he successfully produced a message on a strip of paper using electromagnets and pulses of electricity. A year later, he developed his idea to include a system of dots and dashes. A few years later, Congress agreed to pay Samuel Morse $30,000 to create a 40-mile-long telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington once legislators saw how much easier the telegraph could make communication with their constituents, more lines were added. Morse was also an artist who was known for his ability to capture the essence of people’s personalities through his delicately created portraits.
Samuel F.B. Morse – “What Hath God Wrought!”
/>Samuel Finley Breese (F.B.) Morse (1791-1872) is best remembered for being the inventor of the American telegraph system and the Morse Code alphabet which is still widely used today. It was his development and perfection of an instantaneous method of electronic communication over long distances which contributed to the rapid expansion of the West during the late 1800’s and laid the groundwork for today’s 24/7 mass media culture.
Something which history widely forgets today about Morse’s great inventions, however, is the role God played throughout the process. Educated on religious matters from birth by his father, the notable Rev. Jedidiah Morse, Samuel developed a deep and sincere faith in God. In the two volume work, Samuel F.B. Morse: His Letters and Journals, his own son describes the inventor’s character:
The dominant note was an almost childlike religious faith a triumphant trust in the goodness of God even when his hand was wielding the rod a sincere belief in the literal truth of the Bible, which may seem strange to us of the twentieth century a conviction that he was destined in some way to accomplish a great good for his fellow men.
Next to love of God came love of country. He was patriotic in the best sense of the word. While abroad he stoutly upheld the honor of his native land, and at home he threw himself with vigor into the political discussions of the day, fighting stoutly for what he considered the right….
A favorite Bible quotation of his was “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.” He deeply deplored the necessity of making enemies, but he early in his career became convinced that no man could accomplish anything of value in this world without running counter either to the opinions of honest men, who were as sincere as he, or to the self-seeking of the dishonest and the unscrupulous.[i]
Morse’s pious character clearly exhibits itself in the historic message relayed during the public demonstration of the telegraph on May 24, 1844. Morse had promised Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of the Commissioner of Patents that she would get to decide what would be said. After talking with her mother, Annie decided to send a portion from Numbers 23:23: “What hath God wrought!”
Early that morning, Morse and his guests gathered in the chamber of the Supreme Court while his assistant prepared to receive the fateful transmission in Baltimore. Then, at 8:45 a.m. on May 24, 1844, the electricity flowed through the line:
That message inaugurated the beginning of electronic media in America, setting off a chain of technological advancements which continues to this day nearly two-hundred years later. From the telegraph to the telephone to the internet, we all have good reason to declare, “What hath God wrought!”
Samuel Morse never forgot the role that God had in the development and success of the telegraph, always bearing in mind the powerful phrase selected by Annie Ellsworth. Later in life Morse explained that the telegraph was not merely an example of American ingenuity, but rather an example of God’s gracious providence:
Yet in tracing the birth and pedigree of the modern Telegraph, ‘American’ is not the highest term of the series that connects the past with the present there is at least one higher term, the highest of all, which cannot and must not be ignored. If not a sparrow falls to the ground without a definite purpose in the plans of infinite wisdom, can the creation of an instrumentality so vitally affecting the interests of the whole human race have an origin less humble than the Father of every good and perfect gift?
I am sure I have the sympathy of such an assembly as is here gathered if, in all humility and in the sincerity of a grateful heart, I use the words of inspiration in ascribing honor and praise to Him whom first of all and most of all it is preeminently due. ‘Not unto us, not unto us, but to God be all the glory.’ Not what hath man, but ‘What hath God wrought?’[ii]
The WallBuilders’ Library is home to a handwritten letter from Samuel Morse composed in 1836, a full eight years before the triumph of the telegraph. In this personal letter to Miss Mary Pattison we get a glimpse into artistic side Morse’s mind through the portions of poetry he records, which also exhibit his deep devotion to God. Below is the transcript of the WallBuilders’ letter followed by pictures of the document itself.
New York, Sept. 14 th , 1836
I comply with my promise and send you the lines which I wrote a few years ago for an Album in the possession of a young lady on the North river. If you remember I was struck with the train of thought a Mr. Adams’ piece in Mr. Taylor’s Album, and told you, that I had embodied the same thought, or nearly resembling it. I had it not in my memory, but this morning in searching my desk I found them and transcribe them for you.
What’s our Life but an Album fair
Outwardly deck’d with gilding name
With many leaves of white within
Where virtue writes, but oft’mes sin
With many leaves all written o’er
While every day turns one leaf more?
This breathes the hopes of younger years
That tells of sorrows and of fears.
Black eaves between Where naught has been
But blots perchance of Folly’s pen
And some remain, (at most but few,)
Where Sin will write: Shall Virtue too?
Yield then thy pen to God to draw
On the next leaf his perfect law
To when thy book of life is done
Cleans’d by the blood of God’s own son
From Sin’s dark blots, and Folly’s stain
A purer volume shall remain
And rest, (to Grace a splendid prize,)
In Heaven’s alcoves in the skies.
The moral is better than the poetry, you may destroy if you will the latter, but cherish the former.
I don’t know whether I am better for my last visit to Troy. My pleasure of your house was in excess, and like all excess is producing a corresponding depression. Your lovely sister is a most destructive enemy of one’s peace, and the worst of it is that she is innocently cruel. She wounds, yet knows it not. Well, Happiness, happiness to her, and to you all. Tell Catharine I am expecting my Philippina. I am wishing time away until the 1 st of October.
I send by this opportunity some “Sketches” which were popular when they were published, I don’t know whether they were copied into the Troy papers. You will find in them where you have an idle hour, some of the incidents more in detail, which I told you verbally.
Remember I hold you all engaged for the Commencement of the University, in the first week of October.
With sincere regard,
Affectionately your friend & servant
Sam. F.B. Morse
I have just met with another trifle, which since I am in the mood of transcribing I send for Catherine’s album. It was written at the request of a young lady, who asked me to write something for her. I consented if she would give me a subject. She gave me the word “Farewell.”
Farewell! Farewell? No ‘tis a word of earth
A fraud seen there, ‘tis not of heavenly birth.
It wishes joy, yet instant clouds the ray
And give the pang, it feigns to take away.
Let not so false a word, thy tongue ‘ere tell
If well then wish thy friends, say not farewell.
What Hath God Wrought!
The year was 1844 and Samuel Finley Breese Morse was about to make history. For you see Samuel Morse was about to attempt the impossible – to transmit an electronic message, by what would later be referred to as Morse code, a distance of 40 miles from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland. This new technology, the telegraph, a strange looking machine with attached copper wires, was all set to once again put the Bible on display, and oh incidentally prove a turning point in the advancement of human civilization.
Morse sat before his invention and ticked of its first message: “What hath God wrought!” This message was received seconds later by Morse’s assistant in Baltimore who promptly responded, a message back to Morse, to the amazement of all who were assembled to see if the telegraph would fail or became a part of communication history. It was only fitting that the first message sent on the telegraph was from the Bible – (Numbers 23:23) since Samuel Morse was a deeply committed Christian whose purpose in life was to honor the Lord in everything he did.
Morse was a world class inventor and internationally famous portrait painter but more than anything else he considered himself a humble servant of the Lord. When asked why he was selected to bring his monumental invention of the telegraph to the world he said: “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.”
But just what motivated Morse to invent the telegraph is not so well known, but it had its beginnings in a tragic event in his life. One day in 1825, while working on a painting in Washington, D.C., Morse received a letter from his father informing him that his wife was deathly ill. Sadly, by the time Morse made it home his wife was dead and buried. Crushed, Morse was haunted by the fact that news traveled so slow in those days and as a result he wasn’t able to be with his wife during her final hours. So what did Morse do? He turned his inventive mind to the study of electricity with the hope that he could invent a way to speed up communications – the result was the invention of the electric telegraph and the first binary code – Morse code.
Educated at Yale University, Morse help found the National Academy of Design, and served as its president for 20 years. In addition he was appointed to the first chair of fine arts in America, the Professor of Sculpture and Painting at New York University. But for all of the accolades He received Morse understood that staying humble was the crowning glory of his legacy. Just four years before his death in 1872 Morse reflected back on his career and forward to his future reward when he said: “The nearer I approach to the end of my pilgrimage, the clearer is the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, the grandeur and sublimity of God’s remedy for fallen man are more appreciated, and the future is illumined with hope and joy.”