Lot 319

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Samuel Morse
New York, NY, November 11, 1861
Samuel Morse ALS Defending His Invention of the Telegraph
A remarkable autograph letter signed by Samuel Morse on the invention of the telegraph. 1p lined paper, measuring 5" x 8", New York, dated November 11, 1861. Signed "Sam F.B. Morse" and addressed to A.J. Goodman, Esq. Morse discusses his legal troubles in attempting to prove primacy in the invention of the telegraph. The letter has been inlaid to a backing sheet, matted and framed along with an engraving of Morse to the overall size of 18" x 15.5". Near fine, boldly signed.

Morse's letter in full:
"A letter dated Oct 18th from you has just reached me inquiring if I lay claim to the first operator in Telegraphs, and when the first line was used. Presuming you mean the Elector magnetic recording Telegraphy I reply that being the inventor of it, I must of necessity be the first operator. The first line constructed between two commercial points was the experimental line, ordered by the Government in 1843 and completed in May 1844 between Washington and Baltimore. An experimental line of short circuits was operated by me in New York as early as the autumn of 1835."

The idea for the telegraph was born from Samuel Morse's own grief; while he was in Washington to paint a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, he received a letter from his father that informed him that his wife, Lucretia, had fallen gravely ill after the birth of their third child. Morse immediately packed up his paint and headed home to New Haven, but by the time he made it home, he was too late—Lucretia had died, and, in fact, had already been buried for several days. "You cannot know the depth of the wound that was inflicted when I was deprived of your dear mother, nor in how many ways that wound has been kept open" After his wife's death, Morse vowed to figure out a way to deliver life-or-death messages in a timely manner.

It is also easy to understand Morse's frustration at being questioned about the legitimacy of his invention; he had developed the telegraph and had been operating it for 25 years but was still being asked if he considered himself to be the true inventor. In fact, the invention of the telegraph had run concurrently with the very early period of Patent Law designed to protect intellectual property rights. In 1842 Morse had strung "wires between two committee rooms in the Capitol, and sent messages back and forth" demonstrating his telegraph system. History was further made in 1844 when Morse telegraphed a Bible quote from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore: "What hath God wrought?" This climatic moment was, unfortunately, followed by non-stop lawsuits. The first patent battle Morse was involved with revolved around whether or not he was the actual inventor of the telegraph. Morse swore to the originality of his invention, but the burden of proof fell on Morse as he did not apply for an American patent in a timely manner. Therefore he had to rely on the testimony of various colleagues and friends to determine when Morse had a working model of his telegraph (which was determined to be around 1835). The following series of lawsuits set the pace for Patent law which continues today. As a result, Samuel Morse is not just known for his invention of the telegraph but also known to have set the precedent for all future patent litigation!

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


  • Letter 5 x 8 in. (12.7 x 20.3 cm.), Frame: 18 x 15 1/2 in. (45.7 x 39.4 cm.)
  • Artist Name:
  • Samuel Morse
  • Medium:
  • ALS

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