Samuel Morse to His Former Chemistry Professor at Yale
Painter and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse exchanges photographs with his former chemistry professor at Yale, whom he credits with "sowing the seed" that bore fruit in Morse’s inventions and international recognition for the invention of the telegraph.
SAMUEL F. B. MORSE, Autograph Letter Signed, to Benjamin Silliman Sr., February 15, 1864, New York. 1 p., 8ʺ x 9.75ʺ. Expected folds; excellent.
New York, Feby 15th 1864
My dear Sir,
A letter was handed me this morning directed in the well known hand of my respected and venerated instructor to whom the American world at least is so deeply indebted for the first and most efficient impulse given to Science in our country. I thank you sincerely for the Photograph which was within the envelope, and which shows you yet erect and fresh with more of youth marked in your figure & face than in the enclosed reciprocated photograph of the boy whom I cannot but think you remember as somewhat wayward and unpromising when your pupil in years long gone by. Yet you see some indications on his breast of foreign appreciation of the benefit conferred on the nations indicated in the mode by which these nations testify their favorable regard. If the gratification such tokens naturally give to the recipient, pertains in a larger degree to me, yet I cannot but think that the sower of the seed will himself be gratified at the evidence that the seed which was sown, did not perish in the ground. May you yet have many years of health and enjoyment, the glory of your family, and the pride of your State and country.
With sincere respect & esteem
Yr friend & old pupil
Saml F. B. Morse.
Prof. Benjn Silliman Senr / New Haven
Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) was born in Massachusetts and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He entered Yale College, where he attended lectures on electricity by Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day, and graduated in 1810. Morse supported himself by painting, primarily portraits. From 1812 to 1815, he improved his painting techniques in England before returning to the United States. He married Lucretia Pickering Walker in 1818, but she died in 1825, shortly after the birth of their third child. He moved to New Haven around 1820 and continued painting. From 1830 to 1832, he traveled in Europe again to improve his painting skills, spending time in Italy, Switzerland, and France. On his return voyage, he met Charles Thomas Jackson of Boston, who conducted various experiments with an electromagnet. Morse developed the concept of a single-wire telegraph and submitted a patent application for it. He did not receive a patent until 1847.With Professor Leonard Gale of New York University, Morse developed relay circuits that allowed the telegraphic signal to be transmitted over longer distances. After seeking funding unsuccessfully in Washington in 1838 and in Europe, Washington again appealed to Congress in December 1842. The following year, Congress appropriated $30,000 for the construction of an experimental telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore. In May 1844, Morse successfully sent the message, “What hath God wrought,” from the basement of the U.S. Capitol to Baltimore. A year later, the Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed to build telegraph lines between major cities, and by 1850, 12,000 miles of telegraph wire connected northeastern cities to each other and stretched as far as the Mississippi River. Morse married Sarah Elizabeth Griswold in 1848, and they had four children. He also developed the Morse code, a standardized system of short and long signals to form letters. In 1853, he successfully defended his telegraph patent before the U.S. Supreme Court. By the 1850s, Morse became active in the anti-Catholic and anti-immigration movements. He also defended slavery. He received numerous honors and financial awards from foreign governments, but the United States only recognized him near the end of his life and after his death.
Benjamin Silliman Sr. (1779-1864) was born in Connecticut and graduated from Yale College in 1796 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1799 with a master’s degree. He studied law and gained admission to the bar in 1802. That same year, the president of Yale hired Silliman as professor of chemistry and natural history, though Silliman had never studied chemistry. He studied chemistry in Philadelphia before delivering the first science lectures ever given at Yale in 1804. The following year, he traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, for further study. When he returned to New Haven, he also began studying geology. Although Yale did not admit women, Silliman welcomed them to his lectures. He continued lecturing on geology at Yale until 1855. He was also the first person to distill petroleum in the United States, and he was a founder of the American Journal of Science. He opposed slavery and was a supporter of the colonization movement for freed African Americans.
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Caption for photograph:
Not included. Photograph of Samuel F. B. Morse taken by Mathew Brady, ca. 1864, likely the photograph of which he sent a copy to Silliman. The medals he is wearing include ones from the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Denmark, Spain, France, and Italy, and on the bottom, the Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic from Spain.