20 June 1840: patent granted for Morse code

Samuel Morse © Getty Images
Morse: inspired by tragedy

Most inventors have an interest in either science or engineering. However, for the first four decades of his life, Samuel Morse’s great passion was painting.

After getting his parents’ permission to travel to England in 1811 to study at the Royal Academy in London, Morse became a well-known American painter.

However, while carrying out a major commission in 1825, he received news that his wife was unexpectedly ill. But, because the letter was delayed in the post, she had been buried by the time he returned home.

While returning from an overseas painting tour in 1832, Morse met a scientist who told him about the developments in electromagnets.

Remembering how the slow speed of mail had personally affected him, he put his painting to one side and came up with the idea for a system that could rapidly transmit information over an electrical wire.

While very primitive telegraph machines already existed, Morse worked out that the ‘Morse Code’,  a system of representing letters by dots and dashes, could greatly speed up the process.

By 1837, he had developed a working prototype and submitted a patent application (which would be granted in June 1840).

By 1842, he had persuaded the US government to provide financial support to lay the first wires between Washington DC and Baltimore, transmitting the first inter-city message (“what hath God wrought?”) in 1844.

This generated a huge amount of public interest, leading to a dramatic rise in investment. By 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph was constructed. Finally, in 1866 an undersea cable connected Britain and America.

• See all our days in history here.

66% off newsstand price

12 issues (and much more) for just £12

That’s right. We’ll give you 12 issues of MoneyWeek magazine, complete access to our exclusive web articles, our latest wealth building reports and videos as well as our subscriber-only email… for just £12.

That’s just £1 per week for Britain’s best-selling financial magazine.

Click here to take advantage of our offer

Britain is leaving the European Union. Donald Trump is reducing America’s role in global markets. Both will have profound consequences for you as an investor.

MoneyWeek analyses the critical issues facing British investors on a weekly basis. And, unlike other publications, we provide you with the solutions to help you turn a situation to your financial advantage.

Take up our offer today, and we’ll send you three of our most important investment reports:

All three of these reports are yours when you take up our 12 issues for £12 offer today.

MoneyWeek has been advising private British investors on what to do with their money since 2000. Our calls over that period have enabled our readers to both make and save a great deal of money – hence our position as the UK’s most-trusted investment publication.

Click here to subscribe for just £12