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samuel f.b.morseEnlarge Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872)

Samuel F. B. Morse had spent much of his life trying to make his way as a painter, but his success in that endeavor had been limited. By the mid-1830s he was concentrating much of his energy on electrical experiments, which culminated with his 1838 creation of a model for the modern telegraph. In 1843, with financial backing from Congress, Morse was ready to test the practical application of his invention, and the B&O Railroad granted him permission to run transmission wires along its right of way between Baltimore and Washington-a distance of about forty miles. On May 24, 1844, Morse, seated at one of his telegraphs inside the U.S. Capitol, tapped out the words "What hath God wrought?" Seconds later, that message was being received at the B&O's Mount Clare depot in Baltimore, and the age of instantaneous long- distance communication had begun in earnest. Clearly impressed, a correspondent from the Baltimore Sun reported that this event had forced him to confront "the reality of the complete annihilation of space."

Mathew Brady Studio (active 1844-1883)
Modern albumen silver print from a wet-plate collodion negative, circa 1862
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution