Samuel Morse was a painter and inventor best known for the invention of the electric telegraph and Morse code.

Read the following:

“Samuel F. B. Morse and the Invention of the Telegraph”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
  • Read more about Indian smoke signals in Universal Indian Sign Language by William Tokins.
  • Learn the U.S. Navy signal flags and their meanings.
  • Learn more about railroad lantern signals in the American Boys Book of Signs, Signals, and Symbols.
  • Can you think of a specific time in history when a lantern was used as a signal? Answer at
  • View a painting showing a Chappe semaphore station at
  • View an illustration showing the various letters and numbers that could be made with the Chappe system.
  • Explain how the crossbeam signal telegraph of the 1850s worked.
  • Learn more about Oersted’s experiment from physicist Dr. David P. Stern.  (You can repeat it by following the instructions given at the bottom.)
  • Read more about Steinheil’s contribution at
  • View a photo of a Wheatstone and Cooke electric needle telegraph.
  • View a photo of a double-needle Wheatstone and Cooke telegraph system used by the Great Western Railway in England.
  • This code chart explains how letters were signaled with the two devices above.
  • Create your own message to send using one of the codes.
  • Read more about Morse’s classes with Professor Day (bottom of pg. 9 through 10).
  • View Morse’s painting House of Representatives at
  • View Morse’s painting General Lafayette.
  • Review the discoveries of Oersted, Faraday, and Sturgeon.
  • Read the footnote on page 219 that explains how in Morse’s early telegraph system numbers stood for words.  Narrate (or explain) the system to someone else.
  • View an illustration of the original Morse telegraph.
  • Learn how the telegraph works.
  • Translate a message into Morse code at
  • Explain what Morse’s brother Sidney meant when he stated, “I see … that the surface of the earth will be networked with wire, and every wire will be a nerve, carrying to every part intelligence of what is doing in every other part.”
  • View an illustration of Morse’s electric finger key.
  • Explain how the use of the electric finger key improved Morse’s original design (pg. 224).
  • View a photo of the original message sent by Morse at the Library of Congress.
  • Create a four-page flip book showing how you would signal something was wrong by smoke signals, signal flags, lantern signals, and Morse code.
  • Create a timeline of the major events in Samuel F. B. Morse’s life or the advances in communication (you’ll find resources below).
  • More about Samuel Morse and the telegraph from the Book of Knowledge:

    In 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse sent a message on his telegraph between Washington and Baltimore. That was the beginning of telegraphy as a successful commercial thing. The time before that date was what we might call the experimental period. Most of the inventions up to that time had used some form of magnetic needle, pith balls, or the like, which were moved by the magnetic field set up at the receiving end of a conductor….

    The problem was to have a device that would record the electrical impulses at the receiving end. It was easy enough to make and break the circuit at the sending end to send short and long impulses, which could form a code standing for letters of the alphabet. The trouble was that over a long distance the electric current would grow weaker and weaker, and only the most delicate devices could record the electrical impulses. The faint currents at the end of a long line could not operate a mechanical recording device successfully. Morse’s device for long-distance telegraphy established a method, or principle, of remote control that is the basis of long-distance communication and remote control in the telephone, radio, television and other applications of electricity.

    Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born in Massachusetts in 1791 and died in 1872. He graduate from Yale in 1810. His ambition was to be an artist. He studied painting and sculpture in England, and received a gold medal in 1813 for his sculpture, The Dying Hercules. He returned to America in 1815, and in 1824 organized what was to become the National Academy of Design. He was its first president.

    After another stay in Europe, Morse was made a professor in the University of New York City. There he became interested in electricity and studied it intensively. In 1832, while returning from Europe on the sailing ship Sully, he passed the time away by working out a scheme of telegraphy….

    Morse was delayed in building his first device, but it was completed and exhibited in 1835 at the New York University building. In 1837 he made a much better device and filed an application for a patent….

    For four years Morse went through may privations in his struggle to interest someone in financing his telegraph. Finally, on March 4, 1843, he was told that, in the last hour of the closing of its session, Congress had voted $30,000 for his experiment. In 1844 the work was finished, and on May 24 the first message, “What hath God wrought,” was sent from the Supreme Court room in Washington to Baltimore.

    From that day the telegraph was a success…. One of the most important devices invented by Vail [the man who invented the finger key and the man at the receiving end of the line for the first message] and Morse is the relay. This is an ingenious device at the receiving end of the line by which the feeble incoming currents open and close a circuit from a battery to the receiving instrument. The current generated by the battery is strong enough to work the sounder, or Morse register. That is, the faint electric impulses coming in over the wire do not directly work the receiving instrument, but, by using in the relay one of the types of magnet that Joseph Henry had invented, the faint currents make the relay act as a kind of switch. This switch controls a current from a battery. The current from the battery operates the receiver….

    The basic principles of the Morse telegraph remain the same today as in his first instrument, but the practical use of these principles has been vastly improved.

    “The Makers of Telegraphs, Telephones and Radio” from The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Samuel F. B. Morse Sent the First Telegraphic Message
Basic information for young students at the Library of Congress kids’ site.

Simple background in this ThinkQuest.

Samuel F. B. Morse
Biography at MIT.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse
Biography at

Early Telegraph Apparatus
Photos including one of Morse’s demonstration model at

Samuel F. B. Morse Papers
Primary source documents at the Library of Congress include first telegraph message and drawings of the apparatus.

The Electromagnetic Telegraph
Very complete information at the University of Denver for older students covering the history of the telegraph.

Milestones in Telegraphic History
Timeline to help with the suggestion above.


How to Build Simple Telegraph Sets
Great instructions — particularly for those interested in using this as a science fair project at

Morse Code Message
Printable translation activity at

Interactive Timeline Maker {Free}
Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing the major events in Samuel F. B. Morse’s life or the advances in communications.


“Samuel Finley Breese Morse”
Chapter covering Morse from Stories of Great Inventors by Hattie E. Macomber written for early readers.

“Morse and the Telegraph”
Chapter from A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston. You’ll want to read the next chapter as well. Great narration prompts at the end of each chapter!

Samuel Finley Breese Morse by John Trowbridge
Public domain biography covering his life and invention.

Heroes of the Telegraph by John Munro
Accessible public domain book covering the contributions of Wheatstone, Siemens, Graham Bell, Edison, and Morse.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Those Inventive Americans
Three activities in this simple Smithsonian lesson plan include creating a Morse code message, examining one of Morse’s paintings, and making a communications timeline.

Life in a Box: Samuel Morse
Library of Congress lesson plan that investigates the impact of the telegraph by analyzing primary source documents.

Electric Messages Then and Now
Students explore message systems, Morse code, simple circuits, and the impact of electrical communication in this IEEE lesson plan at

Morse Code Lesson Plan
Oldie but goodie covering communication and experimenting with Morse code at

Printables & Notebooking Pages

United States Map
At for locating Massachusetts.

Massachusetts State Map
At for locating Charlestown.

Morse Code Alphabet
Printable for notebook at

Morse and the Telegraph Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the entire series:
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions

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