..-. --- .-.. .-.. --- .-- -- --- .-. ... . .----. ... -.-. --- -.. . ..-. --- .-. .- ..-. ..- .-.. ..-. .. .-.. .-.. .. -. --. .-.. .. ..-. . ** Follow Morse’s code for a fulfilling life
I remember the day I realized my mom was a wise woman. I was at a friend’s house, and she said something like this to her mother, “Mom, I want to be a ballerina.” Immediately her mother pointed out what a silly, ridiculous dream this was.
My mother would never had said that. She would have said something ambiguous like, “Oh, that sounds exciting,” but never would she have told me I couldn’t do it.
She knew a lot about life. She knew for as many plans as a person makes, there are just as many detours that might move her toward a different future.
I homeschool my children and I was reminded of that this week as we studied Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and Morse code, among other things. From a young age Morse set his sights on becoming an artist … not an inventor, not a scientist, nope. He was passionate about art. His parents valued academics and tried to discourage the art thing. They recognized how smart their Sam was and, indeed, he entered Yale College at the age of 14.
But when Samuel began to make a little money on the side by painting miniature portraits, his parents threw their hands up in the air and sent him away to art school. He attended the Royal Academy of Art in England and began a modest career as an artist.
Morse became well known in America and was asked to paint famous people such as Presidents John Adams and James Monroe. But in 1825, in the midst of working on a painting, Morse received word via horse messenger that his wife was ill after the birth of their child. He was in Washington D.C., and his wife was in Connecticut. By the time he made it home she had already died. Some say it was this tragic experience that moved Morse down the beginning of a rabbit trail, churning over the idea of communication and its timeliness.
In 1832 Morse unwittingly moved a little farther down this trail while on a boat crossing the Atlantic. Morse was part of a conversation between two men of science who were discussing electromagnetism. The story goes that Morse asked one of the men whether it was true that an electric impulse could be transmitted instantaneously via wire. The man agreed this was true. It was this nugget of fact that jettisoned Morse onto something big, something really big.
Apparently, Morse began working on an invention in his head. He was creating a gadget to instantaneously send messages across wire. After years of hard work trying to get the idea patented, the telegraph was born. Morse created his own language, Morse Code, to be used by the telegraph.
Before this, the quickest way to send a message was through semaphore … a system of men in towers with flags. As soon as the telegraph was invented it became essential to society. Even Abraham Lincoln was said to be a tech-geek, fascinated by this newest technology — the telegraph and using it whenever possible to communicate with his Union generals.
Samuel Morse’s parents would have been so proud of him. He did become someone significant to our society. He was an inventor, a scientist, a professor, but it all started with a dream of becoming an artist. In his person, the combination of tragic circumstances, his ability to create beauty, and his persistence in problem-solving mixed together to create the most significant communications revolution since movable type.
You never know what you might create on your way somewhere else.
Oliver Hampton Smith, an acquaintance of Morse’s, summed up Morse’s experience well—
“Could we lift the curtain which hides our future lives, and glance hastily at the misfortunes, the vexations, and the disappointments which await us, we should be discouraged from attempting the performance of even such deeds as are destined eventually to crown us with honor.”
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.