Death of Samuel Morse
Woodrow Wilson Declares War

 Samuel Morse Dies 

U.S. #890 – Morse was honored in the Famous Americans series in 1940.

On April 2, 1872, telegraph inventor Samuel Morse died.

Samuel Morse was born on April 27, 1791 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He attended Yale College where he studied religious philosophy, mathematics, and the science of horses. Morse frequently attended lectures on electricity and supported himself by painting.

Morse’s painting ability proved to be a true talent and in 1811 he was recruited to study at the Royal Academy in England.  He was particularly inspired by the works of Michelangelo and Raphael and produced a number of impressive paintings. Morse then returned to America 1815 to begin his career as a full-time painter. For the next 10 years he painted several major figures, including Presidents John Adams and James Monroe. He also helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City and served as its first president.

U.S. #924 was issued on the 100th anniversary of Morse’s first long-distance telegraph.

In 1825, Morse had the honor of painting Marquis de Lafayette. While he was working, he received a letter by horse messenger from his father telling him his wife was very ill. The next day he received another letter saying she had died. By the time he returned home, she’d already been buried. Morse was distraught over the loss and upset he hadn’t received the news of her poor health sooner. He then resolved to find a faster means of long distance communication.

Morse continued painting and traveling, leading him to meet an expert in electromagnetism in 1832. After witnessing his experiments with electromagnets, Morse developed the idea of the single-wire telegraph. Though other inventors in Europe were also working on their own telegraphs, Morse continued work on his own. He received his patent in 1837. Morse and his assistant Alfred Vail created Morse Code to transmit messages over telegraph and continued to refine the system over the next few years.

U.S. #16T101 – 1940 Telegraph stamp picturing Morse. Click the image to read more about Telegraph stamps.

In 1844, Morse built an experimental line from the old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., to the Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore, Maryland. Morse sent the first message, “What hath God wrought,” a quote from the book of Numbers in the Bible. Commercial telegraphy took off in America after that. In 1851, Morse’s telegraphic design was adopted as the standard in Europe as well. By the time the Civil War began, telegraph lines were strung from coast to coast, making almost instant communication possible.

Morse later worked on the transatlantic cable and invented a marble-cutting machine, before his death on April 2, 1872.

Click here to see some of Morse’s art.

Also on This Day in History… April 2, 1917
Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War 

U.S. #623 pictures Wilson’s favorite photo of himself.

President Woodrow Wilson address Congress on April 2, 1917, asking to declare war and join World War I.

The U.S. was unprepared for war in 1914, and most Americans did not favor any involvement in the conflict abroad. President Woodrow Wilson called for the country to be “impartial in thought as well as in action.” Opinions started to shift when German mines began sinking the ships of Great Britain, which was one of America’s closest trading partners. Tensions rose further in February 1915, when Germany declared a war zone around Britain and promised unrestricted warfare against all ships entering it. Just one month later, a German cruiser sank the William P. Frye, an American merchant ship transporting grain to England. The German government issued an apology, calling the attack an unfortunate mistake, but Americans were outraged.

U.S. #3183i – James M. Flagg based this famous image of Uncle Sam partly on himself.

In early May 1915, the German embassy in Washington warned that Americans traveling on Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. Several New York newspapers published the warning. In one paper, the announcement was placed on the same page as an advertisement for an upcoming sailing of the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner, which was scheduled to travel from New York to Liverpool, England. On May 7, a German submarine torpedoed the Lusitania without warning off the coast of Ireland. Among the passengers killed were 128 Americans. Although it was revealed that the ship was carrying some 173 tons of war munitions for Great Britain, the U.S. protested the attack and Germany pledged to end its unrestricted submarine warfare.

Britain urged the U.S. to declare war on Germany immediately, but Wilson was hesitant. On November 7, 1915, the Italian liner Ancona was torpedoed without warning, killing more than 250 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion in the U.S. changed rapidly. However, Wilson was reelected in November 1916, after campaigning with a pledge to keep the nation out of war. But before his second inauguration, Germany announced it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare, promising to attack all neutral ships sailing into a German war zone without warning, whether armed or unarmed. On February 3, 1917, Wilson broke off all diplomatic ties with Germany. Hours later, the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. Congress quickly passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill to ready the nation for war. In March, Germany sank four additional U.S. merchant ships. The discovery of the so-called Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany’s foreign secretary proposed an alliance with Mexico against the U.S., further inflamed Americans. The final straw came on April 1, 1917, when the U.S. steamer Aztec was torpedoed and 28 crew members died.

U.S. #2154 – More than 8 million soldiers and 13 million civilians lost their lives during the “Great War.”

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before Congress to call for a declaration of war against Germany. He claimed, “Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its people, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people.”

Congress approved Wilson’s declaration four days later, on April 6. After four years of deadly stalemate along the Western Front, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France on June 26, 1917. America’s entrance into the conflict was a major turning point. When World War I ended on November 11, 1918, over 2 million Americans had served and over 50,000 had been killed. The Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian Empires were crushed and the United States emerged as the world’s greatest superpower. Tanks, airplanes, submarines, and poison gas had been used in battle for the first time. War reparations levied against Germany crippled their economy, setting the stage for the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II.

Click here to read the full text of Wilson’s speech.

Click the images to add this history to your collection.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
5/5 - (5 votes)
Share this Article


  1. The article about Samuel Morse was beyond incredible particularly after seeing his artwork. Everyone is aware of his invention but I was totally unaware of his artistic brilliance. I was captivated by the quote in the section [Early Life] subtitled: Growing Artist. “Attend to one thing at a time. The steady and undissipated attention to one object is the sure mark of a superior genius” -Jedidiah Morse, father of Samuel F B Morse- I will have to read about Woodrow Wilson tomorrow.

  2. I didn’t realize how old his telegraph using magnetism invention is. Single wire telegraph replaced smoke signals…..a giant leap forward for communications.

  3. WOW ! I wish that these stories would be in all schools..So much more interesting than current history books.

  4. Morse is buried in Greenwood Cemetery Brooklyn New York. His massive tombstone is very impressive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *