1940 2¢ Samuel Morse
Famous Americans Series – Inventors
Issue Date: October 7, 1940
First City: New York, New York
Quantity Issued: 53,766,510
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforation: 10 ½ x 11
Color: Rose carmine
Samuel Morse, shown on U.S. #890, was a U.S. artist and inventor. He was the first president of the National Academy of Design, but is most remembered for inventing the telegraph.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born on April 27, 1791 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Morse 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 travel to England to study at the Royal Academy. 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.
In 1825, Morse had the honor of painting the 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’d died. By the time he returned home, she’d already been buried. Morse was distraught over the loss and upset that 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 and sent his first telegram on January 11, 1828, across two miles of wire. Morse and his assistant Alfred Vail created Morse Code, a “dot and dash” system used to send information through the telegraph’s clicking sounds. Together they continued to refine the system over the next few years.
In 1844, Morse built an experimental line from the old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, 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. During his lifetime, Morse received a number of honors from other nations, but it wasn’t until later in his life and after his death that he was extensively honored in the US. A year before he died, he was honored with a statue in New York’s Central Park. His portrait was also later featured on the back of US two-dollar bill silver certificates.
In 1938, the Post Office Department announced plans for a series of stamps recognizing 10 famous Americans and invited the public to submit recommendations. The response was so great that it was decided to increase the number from 10 to 35. This required an unexpected level of organization by the Post Office Department for this series.
Seven categories were decided upon – authors, poets, educators, scientists, composers, artists, and inventors. Each category of five has the same set of denominations – 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢. Each rate had a valid use. The 1¢ stamp paid for a letter that was dropped off at a post office to someone who had a box at the same office. The 2¢ was for local delivery. The 3¢ paid the normal non-local mail rate, and the 5¢ and 10¢ were used in combination for heavier letters and special rates. The denominations also shared a consistent coloring scheme: 1¢ is bright blue green; 2¢ is rose carmine; 3¢ is bright red violet; 5¢ is ultramarine; and 10¢ is dark brown.
Each category has its subjects arranged with the oldest birth date going on the 1¢ stamp, down to the most recent birth date on the 10¢ stamp. Each category has its own dedicated symbol in the engraving – a scroll, quill pen and inkwell for authors; a winged horse (Pegasus) for poets; the “Lamp of Knowledge” for educators; laurel leaves and the pipes of the Roman god Pan for composers; and inventors had a cogwheel with uplifted wings and a lightning flash to symbolize power, flight, and electricity.
The artists and the scientists have multiple symbols. Artists have either a paint palette and brush (for painters), and the sculptors have a stonecutting hammer and chisel. Scientists had the classical symbol of their particular profession.