Although best known for developing the electro-magnetic telegraph, Samuel Morse began his career as an artist. He painted this self-portrait as a twenty-year-old art student in London. After returning to the United States in 1815, Morse supported himself as a portraitist while struggling to attract an audience for his history paintings. He was particu-larly disappointed not to receive a government commission to create artwork for the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Morse’s failure to secure government patronage might have resulted, in part, from his nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-abolitionist politics.
Morse had first studied electricity as a student at Yale College (1805–10). In 1832, he conceived of a device to send coded messages via electric wire. Although others had devised electric telegraphs, Morse’s machine achieved international success for its efficient design. The telegraph and development of Morse Code brought him fame and fortune while marking a significant advance in long-distance communications technology.