F. B. Morse is known to the public at large as the inventor of the
telegraph and to students of art as a portrait painter of considerable
ability. In addition to these accomplishments, he has rightfully been
called the "Father of American Photography."
involvement with photography dates from 1838 at which time he had gone
abroad to secure patents in England and France for his telegraphic
device. The negotiations for the patents were consider- ably extended
and Morse was forced to remain in Paris until the spring of 1839. It
was, of course, at this time that the work of Daguerre was attracting
popular attention with the first daguerreotypes creating a sensation in
the French capital.
in common with many other celebrities-for his telegraph was also a
matter of public conversation-asked Daguerre for an interview in order
to see and discuss the specimens of the new art. Daguerre graciously
responded and Morse, early in March 1839, had the privilege of viewing a
photo- graph for the first time. He immediately wrote to his brothers in
New York telling them of his visit with Daguerre and of the
daguerreotype, which he described as "one of the most beautiful
discoveries of the age." The description was published in the New
York Observer on April 20, 1839, and was widely copied by
other newspapers through- out the country. It was the first account of
the daguerreotype written by an American. Morse did not learn
daguerreotype while in Paris, but on his return from abroad in the fall
of 1839, he became one of the first Americans to experiment with the new
art. Before the year ended he had made many daguerreotypes, including
portraits of his family.
matter of portraiture by photography had particularly interested Morse,
but the time of exposure required by the original process was so long
that the taking of portraits seemed to be out of the question. Outdoor
views of still objects, strongly illuminated, appeared to be the only
possible subjects for the camera. However, Morse and several other
Americans set to work and were among the first, if not the first, to
adapt the new art to portraiture.
American who became interested in making portraits by daguerreotype was
Dr. J. W. Draper, a teacher of chemistry in the University of the City
of New York and a colleague of Morse. Morse and Draper soon joined
forces and together they opened one of the earliest photographic
"parlors" in this country. (The exact date is not known, but
it was probably during the spring of 1840.) The "parlor" was a
glass house on the roof of a building at the northeast corner of Nassau
and Beekman streets in New York City. Here, with the sun concentrated on
"sitters" by means of mirrors, some of the earliest portraits
in professional photography were made.
for these beginnings in photography it was a most discouraging period in
the life of Morse. He had previously supported himself by fees from
students of painting, but through his concentration on the development
of telegraphy and his trip abroad, most of these students had been lost.
Meanwhile he was waiting recognition and support from the United States
government, support that was slow in coming. Morse was thus without
means and, if it had not been for his return from his new venture in
daguerreotype, he would have been in a precarious financial condition.
For a year or so, his new profession did bring him a small profit, and
he was thus able to continue with the development of the telegraph.
soon found another source of income from his new profession -students of
the new art began coming to him for lessons. His fee was
"twenty-five or fifty dollars"- probably dependent on ability
to pay and a considerable number of students appeared. It is for his
students that Morse best deserves the title "Father of American
Photography." Included among them were: Mathew B. Brady, the best-
known name in American professional photography; Edward Anthony, founder
of the celebrated photographic firm of Anthony and Company; Samuel
Broadbent of Philadelphia; Albert S. Southworth of Boston, a member of
the celebrated firm of Southworth and Hawes; and many others.
was granted American patents for the telegraph in 1840 but not until
1843 did Congress appropriate funds for the construction of a trial
line. Although Morse abandoned his work in photography after 1843, he
maintained a marked interest in the art for the rest of his life and
many times was called upon to act as judge in photographic events and
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