Joseph Henry Advises Samuel Morse on Telegraph




Date: February 24, 1842


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In response to requests from Samuel Morse to help him obtain Congressional funding, Joseph Henry, physicist and professor at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, pens a letter that later becomes a key piece of evidence in the conflict between Morse and Henry over the origins of the telegraph. In his letter, Henry asserts that "science is now fully ripe" for an electromagnetic telegraph, and although such an invention has been suggested "by various persons from the time of Franklin to the present," it is not "until within the last few years or since the discoveries in electro-magnetism" that it has been practicable. He goes on to say that "little credit can be claimed" for the telegraph's invention "since it is one which would naturally arise in the mind of almost any person familiar with the phenomena of electricity," but he supports Morse's design over the needle telegraphs being proposed by European scientists.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Morse, Samuel Finley Breese 1791-1872


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • In 1846, Joseph Henry is appointed the first Secretary of the newly founded Smithsonian Institution.
  • Image is letter from Henry to Morse, February 24, 1842, from Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number SIA2012-2848.
  • Reingold, Nathan, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, The Princeton Years, January 1841 - December 1843, vol. 5. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985, pp. 150-51.
  • Moyer, Albert. Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997, pp. 241-42.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


February 24, 1842


  • Electric apparatus and appliances
  • Telegraph
  • Inventors
  • Letters
  • Inventions
  • Science
  • Electromagnets
  • History
  • Electromagnetic telegraph
  • Electromagnetism
  • Science--History


United States

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