Joseph Henry Testifies for Morse v. O'Reilly Telegraph Patent Case




Date: September 7, 1849


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Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry is summoned to Boston and reluctantly provides a deposition in an appeal of a patent infringement case won the previous year by Samuel F. B. Morse. He provides a history of discoveries in electromagnetism upon which Morse's telegraph is based, including his own work, and credits Morse not with any original discovery but only with "the invention of a particular instrument and process for telegraphic purposes" (Annual Report 1857, p. 113).


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


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Image is of Morse's 1837 experimental telegraph, Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number 91-3689.
  • For Henry's deposition, see
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1857. Washington, D.C.: William A. Harris, 1858, p. 107-117.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 7. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996, p. 600.

Contact information

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


September 7, 1849


  • Patents
  • Telegraph
  • Controversies
  • Secretaries
  • Actions and defenses
  • Inventions
  • Electromagnets
  • Electromagnetism

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