Jan 112019
 

Today is the birthday (1807) of Ezra Cornell, a telegraph magnate involved in the founding of Western Union and a co-founder of Cornell University. Cornell was born in Westchester Landing, in what became the Bronx, New York, and was raised near DeRuyter, New York. He was a cousin of Paul Cornell, the founder of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Having traveled extensively as a carpenter in New York State, Ezra, upon first setting eyes on Cayuga Lake and Ithaca, decided in 1828 that Ithaca would be his home.

Upon arriving in Ithaca, Cornell first found work as a carpenter before being hired as a mechanic by Otis Eddy to work at his cotton mill on Cascadilla Creek. On Eddy’s recommendation, Jeremiah S. Beebe then hired Cornell to repair and overhaul his plaster and flour mills on Fall Creek. During Cornell’s long association with Beebe, he designed and built a tunnel for a new mill race on Fall Creek; a stone dam on Fall Creek, which formed Beebe Lake; and a new flour mill. By 1832, he was in charge of all Beebe’s concerns at Fall Creek.

Ezra Cornell was a birthright Quaker from a long lineage of Quakers, but he was later disowned by the Society of Friends for marrying outside of the faith to a “world’s woman,” Mary Ann Wood, a Methodist. They were married March 19th, 1831, in Dryden, New York. Cornell’s young and growing family needed more income than he could earn as manager of Beebe’s Mills. So, having purchased rights in a patent for a new type of plough, Cornell began what would be decades of traveling away from Ithaca. His territories for sales of the plough were the states of Maine and Georgia. His plan was to sell in Maine in the summer and the milder Georgia in the winter. With limited means, he is reported to have walked between the two states.

Happening into the offices of the Maine Farmer in 1842, Cornell saw an acquaintance of his, F.O.J. Smith, bent over some plans for a “scraper” as Smith called it. For services rendered, Smith had been granted a one-quarter share of the telegraph patent held by Samuel F.B. Morse, and was attempting to devise a way of burying the telegraph lines in the ground in lead pipe. Ezra’s knowledge of ploughs was put to the test and Ezra devised a special kind of plough that would dig a 2 feet 6 inches ditch, lay the pipe and telegraph wire in the ditch and cover it back up as it went. Later it was found that condensation in the pipes and poor insulation of the wires impeded the electrical current on the wires and so hanging the wire from telegraph poles became the accepted method.

Cornell made his fortune in the telegraph business as an associate of Samuel Morse, having gained his trust by constructing and stringing the telegraph poles between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, as the first ever telegraph line of substance in the U.S. To address the problem of telegraph lines shorting out to the ground, Cornell invented the idea of using glass insulators at the point where telegraph lines are connected to supporting poles. After joining with Morse, Cornell supervised the erection of many telegraph lines, including a portion of the New York, Albany & Buffalo line in 1846 and the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company connecting Buffalo to Milwaukee with partners John James Speed and Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith. Cornell, Speed and Smith also built the New York and Erie line competing with and paralleling to the south the New York, Albany and Buffalo line in which Morse had a major share. The line was completed in 1849 and Cornell was made president of the company.

Cornell’s sister Phoebe married Martin B. Wood and moved to Albion, Michigan, in 1848. Cornell gave Wood a job constructing new lines and made Phoebe his telegraph operator, the first woman operator in the United States. Cornell earned a substantial fortune when the Erie and Michigan was consolidated with Hiram Sibley and his New York and Mississippi Company to form the Western Union company. Cornell received two million in Western Union stock.

Cornell was a Republican member of the New York State Assembly (Tompkins Co.) in 1862 and 1863; and of the New York State Senate from 1864 to 1867.

Cornell retired from Western Union and turned his attention to philanthropy. He endowed the Cornell Library, a public library for the citizens of Ithaca. As a lifelong enthusiast of science and agriculture, he saw great opportunity in the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act to found a university that would teach practical subjects on an equal basis with the classics favored by more traditional institutions. Andrew Dickson White helped secure the new institution’s status as New York’s land grant university, and Cornell University was granted a charter through their efforts in 1865.

Lands granted by the Morrill Act to universities in states without substantial federal land could be claimed in those states which had a large surplus of unclaimed land. Cornell University’s endowment was a stand-out success based on Ezra Cornell’s judicious investment in federal land, especially timber land in Wisconsin. Unlike most land grant universities, who sold their land immediately, under Ezra’s leadership Cornell managed and maintained its land for an extended period, only selling it at the most opportune time. The university was able to reap an unprecedented $5 million endowment as a result.

Ezra Cornell entered the railroad business, but fared poorly due to the Panic of 1873. He began construction of a palatial Ithaca mansion, Llenroc (Cornell spelled in reverse) to replace his farmhouse, Forest Home, but died before it was completed. Llenroc was maintained by Cornell’s heirs for several decades until being sold to the local chapter of the Delta Phi fraternity, which occupies it to this day; Forest Home was sold to the Delta Tau Delta chapter and later demolished. Cornell is interred in Sage Chapel on Cornell’s campus, along with Daniel Willard Fiske and Jennie McGraw. Cornell was originally interred in Lake View Cemetery, Ithaca N.Y., then moved to Sage Chapel.

I have some quirky associations with Cornell University. One is that Cornell University press published my doctoral dissertation, and because the acquisitions editor for anthropology was a close friend of mine, and former colleague, I visited Cornell on a number of occasions. Also, a former student of mine studied there as a graduate student, so I went to her various graduations.

More in the food line, I pointed out here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cornell-university/ that Cornell’s school colors of carnelian and white were adopted by the Campbell’s soup company as their, now iconic, colors. That might give you some ideas.

Ithaca is also in serious apple growing territory. At one point when Ezra Cornell was planning the grounds of his estate, he wrote: “Yesterday I staked off the ground on the hill for an orchard. I want to get 1000 apple trees agrowing.” I’m not sure why he need 1,000 apple trees; one or two are enough for family consumption. That gives you scope to think in terms of apple pie, baked apples, or, my personal favorite, apple crumble. I probably make 30 or more apple crumbles per year. How about apple crumb cake? This was very popular in apple country in New York where I used to live.

Apple Crumb Cake

Cake:

¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cup milk
2 large eggs
3 ½ cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 large apples, cored and sliced thin

Crumb Topping:
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz cold butter, cut into pieces
2 cups walnuts, chopped

Syrup Topping:

1 cup Cinnamon Apple Syrup or Apple Cider Syrup
½ cup heavy cream

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.

For the cake- beat together the oil, milk, and eggs in a medium bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients. Gently stir in the vanilla.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Lay half of the apple slices over the batter to create a colorful pattern.

For the Crumb Topping- place the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter in a medium bowl. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender or work with your hands until crumbs the size of peas form. Mix in the nuts.

Cover the apples with a thin layer of crumb topping. Layer in the remaining apples. Spread the remaining batter over the apples and top with remaining crumb topping.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

For the Syrup topping- combine the syrup and the cream in a heavy saucepan and heat, stirring frequently.

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with warm syrup topping.

Dec 132017
 

Today is the birthday (1830) of Mathilde Fibiger, noted Danish campaigner for equal rights for women, novelist, and professional telegraph operator. She was born in Copenhagen. Her first novel, Clara Raphael, Tolv Breve (Clara Raphael, Twelve Letters), published in 1851, championed women’s rights. It is the partially autobiographical story of a young woman, Clara Raphael, who works as a governess in the provinces. It is based in part on Fibiger’s experiences as a private tutor on the island of Lolland in 1849. The novel consists largely of letters written by Clara to her friend, Mathilde. Clara’s ideas about women living an independent life run counter to the beliefs of the local population, and she resolves to make women’s emancipation her life objective. The book created a great deal of controversy on its publication in 1851. The Danish literary establishment was sharply divided between those who supported her and those who felt that her ideas were too radical, but they all agreed on the literary merit of her work. She was only 20 when the novel was published, and, in doing so, she was the first public figure in Denmark to champion women’s rights.

Countering public opposition to women’s rights, Fibiger published two pamphlets, “Hvad er Emancipation?” (What is Emancipation?) and “Et Besøg” (A Visit). Her later novels included En Skizze efter det virkelige Liv (A Sketch from Real Life) (1853) and Minona. En Fortaelling (Minona: A Tale) (1854). En Skizze efter det virkelige Liv is the story of two sisters who are orphaned at an early age, and the men with whom they develop relationships. The older sister rejects her suitor, feeling that men are weak, while the younger sister falls in love. Minona created new controversy with its complex plot involving unwed mothers and incest. Minona, the chief character, overcomes her incestuous attraction after converting to Christianity.

While Fibiger’s novels generated critical acclaim, they were not commercially successful, and she began to look for other means to support herself. She supplemented a meager allowance, received from the state, by dressmaking and translating German literary works. In 1863, she began training as a telegraph operator for the Danish State Telegraph service, which had recently decided to hire women as operators under the management of Director Peter Faber. In 1866, she completed her training at the Helsingør telegraph station, and became the first woman to be employed as a telegraph operator in Denmark.

After two years in Helsingør, she was transferred to Nysted in 1869 to manage a newly opened station. Not surprisingly, she encountered resistance from male operators, who saw the employment of women as operators as a threat to their livelihood. In spite of her managerial position, her pay at Nysted was scarcely sufficient to enable her to pay her expenses. The following year, she applied for a transfer to the telegraph station in Aarhus.

She continued to experience difficulties in Aarhus, where the station manager had opposed her assignment. The problems she experienced in her telegraphic work began to affect her health. She died in Aarhus in 1872 at the age of 41. She is remembered today in Denmark not only as a pioneering feminist who wrote in support of women’s rights, but also as the woman who opened the door for the employment of women in the Danish State Telegraph service.

Because of her prominence in early efforts in Denmark to gain equal rights for women, the Dansk Kvindesamfund (Danish Women’s Society) created Mathildeprisen (The Mathilde Prize) in her honor. The Mathilde Prize was established in 1970 and is awarded to both men and women in recognition of work that advances gender equality. Recipients of the prize includes Suzanne Brøgger, Joan-søstrene, Kenneth Reinicke, Anja Andersen, and Anja C. Andersen.

Also, a small garden square adjacent to the Women’s Museum in central Aarhus is named Mathilde Fibigers Have in her honor, and a Danish stamp was issued recognizing her importance in Danish history.

Danish cuisine tends to be a bit on the basic side even though there is a strong emphasis on good, natural flavors and local ingredients. Denmark is world famous for its butter and pork products, dairying and pig farming having been natural complements for centuries. Stegt flæsk med persillesovs, pork belly with parsley sauce, as of 2014 is the official national dish of Denmark, after a popular vote. You don’t really need a recipe, but I’ll give you one. Stegt flæsk literally translates as fried pork, but the pork in question is pork belly. Some people translate flæsk as bacon, but that is incorrect. Stegt flæsk uses either plain or salt cured pork belly, but never smoked. The difficulty in many countries is getting plain pork bellies.  When I lived in New York I used to get them from butchers in Chinatown. The pork slices need to be about ¼ inch thick. Nowadays, Danish cooks often roast the pork slices in the oven, but traditionally it was fried, and that’s how I prepare it.

Stegt flæsk med persillesovs

Ingredients

600 g sliced pork belly
1 kg potatoes
30g butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk (approx.)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Boil the potatoes whole until they are soft (about 20 minutes). I like to use small potatoes that can be served whole. I boil them with skins on and then peel them after they have cooked.

Dry the pork thoroughly and season it with salt and pepper to taste. If it is salt cured it will not need more salt. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and fry the pork in batches, turning frequently until they are golden and crispy. Pat off excess fat with paper towels and keep warm in the oven.

Make a white roux with the butter and flour. Begin by melting the butter over low heat in a pan. When it has melted, but before it starts to bubble, add the flour and whisk to combine. Do not let the roux take on any color. Add a little milk and whisk well to blend. Continue adding milk a little at a time and whisking over low heat. It will be very thick at first, and will still be thick when you have added all the milk.  Let it simmer gently for a few minutes, then add the parsley, plus salt and white pepper to taste. As far as I am concerned, you cannot add too much parsley.

Serve slices of pork belly with the parsley sauce poured over the potatoes.

Velbekomme

Feb 062016
 

cw2

Today is the birthday of Sir Charles Wheatstone who became famous for his many scientific explorations and advances in the Victorian era. Although much work attributed to him, especially the Wheatstone bridge, built directly on the pioneering work of others, he is rightly celebrated for being the inventor of the English concertina. That’s how I know about him – I’ve always wanted a Wheatstone concertina – but on exploring further I must admit that I find his entire life and work fascinating.

Wheatstone was born in Barnwood, Gloucester. His father was a music-seller in the town, who moved to 128 Pall Mall, London, four years later, becoming a teacher of the flute. Charles, the second son, went to a village school, near Gloucester, and afterwards to several institutions in London. He was not happy in school, though, so when he was about fourteen years old he was apprenticed to his uncle and namesake, a maker and seller of musical instruments at 436 Strand, London. But he showed little taste for handicraft or business, and loved books better. His father encouraged him in this, and finally took him out of the uncle’s charge.

At the age of fifteen, Wheatstone translated French poetry, and wrote two songs, one of which was given to his uncle, who published it without knowing it as his nephew’s composition. He often visited an old book-stall in the vicinity of Pall Mall, which was then a dilapidated and unpaved thoroughfare. Most of his pocket-money was spent on purchasing the books which had taken his fancy, whether fairy tales, history, or science. One day, to the surprise of the bookseller, he coveted a volume on the discoveries of Volta in electricity, but not having the price, he saved his pennies and secured the volume. It was written in French, and so he was obliged to save again, until he could buy a dictionary. Then he began to read the volume, and, with the help of his elder brother, William, to repeat the experiments described in it, with a home-made battery, in the scullery behind his father’s house. In constructing the battery, the boy philosophers ran short of money to procure the requisite copper-plates. They had only a few copper coins left. A happy thought occurred to Charles, who was the leading spirit in these researches, ‘We must use the pennies themselves,’ said he, and the battery was soon complete.

Though silent and reserved in public, Wheatstone was a clear and voluble talker in private. Sir Henry Taylor tells us that he once observed Wheatstone at an evening party in Oxford earnestly holding forth to Lord Palmerston on the capabilities of his telegraph. ‘You don’t say so!’ said Palmerston. ‘I must get you to tell that to the Lord Chancellor.’ And so saying, he fastened the electrician on Lord Westbury, and effected his escape. A reminiscence of this interview may have prompted Palmerston to remark that a time was coming when a minister might be asked in Parliament if war had broken out in India, and would reply, ‘Wait a minute; I’ll just telegraph to the Governor-General, and let you know.’

Sir Charles Wheatstone

Wheatstone was knighted in 1868, after his completion of the automatic telegraph. He had previously been made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Some thirty-four distinctions and diplomas of home or foreign societies bore witness to his scientific reputation. In 1836 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1859 he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and in 1873 a Foreign Associate of the French Academy of Sciences. The same year he was awarded the Ampere Medal by the French Society for the Encouragement of National Industry. In 1875 he was created an honorary member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was a D.C.L. of Oxford and an LL.D. of Cambridge.

While on a visit to Paris during the autumn of 1875, and engaged in perfecting his receiving instrument for submarine cables, he caught a cold, which produced inflammation of the lungs, an illness from which he died in Paris, on 19 October 1875. A memorial service was held in the Anglican Chapel, Paris, and attended by a deputation of the Academy. His remains were taken to his home in Park Crescent, London, (marked by a blue plaque today) and buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Here’s a brief epitome of Wheatstone’s achievements:

cw14

1827 Kaleidophone. Wheatstone introduced a device for rendering the vibrations of a sounding body apparent to the eye. It consists of a metal rod, carrying at its end a silvered bead, which reflects a ‘spot’ of light. As the rod vibrates the spot is seen to describe complicated figures in the air, like a spark whirled about in the darkness. His photometer was probably suggested by this appliance. It enables two lights to be compared by the relative brightness of their reflections in a silvered bead, which describes a narrow ellipse, so as to draw the spots into parallel lines.

1827 Microphone. Wheatstone devised a simple instrument for augmenting feeble sounds, to which he gave the name “microphone.” It consisted of two slender rods, which conveyed the mechanical vibrations of sounds to both ears. This instrument is quite different from the electrical microphone we now know, but the word was his.

cw8  cw7

1829 Concertina. The Wheatstone concertina is an outgrowth from a kind of mouth organ he developed. The mouth organ had free reeds on the inside like a conventional one, but you blew into it and changed the pitch by pressing buttons on the side (instead of moving your mouth). This led to replacing the mouthpiece with bellows for generating the air pressure needed to sound the reeds. The Wheatstone concertina is a univocal instrument (same note when you push or pull the bellows), and is fully chromatic, producing 4 octaves in some instruments. So it is very versatile.

Wheatstone and his brother founded a company that manufactured concertinas which is still going strong although current models are not as good as older ones (and very expensive). In Wheatstone’s day the concertina was primarily used for classical music, and there were whole orchestras of players with instruments of different sizes and tones. In my 20s I met a number of aging people who had played in concertina orchestras in England in the early part of the 20th century. But in the early 1960s the concertina was adopted by the folk revival in England. Here’s Alf Edwards, who was an early advocate, playing to accompany A.L. Lloyd.

cw9

1831 Enchanted Lyre. Wheatstone exhibited the ‘Enchanted Lyre,’ or ‘Aconcryptophone,’ at the music-shop in Pall Mall and in the Adelaide Gallery. It consisted of a mimic lyre hung from the ceiling by a cord, and emitting the strains of several instruments – the piano, harp, and dulcimer. In reality it was a mere sounding box, and the cord was a steel rod that conveyed the vibrations of the music from the several instruments which were played out of sight and ear-shot.

1834 Speed of electricity. Wheatstone used revolving mirrors to measure the speed of electricity traveling through nearly 8 miles of wire. Although his calculations mistakenly led him to the conclusion that electricity travels faster than light, his ingenious experiment corrected the common belief of the time that electricity traveled instantaneously. His results gave a calculated velocity of 288,000 miles per second, i.e. faster than what we now know to be the speed of light (299,792.458 kilometers per second (186,000 mi/s)), but were nonetheless a decent approximation for the time.

cw3

1834 Rheostat and Wheatstone bridge. Charles Wheatstone was appointed professor of experimental physics at King’s College in London, where he conducted pioneering experiments in electricity and invented an improved dynamo, and two devices to measure and regulate electrical resistance and current: the rheostat and the Wheatstone bridge (based on an earlier invention by Samuel Hunter Christie).

cw11

1835 Spectroscopy. John Munroe wrote, “In 1835, at the Dublin meeting of the British Association, Wheatstone showed that when metals were volatilised in the electric spark, their light, examined through a prism, revealed certain rays which were characteristic of them. Thus the kind of metals which formed the sparking points could be determined by analysing the light of the spark. This suggestion has been of great service in spectrum analysis, and as applied by Robert Bunsen, Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, and others, has led to the discovery of several new elements, such as rubidium and thallium, as well as increasing our knowledge of the heavenly bodies.”

cw4

1837 Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph. Wheatstone collaborated with William Cooke to patent a telegraph system which used a number of needles on a board that could be moved to point to letters of the alphabet. The patent recommended a five-needle system, but any number of needles could be used depending on the number of characters it was required to code. A four-needle system was installed between Euston and Camden Town in London on a rail line being constructed by Robert Stephenson between London and Birmingham. It was successfully demonstrated on 25 July 1837. The train carriages were detached at Camden Town and travelled under gravity into Euston. A system was needed to signal to an engine house at Camden Town to start hauling the carriages back up the incline to the waiting locomotive. This system was eventually superseded by Samuel Morse’s telegraph.

cw10

1838 Stereoscope. Wheatstone invented the stereoscope that showed three-dimensional photographs. Three-dimensional or stereo photography had the optical illusion of real depth by presenting slightly different images to each eye of the viewer.

1840 Chronoscope. Wheatstone introduced an instrument for measuring minute intervals of time, which was used in determining the speed of a bullet or the passage of a star. In this apparatus an electric current actuated an electromagnet, which noted the instant of an occurrence by means of a pencil on a moving paper. It is said to have been capable of distinguishing 1/7300 part of a second (137 microsecond), and the time a body took to fall from a height of one inch (25 mm).

1854 Playfair Cipher. Wheatstone invented this encryption technique, named after Lord Playfair who promoted it. The technique encrypts pairs of letters (bigrams or digrams), instead of single letters as in the simple substitution cipher and the rather more complex Vigenère cipher systems then in use. The Playfair system is difficult to break because the frequency analysis used for simple substitution ciphers does not work with it. The frequency analysis of bigrams is possible, but very difficult.

There’s much more but I won’t wear you out. Wheatstone was an experimental scientist and not an entrepreneur. He had no interest in turning his inventions and discoveries into marketable products, and so they were often used by others, or improved upon, and, in consequence he is now largely forgotten although in his day he was famous. Let’s turn now to a suitable dish to celebrate his birthday. His native Gloucestershire is famous for many foods, notably cheese and dairy products http://www.bookofdaystales.com/edward-jenner-and-smallpox/ It is also well known for the rearing of sheep (originally milked for cheese production). Here’s Gloucester squab pie, which, despite the name, is made from mutton (or lamb). It’s similar to a shepherd’s pie in that the “crust” was originally made from mashed root vegetables, but the filling uses layers of apples and onions. Well worth a try. I use the English word “swede” here for what transatlantic types call rutabaga. It’s also known as wax turnip (because of the waxy skin) or Swedish turnip – or, in Scotland, ‘neeps. Sometimes now the pie is made with a short crust in place of the veggies.

cw1

Gloucestershire Squab Pie

Ingredients

1lb/450g leftover cooked lamb
1lb/450g potatoes, peeled and diced
1lb/450g onions, sliced
8oz/225g swedes, peeled and diced
2 cooking apples, peeled cored and sliced
5fl oz/150ml lamb stock
2oz/50g butter
salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat the oven to or 400°F/200°C.

Peel and dice the potatoes and swede, place into a large pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for until tender (about 25 minutes). Drain and mash with half the butter plus salt and pepper to taste.

Grease an ovenproof dish and place in it alternate layers of lamb and apple and onion mix.

Pour the stock over the layers, but do not cover the meat. Top with the swede and potato mash. Dot the top of the mash with the remaining butter, then bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

Jun 202013
 

morse3  Morse_telegraph

Gallery of the Louvre by Morse

Gallery of the Louvre by Morse

On this date in 1840 Samuel Morse filed US Patent 1,647, “Improvement in the mode of communicating information by signals by the application of electro-magnetism.” It was the first in a string of patents  filed by Morse that made effective telegraphy a reality.  There were a number of other people in the game at the time, but Morse’s system (working with several collaborators) as well as his code for transmitting messages (also worked on with others) was the one that ultimately triumphed.

Morse, because of the code that bears his name, will forever be associated with the telegraph, but he actually had a well established career as a painter before he switched, midstream, to the communications field.  Many of his portraits and classical images enshrining the political values of the young nation had earned him national fame, and were commissioned for public display.  He worked professionally full time as a painter from around 1808 (supporting himself whilst a student at Yale) to 1825 (and part time until 1837).  In 1825, the city of New York commissioned Morse for $1,000 to paint a portrait in Washington of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (a general under George Washington in the Continental Army). While Morse was painting, a horse messenger delivered a letter from his father containing one line, “Your dear wife is convalescent.” Morse immediately left Washington for his home at New Haven, leaving the portrait of Lafayette unfinished. By the time he arrived, his wife had already been buried. Heartbroken in the knowledge that for days he was unaware of his wife’s failing health and her lonely death, he moved on from painting to the creation of a means of rapid long distance communication.

During the 1830’s there was fierce competition between British scientists (notably Charles Wheatstone, inventor of the English concertina), and Morse to develop a commercially viable telegraph system.  The British team filed patents and opened telegraph lines several years before Morse, but their system had two drawbacks: they could not transmit over very long distances, and their use of electromagnetically controlled needles to point to letters on a dial was cumbersome.  Morse understood that the use of a single telegraph wire with a single battery had severe limitations because the resistance in the wire weakened the signal over distance.  With the assistance of chemistry professor Leonard Gail (and, later, researcher and backer Alfred Vail), Morse developed a line that used battery powered relays at frequent intervals along the line to continually boost the signal.  In theory such a system had no distance limits.  In addition Morse’s team developed transmitting and receiving keys. At first the keys read punched tape strips at one end, and punched identical tapes at the other end using a code of dots and dashes.  But when it was discovered that the punching/receiving key emitted clicks as it punched the tape, the tape was abandoned in favor of the audible clicks.

Initially Morse had difficulty getting federal funding to support his work, so he set up a number of demonstrations, the most impressive of which occurred on May 1, 1844, when news of the Whig Party’s nomination of Henry Clay for U.S. President was telegraphed from the party’s convention in Baltimore to the Capitol Building in Washington. Subsequently Morse traveled extensively in Europe and Latin America to promote his telegraph and to apply for patents and, in turn, received international fame.  It was only in Britain that his system was rejected in favor of the older use of electromagnetic needles.  In time, however, the Morse system and the Morse code became, and remain, international standards.

Morse spent a great deal of the next 30 years both promoting his system and defending himself legally against endless patent infringements at home and abroad.  However, he lived comfortably despite receiving only a fraction of his due financially.  It is also notable that he was honored more abroad than at home. The photo above, taken by Mathew Brady in 1866 shows him wearing from his right to left — top row: Nichan Iftikhar (Ottoman); Order of the Tower and Sword (Portugal); Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark); Gold Medal of Art and Science (Württemberg); Gold Medal of Science (Austria); Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italy). Bottom row: Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain). A United States honor is conspicuous by its absence.

My recipe to celebrate Samuel Morse is a bit of a cheat, but only a bit of one.  There’s not a whole lot you can cook with dots and dashes.  But Morse’s invention was made possible by the huge strides being made in electromagnetism in general at the time.  The electromagnetic spectrum ranges over all manner of waves including visible light, X-rays, radio waves . . . and microwaves.  I tend not to use a microwave oven for much more than rapid defrosting of frozen foods and reheating leftovers.  But a microwave, with a little ingenuity, can produce excellent dishes.  Here is a recipe for salmon that is superb (akin to the dishwasher recipe in my post on Dalí: May 11).  The only catch is that the power of microwave ovens varies so much that to get this recipe right will require a bit of experimentation with times and intensities. Fortunately there is a fair degree of latitude. It is very important that the parchment cooking pouch is tightly sealed before cooking to prevent the escape of moisture. When chilled, the cooking liquids make a delectable aspic.

-… — -. / .- .–. .–. . – .. –  (I had to learn Morse Code in the Boy Scouts – you’ll figure it out. Hint: the first word is a giveaway).

Cold Salmon from the Microwave

Ingredients:

2 lbs (1 kg) fresh salmon
1/3 cup (.8 dl) melted butter
juice of ½ a lemon
1/3 cup (.8 dl) dry, white vermouth
salt and pepper, to taste
2 or 3 sprigs fresh dill
lettuce leaves
parsley sprigs
thin lemon slices
thin cucumber slices

Instructions:

Lay a large sheet of baking parchment into an 8 inch (20 cm) square glass dish.

Lay the salmon on the parchment and brush it with melted butter.

Pull up the sides of the parchment, shaping it into a bag.

Pour in the lemon juice and vermouth, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the dill sprigs on top of salmon.

Close the bag tightly, folding the top pieces over each other several times, but keeping as big an air pocket inside as possible.

Microwave for 20 minutes on medium/high (high is too intense).

Leave the package to rest for 20 minutes.

DO NOT unwrap the salmon.

Let the package cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it for 12 hours.

Unwrap and serve the salmon over lettuce leaves.

Garnish with parsley sprigs, lemon and cucumber slices.

Serves 4.

Note:  If you do not have baking parchment you can use 2 thicknesses of waxed paper.