Samuel E. Morss · 1966
By Haroon Haji Awang
Samuel E. Morss was born at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, December 15, 1852. He was of English blood, on both his father’s and mother’s side, his father’s ancestors having come to this country before the year 1700. His father settled in Indiana about 1825, and filled various offices, including that of mayor of Ft. Wayne.
Morss did not have the advantage of a classical education. He received a common school education and was graduated from the Ft. Wayne High School in 1817. In early life, he manifested an intense liking for the newspaper business. He hailed with delight when he became old enough to take up duties as a reporter for the Ft. Wayne Gazette. He served the Gazette in various capacities until 1874 when he became the city editor of Ft. Wayne Sentinel, a position he held for six months. In the fall of 1874 he returned to the Gazette as its editor.
On June 23, 1875, Samuel Morss married Carrie J. Godfrey at Ft. Wayne. They had a daughter, Josephine Morss.
Morss first became newspaper proprietor at the age of 27, when in association with William R. Nelson, he purchased the Ft. Wayne Sentinel. Together they conducted the Sentinel until 1880, with Morss controlling the editorial and Nelson the business and advertising.
They sold the Sentinel in 1880 and moved to Kansas City where they founded The Kansas City Star. Morss was the editor. Intense application to his newspaper work had by this time undermined Morss’ health. He sold all his interests in the newspaper to Nelson, and went to Europe, where he spent several months traveling all over the continent.
Morss returned to the United States in 1883, where he accepted a position at The Chicago Times. He served that paper as editorial writer and Washington correspondent until December 1887.
On February 1, 1888 Morss organized the Indianapolis Sentinel Company and purchased The Indianapolis Sentinel. He took charge as editor of the newspaper. From time to time, he purchased the interests which others had in the company.
In 1892, he was one of Indiana’s delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention at Chicago and the Indiana delegation honored him by electing him as its chairman. For his services to the party, he was rewarded when President Cleveland appointed him Consul-General of the United States to France in April 1893. He served four years in that office. In 1897 he returned to Indianapolis and resumed active newspaper work with The Indianapolis Sentinel until his death in 1903.
Samuel Morss died on October 20, 1903, after falling from the third floor of his office at the Indianapolis Sentinel building. The window from which he fell was his private office, and no one was with him at the time. According to one theory, Morss lost his balance and fell from the window he was sitting on after a heart attack.
Mr. Morss started his journalism career at the age of 19 with the Ft. Wayne Gazette. He worked with a singleness of purpose, many long hours every day and achieved distinction and early success as a reporter, editor, and later proprietor. Few people with a meager education like his could have such success.
While working for the Gazette and Sentinel, Morss’ specialty was local news. Later he was known more for his sharp political editorials. He used his newspaper as a political organ of the Democratic Party, and eventually gave the Sentinel a standing and influence that it had not known for years. He also used the newspaper as a "public forum" on community and legislative issues, which helped to bring about reforms to the city.
As a newspaperman, Morss was very ambitious. He left Ft. Wayne because "the town was growing much too slowly, hindering any increase in circulation and advertising." He wanted a bigger place and moved to Kansas City. What that failed too (his health failed him), he resurfaced in Indianapolis in 1883 to establish The Indianapolis Sentinel, eventually making it a politically powerful newspaper.
The Ft. Wayne Sentinel, under his editorship and co-ownership, was known as "the cheapest newspaper in the world" selling at two cents a single copy or 10 cents a week for six issues or 15 cents a month. When he found out it was difficult to sell because the penny was not in general circulation, he imported kegs of pennies and announced their availability in the newspaper. His tactic, later adopted by most newspapers, was "sell cheap and get your foot in the door."
Samuel E. Morss was a man of mark in the nation as well as the state and city. His distinguished public service, his prominence in councils of Democratic Party, his activity in promoting practical reforms, his high standing in business world, his irreproachable private character, his ability as an editorial writer and his energy as a publisher, all had made his name familiar throughout the United States.
Within the Democratic Party, Morss was recognized as a man who was ever devoted and loyal to the party. For his contributions to the party, he was rewarded when President Cleveland appointed him Consul-General of the United States to Paris. He was considered one of the most efficient officials the foreign service of the United States ever had.
He was an enthusiastic member of the Commercial Club in Indianapolis and took an active part in securing reforms and legislation for the state and city. He had a great deal to do with the enactment of the Indianapolis City Charter, the Australian Ballot Law, the County and Township Reform Laws, the Schoolbook Law, and the law creating the Board of State Charities and Correction. In all these he gave valuable assistance, devoting a large part of his valuable time to arduous committee work, investigating conditions in other states, and assisting in the drafting of measures.
Mr. A.M. Sweeney, president of the School Board of Indianapolis said Morss was a man of great public spirit, who gave his time and talent most generously to the advancement of any cause he considered beneficial to the society. Perhaps the remark by the City Attorney, Henry Warren, could best sum up Mr. Morss’ career, "With his (Morss) death democracy has lost a valuable leader, journalism a brilliant representative, and city and state a high-minded citizen."