Kevin Riordan: Moorestown tinkerer still inventing at 96

Robert D. Morse at home in Moorestown beside the fireplace he built himself. Another of his passions is clocks, after a career running a jewelry shop in Mount Holly with his two brothers.
Robert D. Morse at home in Moorestown beside the fireplace he built himself. Another of his passions is clocks, after a career running a jewelry shop in Mount Holly with his two brothers. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 21, 2012

Robert D. Morse never stops tinkering on, and in, the house he built in 1949. Or with the world he was born into nearly a century ago.

"If something is wrong, I have to improve it," says the Moorestown resident, 96, who describes himself as an inventor and "rhymist."

That's a word Morse came up with after altering dozens of classic nursery rhymes. He's written 1,600 such pieces in all; some can be found in a book ( Robert's Rhymes) he self-published after retiring from the jewelry business two decades ago.

More recently, for the first time, Morse submitted applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He has devised clever variations on the use of solar panels and playing cards.

Not bad for a guy who grew up without electricity in Hainesport, and whose first job paid $10 a week.

"I only went to high school. I couldn't afford to go to college," says Morse, showing me around the home he shares with son Richard.

Mary, Morse's wife of 63 years, died two years ago, just shy of her 90th birthday. They had four children and five grandchildren, and the sadness of losing her, he says, "comes in spurts."

But on with the tour. Seems there's a story behind nearly every oil portrait (he enjoyed painting), antique clock (he restored several), and architectural feature (he probably designed it) in the place.

And don't get Morse started about the heating and cooling system innovations he built beginning in the 1930s, when oil burners were becoming popular. That was before he mastered horology - the science of timepieces - and ran a Mount Holly jewelry shop with his two brothers for 50 years.

"My brother used to say, 'Robert, you're talking too fast.' But I think fast," Morse says. "He used to call me 'Trumpet Voice.' "

If patents were offered for making conversation, Morse would get one.

"He'll talk to anybody," says John Costello, a friend since 1968. "He has a lot of enthusiasm, about everything.

"He loves card games, and he's as good a bridge player as any," adds Costello, 81, a retired mathematics professor who lives in Marlton.

"He's an unusual fellow," says Moorestown resident Norman Pallotto, 77, who, like Costello, plays poker with Morse every week.

"He's a shrewd player. And he's a good cook," adds Pallotto, an auditor. "And did he tell you he likes to rhyme?"

He did; from his book, a selection titled "My Pen":

   I lost, last night

   My "pluma"

   Better that,

   Than my sense of huma.

Morse recalls receiving his first rhythmic inspiration as he awoke from a fever. And he still believes sleep refreshes the reservoir of creativity.

"I wake up with ideas," he says. "My best thinking is in the early morning."

The ideas he'd like to patent include installing solar panels on trains and tractor-trailers; color-coded playing cards for the visually impaired; and a gin-like game for special-education students.

There's also a water-saving device for older toilets. "I can't show you that, because it's a secret," Morse says. "I made the parts and I installed them. And it works."

And those wooden spools on his dining room table?

"That's going to be another invention," Morse says, adding that he can usually be found on the computer when he's not working, sometimes checking on the state of the stock market.

"I don't want to be in an old-age home with old people," says Morse, who recently, and reluctantly, accepted some additional help around the house.

"I like to keep things going in my mind. I like to keep active," says the man whose finest invention and reinvention may be himself.


Kevin Riordan:

To view video of Robert Morse talking about his inventions, go to

www.philly.com/morse


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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