Alfred Vail

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Alfred Vail
Alfred Vail.GIF
Alfred Vail
BornSeptember 25, 1807
DiedJanuary 18, 1859(1859-01-18) (aged 51)
NationalityUnited States Flag of the United States.svg
OccupationEngineer
Engineering career
Projects telegraph

Alfred Lewis Vail (September 25, 1807 – January 18, 1859) was an American machinist and inventor. Along with Samuel Morse, Vail was central in developing and commercializing American telegraphy between 1837 and 1844. [1]

Machinist profession

A machinist is a person who machines using hand tools and machine tools to create or modify a part that is made of metal, plastics, or wood.

Samuel Morse American painter and inventor

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Telegraphy long distance transmission of textual/symbolic messages without the physical exchange of an object

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Contents

Vail and Morse were the first two telegraph operators on Morse's first experimental line between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, and Vail took charge of building and managing several early telegraph lines between 1845 and 1848. He was also responsible for several technical innovations of Morse's system, particularly the sending key and improved recording registers and relay magnets. Vail left the telegraph industry in 1848 because he believed that the managers of Morse's lines did not fully value his contributions.

Baltimore Largest city in Maryland

Baltimore is an independent city in the state of Maryland within the United States. Baltimore was established by the Constitution of Maryland as an independent city in 1729. With a population of 611,648 in 2017, Baltimore is the largest such independent city in the United States. As of 2017, the population of the Baltimore metropolitan area was estimated to be just under 2.808 million, making it the 20th largest metropolitan area in the country. Baltimore is located about 40 miles (60 km) northeast of Washington, D.C., making it a principal city in the Washington-Baltimore combined statistical area (CSA), the fourth-largest CSA in the nation, with a calculated 2017 population of 9,764,315.

His last assignment, superintendent of the Washington and New Orleans Telegraph Company, paid him only $900 a year, leading Vail to write to Morse, "I have made up my mind to leave the Telegraph to take care of itself, since it cannot take care of me. I shall, in a few months, leave Washington for New Jersey, ... and bid adieu to the subject of the Telegraph for some more profitable business." [2]

Biography

Vail's parents were Bethiah Youngs (1778–1847) and Stephen Vail (1780–1864). Vail was born in Morristown, New Jersey, where his father was an entrepreneur and industrialist who built the Speedwell Ironworks into one of the most innovative iron works of its time. [3] Their son and Alfred's brother was George Vail, a noted politician.

Stephen Vail (1780–1864) was a founding partner of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia and the creator of the Speedwell Ironworks in Morristown, New Jersey.

Morristown, New Jersey Town in New Jersey, United States

Morristown is a town and the county seat of Morris County, New Jersey, United States. Morristown has been called "the military capital of the American Revolution" because of its strategic role in the war for independence from Great Britain. Today this history is visible in a variety of locations throughout the town that collectively make up Morristown National Historical Park.

Speedwell Ironworks

Speedwell Ironworks was an ironworks in Speedwell Village, on Speedwell Avenue, just north of downtown Morristown, in Morris County, New Jersey, United States. At this site Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse first demonstrated the electric telegraph. Speedwell Ironworks also provided most of the machinery for the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Alfred attended public schools before taking a job as a machinist at the iron works. He enrolled in New York University to study theology in 1832, where he was an active and successful student and a member of the Eucleian Society, graduating in 1836. [1] Visiting his alma mater on September 2, 1837, he happened to witness one of Samuel F. B. Morse's early telegraph experiments. He became fascinated by the technology and negotiated an arrangement with Morse to develop the technology at Speedwell at his own expense in return for 25% of the proceeds. Alfred split his share with his brother George Vail. When Morse took on Francis O. J. Smith, a congressman from Maine, as a partner, he reduced the Vails' share to one-eighth. Morse retained patent rights to everything Vail developed.

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The Eucleian Society was a student literary society begun at New York University in 1832. According to New York University records, it ceased to exist around the 1940s.

Alma mater school or university that a person has attended

Alma mater is an allegorical Latin phrase for a university, school, or college that one formerly attended. The phrase is variously translated as "nourishing mother", "nursing mother", or "fostering mother", suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students. Fine arts will often depict educational institutions using a robed woman as a visual metaphor.

After having secured his father's financial backing, Vail refined Morse's crude prototype to make it suitable for public demonstration and commercial operation. The first successful completion of a transmission with this system was at the Speedwell Iron Works on January 6, 1838, across two miles (3 km) of wiring. The message read "A patient waiter is no loser." Over the next few months Morse and Vail demonstrated the telegraph to Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, members of Congress, and President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet. Demonstrations such as these were crucial to Morse's obtaining a Congressional appropriation of $30,000 to build his first line in 1844 from Washington to Baltimore.

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Martin Van Buren 8th president of the United States

Martin Van Buren was an American statesman who served as the eighth president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He was the first president born after the independence of the United States from the British Empire. A founder of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the ninth governor of New York, the tenth United States secretary of state, and the eighth vice president of the United States. He won the 1836 presidential election with the endorsement of popular outgoing President Andrew Jackson and the organizational strength of the Democratic Party. He lost his 1840 reelection bid to Whig Party nominee William Henry Harrison, due in part to the poor economic conditions of the Panic of 1837. Later in his life, Van Buren emerged as an elder statesman and important anti-slavery leader, who led the Free Soil Party ticket in the 1848 presidential election.

Vail retired from the telegraph operations in 1848 and moved back to Morristown. He spent his last ten years conducting genealogical research. Since Vail shared a one-eighth interest in Morse's telegraph patents with his brother George, Vail realized far less financial gain from his work on the telegraph than Morse and others.

His papers and equipment were subsequently donated by his son Stephen to the Smithsonian Institution and New Jersey Historical Society.

Vail's cousin was Theodore N. Vail, who became the first president of American Telephone & Telegraph.

Morse code

Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse collaborated in the invention of Morse code. A controversy exists over the role of each in the invention. The argument for Vail being the original inventor is laid out by several scholars. [4] [5] [6] [7]

The argument offered by supporters of Morse claims that Morse originally devised a cipher code similar to that used in existing semaphore line telegraphs, by which words were assigned three- or four-digit numbers and entered into a codebook. The sending operator converted words to these number groups and the receiving operator converted them back to words using this codebook.

Morse spent several months compiling this code dictionary. It is said by Morse supporters that Vail, in public and private writings, never claimed the code for himself. According to one researcher, in a February 1838 letter to his father, Judge Stephen Vail, Alfred wrote, "Professor Morse has invented a new plan of an alphabet, and has thrown aside the Dictionaries." [8] In an 1845 book Vail wrote describing Morse's telegraph, he also attributed the code to Morse. [9]

Legacy

A US Army base was named in his honor. Camp Vail in Eatontown, New Jersey, later renamed Fort Monmouth, was an Army housing complex. After World War II the families of servicemen and civilian Army employees negotiated with the Army to purchase the development, which was later named Alfred Vail Mutual Association, and due to the work of the Town Clerk the residents retained the rights to the original Charter of Shrewsbury Township Est. 1693. This housing development exists to this day under that name. An elementary school near the Speedwell Works, in Morristown, New Jersey, is named "Alfred Vail."

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Telegraph sounder

A telegraph sounder is an antique electromechanical device used as a receiver on electrical telegraph lines during the 19th century. It was invented by Alfred Vail after 1850 to replace the previous receiving device, the cumbersome Morse register and was the first practical application of the electromagnet. When a telegraph message comes in it produces an audible "clicking" sound representing the short and long keypresses – "dots" and "dashes" – which are used to represent text characters in Morse code. A telegraph operator would translate the sounds into characters representing the telegraph message.

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American Morse code Morse code variant used on landline telegraph systems in the U.S.

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George Vail was an American Democratic Party politician who represented New Jersey's 4th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1853 to 1857. His father Stephen Vail, and his brother Alfred Vail were the driving force behind the success of the Speedwell Iron Works. Father and sons assisted in the technical expertise and financial development of this family business. The Vail family contributions to mechanical inventions, early communication, transportation industry, and mass production placed Speedwell at the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

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References

  1. 1 2 Archived March 21, 2005, at the Wayback Machine .
  2. Morse, Edward L., ed. Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals. New York, 1914
  3. Alfred Vail, World of Invention. Accessed June 1, 2008. "Alfred Vail was born on September 25, 1807, in Morristown, New Jersey, where his father, Stephen, operated the Speedwell Iron Works."
  4. Pope, Franklin Leonard. "The American Inventors of the Telegraph, with Special References to the Services of Alfred Vail." Century Illustrated Magazine 35 (April 1888), 924–45. on-line copy at Cornell's Making of America
  5. Morse, Edward Lind (June 21, 1904). "Defends His Father's Claim to Paternity of the Telegraph" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-10-31. My attention has been called to a communication in The New York Times of June 7 headed "Vail, Father of the Telegraph," and signed Stephen Vail. While I have no desire to enter into a newspaper controversy with Mr. Vail, and while I am sure that you have no desire to encourage one, I trust in justice to my father, Samuel F.B. Morse, you will allow me a few words in reply.
  6. Vail, Stephen (June 25, 1904). "VAIL-MORSE CONTROVERSY.; Stephen Vail on His Father's Claim to Telegraph Invention" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-10-31. Alfred Vail ... invented the new "recording receiver," "the sounding key," and the "dot-and-dash" alphabet...but doing his duty in strict accordance with his understanding of the terms of his contract, and that to Morse belonged all that he had accomplished.
  7. Silverman, Kenneth. Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F.B. Morse. New York, 2003, p. 167
  8. Alfred Vail, The American Electro Magnetic Telegraph: With the Reports of Congress, and a Description of all Telegraphs Known, Employing Electricity or Galvanism, Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845. Reprinted by New York: Arno Press, 1974