|Born||September 25, 1807|
|Died||January 18, 1859 51) (aged|
Morristown, New Jersey
|Projects||telegraph, Morse code|
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.
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.
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."
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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.Their son and Alfred's brother was George Vail, a noted politician.
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.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 Ironworks 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."In an 1845 book Vail wrote describing Morse's telegraph, he also attributed the code to Morse.
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."
An electrical telegraph was a point-to-point text messaging system, used from the 1840s until better systems became widespread. It used coded pulses of electric current through dedicated wires to transmit information over long distances. It was the first electrical telecommunications system, the most widely used of a number of early messaging systems called telegraphs, devised to send text messages more rapidly than written messages could be sent. This system allowed for communication to occur without the necessity of physical transportation. Prior to this, beacons, smoke signal, flag semaphore, and optical telegraphs used visual signals to communicate over distances of land.
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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.
A telegraph code is one of the character encodings used to transmit information by telegraphy. Morse code is the most well known such code. Telegraphy usually refers to the electrical telegraph, but telegraph systems using the optical telegraph were in use before that. A code consists of a number of code points, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, a numeral, or some other character. In codes intended for machines rather than humans, code points for control characters, such as carriage return, are required to control the operation of the mechanism. Each code point is made up of a number of elements arranged in a unique way for that character. There are usually two types of element, but more element types were employed in some codes not intended for machines. For instance, American Morse code had about five elements, rather than the two of International Morse Code.
Theodore Newton Vail was president of American Telephone & Telegraph between 1885 and 1889, and again from 1907 to 1919. Vail saw telephone service as a public utility and moved to consolidate telephone networks under the Bell system. In 1913 he oversaw the Kingsbury Commitment that led to a more open system for connection.
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Sir William Fothergill Cooke was an English inventor. He was, with Charles Wheatstone, the co-inventor of the Cooke-Wheatstone electrical telegraph, which was patented in May 1837. Together with John Lewis Ricardo he founded the Electric Telegraph Company, the world's first public telegraph company, in 1846. He was knighted in 1869.
Baron Pavel Lvovitch Schilling (1786–1837), also known as Paul Schilling, was a Russian military officer and diplomat of Baltic German origin. The majority of his career was spent working for the imperial Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a language officer at the Russian embassy in Munich. As a military officer, he took part in the War of the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon. In his later career, he was transferred to the Asian department of the ministry and undertook a tour of Mongolia to collect ancient manuscripts.
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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 their electric telegraph. Speedwell Ironworks also provided most of the machinery for the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The site is still open to the public, and has seven buildings on display. The site, now named Historical Speedwell, is a historic site of the Morris County Park Commission.
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.
Harrison Gray Dyar (1805–1875) was an American chemist and inventor.
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.
The Baltimore–Washington telegraph line was the first long-distance telegraph system set up to run overland in the United States.
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.
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.