Guide to the Alfred Vail (1807-1859), Inventor, Papers1826-1918MG 50

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Descriptive Summary

Biographical Note

Scope and Content Note

Arrangement

Restrictions

Access Points

Related Material

Administrative Information

Bibliography

Series Descriptions and Container List

Series 1: Literary Productions, 1826-1858

Series 2: Research Papers, 1900-1913

Series 3: Correspondence, 1837-1912.

Series 4: Printed Material, 1848-ca. 1912.

Series 5: Miscellaneous, n.d.

Guide to the Alfred Vail (1807-1859), Inventor, Papers1826-1918MG 50Inventory prepared by Irina Peris as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Guide to the Alfred Vail (1807-1859), Inventor, Papers
1826-1918

MG 50



The New Jersey Historical Society
52 Park Place
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Contact: NJHS Library
(973) 596-8500 x249
© 2005 All rights reserved.
The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Irina Peris as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Finding aid encoded by Julia Telonidis. August 2005. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Vail, Alfred, 1807-1859
Title: Alfred Vail (1807-1859), Inventor, Papers
Dates: 1829-1918
Abstract: Includes Alfred Vail's diaries, essays on religion and human behavior, correspondence; Vail family genealogy; transcriptions of the Alfred Vail manuscripts in the Smithsonian Institution; and Samuel F. B. Morse's patent for the electric telegraph. Vail worked with Samuel F. B. Morse from 1837 on development of the electric telegraph at the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, New Jersey, which his father, Stephen Vail, owned and operated.
Quantity: 1.5 linear feet (3 boxes)
Collection Number: MG 50

Biographical Note

Alfred Vail, a co-inventor of the telegraph, was born in Morristown, New Jersey on September 25, 1807 to Bethiah Youngs (1778-1847) and Stephen Vail (1780-1864). After attending public schools, Alfred Vail became a machinist at Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, New Jersey, a lucrative iron company owned by his father. In 1832, however, he entered the University of the City of New York (now New York University) as a theology student, and graduated in 1836. On September 2, 1837, while still at the university, he witnessed one of Professor Samuel F.B. Morse's (1791-1872) first telegraph experiments and became strongly interested in the project. By September 23, he had formed a partnership with Morse, which required him to construct a set of telegraph instruments at his own cost and to secure their patents in the United States and abroad in return for ¼ of the interest in the patents.

With his father's financial backing, Vail went to work on the telegraph in the machine shops of Speedwell Iron Works where he created the crucial dot-dash mechanism and means of communication that became known as "Morse Code." On January 6, 1838, the first successful experiment of the equipment took place over three miles of wire running around the machine shops at Speedwell. The message read, "A patient waiter is no loser." Within the next two months, successful demonstrations of the invention were held in New York City, at Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and before Congress. After the latter, Morse and Vail gained another backer, Congressman Frances O.J. Smith, leaving Vail's share in the telegraph at 1/8 of the total interest. It wasn't until 1843, however, that Congress appropriated money to build a line between Baltimore and Washington D.C., and on May 24, 1844, a message reading, "What Hath God Wrought!" was sent between Vail in one city and Morse in the other. For the next four years Vail continued working with Morse in Philadelphia. He retired in 1848 and moved with his family back to Morristown, New Jersey where he spent the remaining ten years of his life researching Vail family genealogy.

Alfred Vail married Jane Elizabeth Cummings (1817-1852) on July 23, 1839. They had three sons together: Stephen (1840-1909), James Cummings (1843-1917), and George Rochester (1852-1931). After Elizabeth Vail's death, Alfred married Amanda O. Eno. Alfred Vail died on January 18, 1859, after which his son, Stephen, donated the original 1838 telegraph his father had created to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian also holds Alfred Vail papers in its collections.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of three boxes of diaries and theological essays of Alfred Vail; research on Vail family genealogy and a typescript by S.W. Righter representing selective transcripts of those Alfred Vail papers held in the Smithsonian Institution; and a printed patent for the first electro-magnetic telegraph issued to Samuel F.B. Morse. The collection documents Vail's life before entering the City University of New York and the years subsequent to his active participation in the telegraph business. It also contains materials on the controversy of the invention of the telegraph and the telegraphic code. The papers have been arranged into the following series: Literary Productions, Research Papers, Correspondence, Printed Material, and Miscellaneous.

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Arrangement

This collection is organized into five series:

Series 1: Literary Productions, 1826-1858.

Series 2: Research Papers, 1900-1913.

Series 3: Correspondence, 1837-1912.

Series 4: Printed Material, 1848-ca. 1912.

Series 5: Miscellaneous, n.d.

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Restrictions

Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.

Use Restrictions

Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.

The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.

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Access Points

The entries below represent persons, organizations, topics, forms, and occupations documented in this collection.
Subject Names:
Morse, Samuel Finley Breese, 1791-1872.
Vail, Alfred, 1807-1859.
Subject Organizations:
Smithsonian Institution.
Speedwell Iron Works (Morristown, N.J.)
Subject Topics:
Communication and technology--New Jersey.
Inventions--New Jersey.
Inventions--Patents.
Inventors--New Jersey
Iron-works--New Jersey.
Morse code.
Telegraph cables.
Telegraph--Alphabets.
Telegraph--Patents.
Telegraph.
Theology.
Subject Places:
Morristown (N.J.)
Document Types:
Diaries.
Essays.
Genealogies.
Letters (Correspondence).
Patents.
Transcripts.
Subject Occupations
Inventors.

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Related Material

Manuscript Group 1455, Stephen Ward Righter (ca. 1866-1842) Genealogy Collection

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Administrative Information

Custodial History

Gift of Sarah Tempe Leddel Davis; William Penn Vail, 1948; A.A. Marsters, 1922; and J. Cummings Vail, 1913.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 50, Alfred Vail Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.

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Bibliography

Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography. Volume XIX, Troye-Wentworth.Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1936.

Vail, William Penn. Genealogy of Some of the Vail Family Descended from Thomas Vail at Salem, Massachusetts 1640 Together with Collateral Lines. (published 1937).

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Series Descriptions and Container List

 

Series 1: Literary Productions, 1826-1858

Scope and Content:

This series consists of diaries covering the years 1826-1829 and 1850-1858, as well as essays from 1831-1836. The diaries document the everyday activities of Mr. Vail, family relations, and major events in his life, although unfortunately, there is not much information related to his relationship with Morse or telegraphy. Alfred Vail as he is presented in his diaries is a very private and religious person. Religion is especially prominent in his early diaries which feature extended discussions of religious subjects and theological problems. Daily entries for his later years deal almost exclusively with his family life - the birth of his children, the death of his wife, and his poor health. The essays of Alfred Vail written during his years of theological studies offer insight into 19th century theological discourse.

Box Folder Title Date
1 1 Alfred Vail. Diary 1826-1827
1 2 Alfred Vail. Diary 1827-1829
1 3 Alfred Vail. Diary 1850
1 4 Alfred Vail. Diary 1851
1 5 Alfred Vail. Diary 1852
1 6 Alfred Vail. Diary 1853
1 7 Alfred Vail. Diary (3 volumes) 1854, 1855, 1856
1 8 Alfred Vail. Diary (2 volumes) 1857, 1858
Box Folder Title Date
2 1 Alfred Vail. Essays 1831, n.d.
2 2 Alfred Vail. Essays 1833-1836

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Series 2: Research Papers, 1900-1913

Scope and Content:

This series consists of genealogical research gathered by S. Ward Righter from 1900-1913 from Alfred Vail's own research. The information was used for Righter's book Alfred Vail Records and also for William Penn Vail's Genealogy of Some of the Descendants of Thomas Vail (cited above under Biographical Note Sources), both of which are held in the New Jersey Historical Society's collections. The materials gathered support Righter's belief that Vail actually invented the telegraph. Among this material are two copies of transcriptions of Vail documents in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution..

Box Folder Title Date
2 3 S. Ward Righter. Genealogy research, Vol. I n.d.
2 4 S. Ward Righter. Genealogy research, Vol. II n.d.
2 5 S. Ward Righter. Thomas Vail genealogy notes 1900-1913
2 6 S. Ward Righter. Thomas Vail genealogy notes 1900-1913
2 7 S. Ward Righter. Thomas Vail genealogy notes 1900-1913
2 8 S. Ward Righter. Transcriptions of Smithsonian Alfred Vail papers, Vol. I (copy 1) 1918
Box Folder Title Date
3 1 S. Ward Righter. Transcriptions of Smithsonian Alfred Vail papers, Vol. I (copy 1) 1918
3 2 S. Ward Righter. Transcriptions of Smithsonian Alfred Vail papers, Vol. II (copy 1) 1918
3 3 S. Ward Righter. Transcriptions of Smithsonian Alfred Vail papers, Vol. I (copy 2) 1918
3 4 S. Ward Righter. Transcriptions of Smithsonian Alfred Vail papers, Vol. II (copy 2) 1918

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Series 3: Correspondence, 1837-1912.

Scope and Content:

This series consists of letters of Alfred Vail and various individuals of the Vail family pertaining mostly to the Morse-Vail controversy. The majority of items are copies, except for the letters of condolence upon the death of Alfred Vail addressed to his wife.

Box Folder Title Date
3 5 Vail Family. Correspondence 1837-1912

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Series 4: Printed Material, 1848-ca. 1912.

Scope and Content:

The printed materials include documents pertaining to the Vail family, as well as publications on the Morse-Vail dispute over the invention of the telegraph. Morse's patent for the telegraph is also among the documents of this series.

Box Folder Title Date
3 6 Vail Family. Printed material 1854-ca.1912
Box   Title Date
OS   Samuel. F. B. Morse. Patent 1848

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Series 5: Miscellaneous, n.d.

Scope and Content:

This series consists of several miscellaneous items, including a sample of the first telegraphic alphabet.

Box Folder Title Date
3 7 Alfred Vail: Sample of telegraphic alphabet produced on the original machine at Speedwell by Alfred Vail for Mrs. L. C. Dayton; "Morristown, New Jersey" Morse/Vail letterhead; reproducton of correspondence from Samuel. F. B. Morse to Alfred Vail. n.d.

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