SIA RU007055, Vail Family, Vail Telegraph Collection, 1830-1898, 1912-1917

* required
Please succinctly provide us with any information pertinent to your inquiry. If you are writing to us about a research request, provide as much detail as possible about the collections in which you are interested (including collection numbers, box numbers, and folder titles).
(if known)
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Summary

Creator:
Vail Family
Title:
Vail Telegraph Collection, 1830-1898, 1912-1917
Dates:
1830, 1830-1917, 1830-1898, 1912-1917
Summary:
This collection contains papers concerning the invention and development of the telegraph by Samuel F. B. Morse, Alfred Vail, and others, especially Vail's work with telegraph instruments and operation of telegraph stations, patent litigation, and Vail's publications concerning the telegraph. It also includes correspondence between Alfred and George Vail concerning their investment in the early telegraph enterprise and correspondence between Alfred Vail, Morse, Amos Kendall, and others, from 1837, relating to development of the telegraph, litigation and patents, administration of companies, especially the Magnetic Telegraph Company, the Morse-Joseph Henry dispute, and litigation between Morse, Francis O. J. Smith, and Henry O'Reilly. There is correspondence between Alfred Vail and many persons concerning construction of lines and training operators, with especially valuable information concerning construction of the Washington-Baltimore line. There are some Alfred Vail research notes and correspondence relating to insulation and insulators, receiving magnets and keys, and laying line in lead pipe. It includes account books, copies of contracts, agreements and assignments, and patent applications, extensive telegraph journals, data accumulated by Alfred Vail concerning rates and telegraph lines, correspondence, returned questionnaires, and other items relating to Vail's publications, especially The Electro-Magnetic Telegraph, and The Register of Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Companies, scrapbooks kept by Alfred Vail and his wife, Amanda, relating to the history of the telegraph. Also included is correspondence of Amanda Vail and of Alfred Vail's sons, Stephen and James Cummings Vail, and publications of the sons, all relating to Vail's role in telegraph development and to the Smithsonian's collection of Vail telegraph artifacts and its exhibition by the United States National Museum
Topics:
Technology--History, Science--History, Telegraph
Subjects:
Morse, Samuel Finley Breese 1791-1872, Henry, Joseph 1797-1878, Kendall, Amos 1789-1869, Smith, Francis O. J (Francis Ormond Jonathan) 1806-1876, Vail, Alfred 1807-1859, Vail, Amanda d. 1894, Vail, George 1809-1875, Vail, Stephen 1780-1864, Vail, James Cummings, O'Reilly, Henry 1806-1886, Magnetic Telegraph Company, United States National Museum
Form/Genre:
Photographs, Collection descriptions, Scrapbooks, Diaries, Field notes
Local Number:
SIA RU007055
Physical Description:
2.2 linear meters

Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Record Unit 7055

Vail Telegraph Collection, 1830-1898, 1912-1917

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at osiaref@si.edu.
Creator:
Title: Vail Telegraph Collection
Dates: 1830-1898, 1912-1917
Quantity: 2.2 linear meters.
Collection: Record Unit 7055
Language of Materials: English

Historical Note

Alfred Vail (1807-1859) was born in Morristown, New Jersey, where his father was owner of the Speedwell Iron Works. After working in his father's shop and preparing for the Presbyterian ministry, Alfred became interested in Samuel F. B. Morse and his telegraph. In 1837 a contract was drawn between Vail and Morse whereby Vail would construct a complete set of instruments and secure U. S. and foreign patents for them at his expense, in return for one-fourth interest in the American rights and one-half interest in the patents secured abroad. Stephen and George Vail (Alfred's father and brother) invested. Alfred, Morse, and Leonard D. Gale worked in the Speedwell shops and on January 6, 1838, demonstrated the improved telegraph. Some sources give Alfred Vail the major credit for the perfection of the instruments. Congress did not purchase the telegraph as they had hoped, but Congressman Francis O. J. Smith became a partner with 4/16 interest; subsequently, friction developed between Smith and others in the telegraph enterprise. On the capital completed by Smith's contribution, Morse went to Europe to establish the enterprise there, and Alfred lost interest; from 1839-1843, Alfred conducted his father's business in Philadelphia. In 1843, when Congress passed the act to build the Washington-Baltimore line, Vail became Morse's chief assistant and stayed with Morse until 1845, but then was relieved from duty in Washington by Morse, and by 1848 resigned as superintendent in Philadelphia. In 1845, Alfred published The Electro Magnetic Telegraph and in 1849, The Register of the Electro Magnetic Telegraph Companies. After 1848, Vail's interest in the telegraph was mostly passive. He realized little money from his interest in the telegraph and died poor in 1859.

Top of Page

Introduction

This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women’s Committee.

Top of Page

Descriptive Entry

This collection contains papers concerning the invention and development of the telegraph by Samuel F. B. Morse, Alfred Vail, and others, especially Vail's work with telegraph instruments and operation of telegraph stations, patent litigation, and Vail's publications concerning the telegraph; correspondence between Alfred and George Vail concerning their investment in the early telegraph enterprise; correspondence between Alfred Vail, Morse, Amos Kendall, and others, from 1837, relating to development of the telegraph; litigation and patents; administration of companies, especially the Magnetic Telegraph Company; the Morse-Joseph Henry dispute and litigation between Morse, Francis O. J. Smith, and Henry O'Reilly; correspondence between Alfred Vail and many persons concerning construction of lines and training of operators (especially valuable is that concerning construction of the Washington-Baltimore line); some Alfred Vail research notes and correspondence relating to insulation and insulators, receiving magnets and keys, and laying line in lead pipe; account books, copies of contracts, agreements and assignments, and patent applications; extensive telegraph journals; data accumulated by Alfred Vail concerning rates and telegraph lines; correspondence, returned questionnaires, and other items relating to Vail's publications, especially The Electro Magnetic Telegraph and The Register of Electro Magnetic Telegraph Companies; scrapbooks kept by Alfred Vail and his wife Amanda relating to the history of the telegraph; and correspondence of Amanda Vail after Alfred's death, relating to his role in telegraph development.

Top of Page

Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7055, , Vail Telegraph Collection

Top of Page

Container List

Series 1

ALFRED VAIL CORRESPONDENCE.

Box 1

"Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1830-1846," bound volume; incoming and outgoing correspondence, arranged chronologically; some accounts; pre-1844, one tenth of volume, consists of family correspondence, post-1844 primarily relating to the telegraph; mostly relating to Vail's work as superintendent of the Magnetic Telegraph Company, and plans for organization of other telegraph lines; includes one Henry Clay letter regarding Clay's wish that the government rather than private individuals gain control over the telegraph, September 10, 1844.

Box 1 of 10

Box 1A

Box 1 of 10

"Private Correspondence, 1836-1848, George Vail, Samuel F. B. Morse, Francis O. J. Smith, Amos Kendall, and Leonard D. Gale," bound volume; incoming and outgoing correspondence arranged by correspondent and chronologically; mostly relating to financing the telegraph enterprise, proposed sale to the government, and the Morse-Vail relationship; organized as follows: George Vail, 1838-1848; Morse, 1837-1848, about 100 letters; Gale, 1838-1845, 1848; Kendall, 1845-1848; Smith, 1838-1839, 1844-1848.

Box 1 of 10

Box 2

Unbound Correspondence, 1838-1858; incoming and outgoing letters, some fragments from bound letter books and diaries; mostly relating to operation of telegraph lines and to technical and equipment design problems.

Box 2 of 10

Correspondence, 1846-1850, 1 bound volume; incoming and outgoing correspondence, arranged chronologically, relating to operation of lines and to matters of patents, stock, and construction plans arising from contracts and agreements; especially regarding controversies involving Alfred Vail, Francis O. J. Smith, and Henry O'Reilly.

Box 2 of 10

Correspondence and transcriptions of telegraph messages, 1848-1849, 1 bound volume.

Box 2 of 10

Correspondence, 1848-1851, incoming and outgoing correspondence, 2 bound volumes; arranged by correspondent and chronologically.

Box 2 of 10

Correspondence, 1850-1852, incoming and outgoing correspondence, 1 bound volume; arranged by correspondent and chronologically; extensive correspondence between Alfred Vail, Amos Kendall, and Samuel F. B. Morse relating to patents, stock, and other matters of the telegraph enterprise; Vail-Kendall accounts showing legal costs of patents; Vail-Morse correspondence regarding the Morse-Joseph Henry dispute.

Box 2 of 10

Boxes 3-3A

Box 2 of 10

"Magnetic Telegraph Correspondence, 1847-1858," bound volumes I-VII; incoming and outgoing correspondence, arranged by correspondent and chronologically, relating to Washington and New Orleans Telegraph Company, printed regulations for operation of telegraph stations, tariffs, and correspondence about operational, technical, and business matters; correspondence relating to problems of management and financing; sketches and other information about telegraph lines in Buffalo area in 1849; circulars and replies collecting information about telegraph companies; information concerning telegraph equipment and instruments, especially galvanometers, insulation and insulators, and keys. Volumes I-V are in box 3; Volumes VI-VII are in box 3A.

Box 2 of 10

Box 4

Correspondence regarding telegraph rates, 1848-1851, 2 bound volumes; incoming and outgoing correspondence arranged by correspondent or telegraph line and chronologically; comprise returns from 1849 circular sent out by Vail collecting information for published tables of rates of charges of each telegraph company in the United States and Canada.

Box 4 of 10

Publication Correspondence, 1845-1848, 1 bound volume; incoming and outgoing correspondence, arranged by correspondent and chronologically; mostly correspondence between Vail, his publishers, and those persons selling his publications; very little relating to substantive matters of the publications.

Box 4 of 10

Series 2

ALFRED VAIL DIARIES AND RESEARCH NOTEBOOKS.

Box 5

Miscellaneous Telegraph Papers, 1846-1848, 1 bound volume; includes The Electromagnetic Telegraph, copies of proposals for telegraph construction in the District of Columbia area, "Difficulties of telegraphy on the Baltimore and Philadelphia Line, 1846," Alfred Vail diary entries regarding telegraph activities in 1848 and 1849; Alfred Vail's recollections in 1848 of Samuel F. B. Morse's 1837-1838 telegraph work; a few telegraph messages, 1845.

Box 5 of 10

Alfred Vail's Washington, D.C., Diary, 1848, 1 bound volume, includes telegraph business and controversy with Joseph Henry.

Box 5 of 10

Experiments-Diaries, 1843, 1844, 1843-1845, 1848, 1843-1844, 5 volumes, experiments concerning wiring in lead pipe, electro-magnet, various conductors and nonconductors, including indication of participation of Leonard D. Gale; and telegraph abbreviations.

Box 5 of 10

Box 5A

Box 5 of 10

Drawings of telegraph mechanisms, architectural drawings 1844-1850, related to diary entries. Oversize material also removed to map cases.

Box 5 of 10

Series 3

ALFRED VAIL TELEGRAPH JOURNALS.

Box 6

Alfred Vail Telegraph Journals, 1844-1845, 1848-1851, and correspondence (1848-1851), principally by telegraph.

Box 6 of 10

Series 4

ALFRED VAIL ACCOUNTS. (Includes oversize)

Box 7

American Electromagnetic Telegraph Pamphlets, Costs, 1845, 1 bound volume; Telegraph Accounts, 1846-1847; old Telegraph Accounts with Amos Kendall, 1846-1848.

Box 7 of 10

Series 5

ALFRED VAIL MISCELLANEOUS.

Box 7

Copies of contracts, correspondence with Professor Jackson, Sir John Campbell, and others, 1844-1848; copies of articles from technical publications, 1837-1838, extracts of patents, copies of telegraph communications, 1847-1848, records of stock transactions, and records relating to Samuel F. B. Morse-Henry O'Reilly litigation.

Box 7 of 10

Box 7A

Box 7 of 10

Miscellaneous Calculations, Memoranda, 1845-1848, 1 volume, includes copies of some pre-1845 items; accounts with Amos Kendall, G. L. Gideon, and Morse; lists of telegraph lines and tariffs; newsclippings, 1846, manuscript copies of articles from newspapers and technical publications, 1836-1840.

Box 7 of 10

Box 7B

Box 7 of 10

Contract Book, Alfred Vail, 1837-1848, 1 bound volume, copies of contracts and agreements regarding the telegraph enterprise; drawings for Electro-Magnetic Telegraph; Magnetic Telegraph Drawings, 1844-1849; some drawings of the Speedwell Iron Works. [oversize]

Box 7 of 10

Series 6

GEORGE VAIL CORRESPONDENCE

Box 8

"Letters of Alfred Vail Relating to the Telegraph," 1837-1855, 1 bound volume; incoming correspondence from Alfred to George Vail, and some outgoing correspondence, relating to Vail's early interest in the telegraph; also, copies of some agreements.

Box 8 of 10

"Some letters of Professor Morse and Amos Kendall Relating to the Telegraph, 1838-1845," 1 volume; mostly incoming correspondence, arranged by correspondent and chronologically; includes early correspondence between Samuel F. B. Morse and George Vail concerning financial support of the telegraph enterprise; letter from Kendall concerning detailed accounts of stock sales.

Box 8 of 10

Box 9

"Miscellaneous Business Letters and Paper Relating to the Telegraph, 1848-1858," 1 volume.

Box 9 of 10

Series 7

AMANDA VAIL, CORRESPONDENCE AND COLLECTED INFORMATION.

Box 9

Correspondence and Scrapbook, 1846-1848, 1 volume; concerning Alfred Vail's role in telegraph development; correspondence and notes, 1862-1893, 1 folder; printed correspondence, 1845-1847, between Kendall and O'Reilly; L. D. Case Correspondence, 1871-1872, 1881-1882; concerns history of the telegraph; correspondents include Leonard D. Gale, Samuel F. B. Morse, Henry O'Reilly, Francis O. J. Smith, and William B. Taylor.

Box 9 of 10

Series 8

PUBLICATIONS, PHOTOGRAPHS.

Box 9

Smith, The Secret Corresponding Vocabulary, 1845; Alfred Vail, Register of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Companies, 1849 (2 copies); William Baxter, The Real Birth of the Electric Telegraph; sketch of Smith by Morse; photograph of unidentified instrument; photographic copies of Magnetic Telegraph Company's printed rates, and other documents.

Box 9 of 10

Box 9A

Box 9 of 10

Affidavits of L. D. Gale, S. F. B. Morse, Amos Kendall in suit v. Henry O'Reilly and others, 1848.

Box 9 of 10

Series 9

SCRAPBOOKS KEPT BY ALFRED AND AMANDA VAIL. Oversize.

Alfred Vail, 1844-1849, 2 volumes, index; Telegraph Scraps, 1853-1858, 1 volume; Scrapbook of Telegraph, 1856-1858, 1896, 1912.

Box 9B

Scrapbook, Vol. I

Box 9B of 10

Box 9C

Box 9B of 10

Scrapbook, Vol. II

Box 9B of 10

Box 9D

Box 9B of 10

Telegraph Scraps

Box 9B of 10

Box 9E

Box 9B of 10

Scrapbook of Telegraph

Box 9B of 10

Series 10

ADDITIONS TO PAPERS

Box 10

Added accessions 81-008, 84-091

Folder 1 George C. Maynard Envelope

Box 10 of 10

Folder 2 Correspondence, circa 1848-1917. Includes copies of correspondence with Alfred Vail family, inter-National Museum correspondence regarding Vail holdings and accession listings.

Box 10 of 10

Folder 3 Stephen Vail and Amanda Vail correspondence, primarily with J. Elfreth Watkins, 1891-1892. Includes newspaper clipping, 1912; pamphlet on the history of the telegraph; and an unidentified photograph.

Box 10 of 10

Folder 4 J. C. Vail research materials, 1913. Includes copies of photographs of Samuel Morse and the Morse telegraph.

Box 10 of 10

Folder 5 Pamphlets, correspondence, and photograph. Includes historical materials concerning the Morse telegraph and the Alfred Vail family.

Box 10 of 10

Folder 6 Newspaper Clippings (loose) and Kendall Vail correspondence. Accession 84-091.

Box 10 of 10

Folder 7 Stephen Vail: "The Electro-Magnetic Telegraph: Its Birth and Infancy." Accession 84-091.

Box 10 of 10

Using the Archives' Collections

The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. Please cite the Smithsonian Institution Archives as the source of the content, and when possible, link to the Smithsonian Archives website (siarchives.si.edu). Please let us know how you are using our collections for your projects. For information on commercial licensing or other uses, visit Rights and Reproductions. More information available within the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use policy.