Alfred Vail Fails to Credit Joseph Henry for Development of Telegraph

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Alfred Vail, partner of Samuel F. B. Morse, publishes a book on the development of the telegraph and with only a passing reference to the work of Joseph Henry (1797-1878), physicist and professor at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Although Vail claims this to be an unintentional oversight and Morse insists he has nothing to do with the book's contents, their private correspondence indicates otherwise. Vail and Morse do not want the book to interfere with Morse's application for a patent on two crucial components of the telegraph by crediting Henry with their invention. While Henry had willingly advised and publicly endorsed Morse up until this point, this marks the end of cordial relations between the two.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Morse, Samuel Finley Breese 1791-1872
  • Vail, Alfred


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Rothenberg, Marc, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, The Princeton Years, January 1844 - December 1846, vol. 6. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, pp. 326-27, 376-77, 385, 520-22.
  • Moyer, Albert. Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997, pp. 239-47.
  • Vail, Alfred. The American Electro Magnetic Telegraph: With the Reports of Congress, and a Description of All Telegraphs Known Employing Electricity or Galvanism. Philadelphia, 1845.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Electric apparatus and appliances
  • Telegraph
  • Patent infringement
  • Inventors
  • Controversies
  • Inventions
  • Science
  • Electromagnets
  • History
  • Electromagnetic telegraph
  • Science--History


United States

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