Letter from Samuel Morse to Alfred Vail, January 15, 1857

ID: SIA2011-0816 and SIA2011-0817 and SIA2011-0818 and SIA2011-0819 and SIA2011-0820 and SIA2011-0821

Creator: Morse, Samuel Finley Breese 1791-1872

Form/Genre: Letters (correspondence)

Date: January 15, 1857

Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7055, Box 2, Folder: 6

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  • Samuel Morse writes to Alfred Vail, discussing Joseph Henry's disaffection towards them and their initial confusion. He then reveals their discovery that Henry was upset with them because Vail had not cited Henry's electromagnetic experiments in his book. Morse tells Vail that he has enclosed a letter written to Henry on behalf of Vail, expressing Vail's earnest desire to do Henry justice.
  • Morse expresses his genuine disappointment and sadness that Henry has lodged his grievances with Vail's 1845 book "The American Electro Magnetic Telegraph: With the Reports of Congress, and a Description of all Telegraphs Known, Employing Electricity or Galvanism" upon himself. He then proceeds to outline why he was not party to Vail's book and he questions why Henry has included him in his grievances. Morse speculates that it is because Henry viewed him as the "Superintendent," while he saw Vail as the "Assistant Superintendent." Morse regrets that Henry has pursued such an insensible course, especially because prior to publishing, Vail had written to Henry requesting information on his experiments. However, Henry did not reply, so Vail published his book without the information that Henry had refused to give him. Morse expresses his resolve to stoically bear the burdens of Henry's grievances and injuries upon Morse.
  • Morse also mentions legal disputes surrounding his work on the electromagnetic telegraph: "Mr. Ellsworth and Judge Smith are preparing a case again F.O.J. (Francis Orman Jonathan Smith) to obtain some of their rights from him." Morse has not heard about the amount due to them from Livingston and Wells for a long time. "A case is also being prepared against Alexander Bain, which will be heard in April." Morse contemplates retirement because he has been so affected by the people pirating his telegraph.


  • Vail, Alfred
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


  • American machinist and inventor Alfred Vail was a key partner to American inventor Samuel Morse and is credited with designing the machine and alpha code used in the creation of the electromagnetic telegraph.
  • Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian (term 1846-1878), had conducted experiments in electromagnetism relevant to Vail's and Morse's work.
  • For Vail's January 11, 1857 letter to Morse, to which this letter is a response, see Negative Numbers SIA2011-0814 and SIA2011-0815. For the July 22, 1846 letter from Vail to Henry that Morse mentions, see Negative Numbers SIA2011-0822 and SIA2011-0823. For materials relevant to Vail's work, see Negative Numbers SIA2011-0824 to SIA2011-0830.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7055, Box 2, Folder: 6

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


  • January 15, 1857
  • 19th century

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Electric apparatus and appliances
  • Telegraph
  • Letters
  • Inventions
  • Science
  • Electromagnets
  • Telecommunication
  • History
  • Electromagnetic telegraph
  • Electromagnetism
  • Science--History


United States


  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2011-0816 and SIA2011-0817 and SIA2011-0818 and SIA2011-0819 and SIA2011-0820 and SIA2011-0821

Physical description

Number of Images: 6; Color: Color; Size: 7.75w x 12.5h; Type of Image: Document; Medium: Paper

Full Record

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