Vail, Alfred, 1807-1859

Alternative names
Birth 1807-09-25
Death 1859-01-18

Biographical notes:


From the description of Vail family genealogical research papers, [ca. 1851-1858] (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 155497730


From the description of Papers of Alfred Vail, 1835-1938. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82098840

Alfred Vail, a co-inventor of the telegraph, was born in Morristown, New Jersey on September 25, 1807 to Bethiah Youngs and Stephen Vail. On September 2, 1837, he witnessed one of Professor Samuel F.P. Morse's first telegraph experiments and became strongly interested in the project. By September 23, he had formed a partnership with Morse and with his father's financial backing, went to work on the telegraph in the machine shops of his father's company, Speedwell Iron Works. He created the crucial dot-dash mechanism and means of communication that became known as "Morse Code," and 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. 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.

From the description of Alfred Vail papers, 1826-1918. (New Jersey Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 52342981

Between 1837 and 1844, inventor Alfred Lewis Vail worked together with Samuel F.B. Morse in the development and spread of the telegraph. In 1848, Vail moved to his home town, Morristown, New Jersey, and spent the last ten years of his life conducting genealogical research.

From the description of Alfred Vail's genealogical research papers, ca. 1851-1902. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 630124448

From the guide to the Alfred Vail's genealogical research papers, ca. 1851-1902, (The New York Public Library. Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy.)


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  • Theological seminaries
  • Theology--Study and teaching
  • Families
  • Morse code
  • Technological innovations
  • Iron industry and trade
  • Inventions
  • Universities and colleges
  • Telegraph--History


  • Inventors
  • Genealogists


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  • New York (State) (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
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  • Virginia (as recorded)
  • Morristown (N.J.) (as recorded)
  • Vermont (as recorded)
  • New Jersey (as recorded)