Samuel Morse achieved historical immortality as the inventor of the telegraph. Alfred Vail is a victim of that historical obscurity that envelopes the vast majority of people who have ever lived, but in his case unjustly.
Son of the industrial who made the Speedwell Ironworks into one of the most technologically advanced ironworks of its day. From 1832-1836 Vail attended college at New York University, studying theology. At New York University on September 2, 1837 he witnessed an early demonstration of the telegraph by Morse. Vail signed on to work with Morse for a 25% share in the profits and convinced his father to help fund the project. Vail signed an agreement with Morse by which the name of Morse alone would appear on any patents based on developments made by Vail of the Morse telegraph. It should be noted that Vail gave no indication at any time that he thought he was being treated unfairly by Morse.
Vail’s work vastly improved the telegraph of Morse, and Vail has a better claim than Morse to the title of inventor of the Morse code. Vail’s assistant William Baxter wrote about this in later years: (more…)