Imágenes de páginas
[graphic][merged small]

father's works had given him, satisfied him that it was possible to embody this grand conception in a concrete form, which should insure its successful employment for public purposes. More than this, his education and training at the University had given him some insight into the affairs of the world, and his mind intuitively formed a distinct conception of the vast scope and future importance of the invention. Among the papers left by Mr. Vail is one giving an account of this incident. Referring to his occasional visits to New York during the year following his graduation, he says:

On one of these visits, prior to September 4, 1837, I accidentally and without invitation called upon Profes

sor Morse at the University and found him, with Procabinet and lecture room of Professor Gale, where fessors Torrey and Daubeny, in the mineralogical Professor Morse was exhibiting to these gentlemen an apparatus which he called his "Electro-Magnetic Telegraph." There were wires suspended in the room running from one end to the other and returning many The two ends of the wire were connected with an times, making a length of seventeen hundred feet. electro-magnet fastened to a vertical wooden frame. In front of the magnet was its armature, and also a wooden lever or arm fitted at its extremity to hold a lead pencil. . . . I saw this instrument work and became thoroughly acquainted with the principles of its operation, and, I may say, struck with the rude machine, containing, as I believed, the germ of what was destined to produce great changes in the condition and relations of mankind. I well recollect the impression which was then made upon my mind. I rejoiced to

[merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small]


carry out his plans. I promised him assistance provided he would admit me in a share of the invention, to which proposition he assented. I then returned to my boarding-house, locked the door of my room, threw myself upon the bed, and gave myself up to reflection upon the mighty results which were certain to follow the introduction of this new agent in meeting and serving the wants of the world. With the atlas in my hand, I traced the most important lines which would most certainly be erected in the United States, and calculated their length. The question then rose in my mind whether the electro-magnet could be made to work through the necessary lengths of line; and

after much reflection I came to the conclusion that

provided the magnet would work even at a distance of eight or ten miles there could be no risk in embark

apparatus, of repeating signals from one circuit into another. The explanation of this feature appears to have convinced him of the truth of Morse's remark, "If I can succeed in working a magnet ten miles, I can go round the globe."

When Vail had once satisfied himself of the

feasibility of the scheme of electric communication, his mind became fascinated with the. field of achievement which opened before him. Here was indeed the promise of a career which satisfied alike his scientific and mechanical tastes and his highest aspirations. Having an opportunity thus opened to him to acquire an



interest in the invention and to associate himself with Professor Morse in its development, he sought to interest his father in the enterprise, and to secure his sympathy and material assistance. The sanguine faith of young Vail in the future of the electric telegraph, exceeding, if possible, that of the inventor himself, was not without effect upon his father's mind. Judge Vail was a man whose ideas were in advance of his time. He had almost unconsciously acquired a marked respect for the judgment of his elder son in scientific matters, and so it came about that Alfred received permission to invite Professor Morse to Speedwell, ostensibly that the merits of the project might be

[blocks in formation]

before deciding to embark in such a novel and unprecedented enterprise. Having accepted the invitation, Morse was introduced by Alfred to his father and brother, who, as copartners, were carrying on the Speedwell works.

Judge Vail's business experience had been such as to dispose him towards the favorable consideration of an invention of this character. The annals of the Speedwell Iron Works had already become a part of the history of intercommunication in the United States. Here was forged the shaft of the Savannah, the first steamship which crossed the Atlantic. Here were manufactured the tires, axles, and cranks of the first American locomotives, and Judge Vail himself had invested no small share of the profits of his business in these and similar enterprises. It may be presumed that, with his characteristic shrewdness, he did not overlook the substantial benefits which would be likely to accrue from the ownership of a share in the telegraph patents, should the enterprise ultimately prove successful. At all events, he did not lend an unwilling ear to the solicitations of his son and of the inventor. It was estimated that two thousand dollars would be required to secure patents and to construct apparatus by means of which a



[blocks in formation]

sufficient demonstration could be made before Congress to secure a liberal appropriation for the construction of the first link in a system of Government telegraph lines.

The occurrences which have been narrated took place during the incipient stages of a severe financial depression. It is almost impossible now to form an adequate conception of the difficulty of raising at that time even so small a sum as two thousand dollars, especially for a project so apparently illusive as the electric telegraph. It would be far easier to raise two millions for a like purpose at the present day. Under these circumstances, the timely and generous assistance given by Judge Vail at a most critical period, not only in the history of the telegraph, but in the condition of commercial affairs, entitles him to the grateful remembrance of the world.

These negotiations resulted in an agreement between Samuel F. B. Morse and Alfred Vail, on September 23, 1837, in which it was stipulated that the latter should construct at his own expense and exhibit before a committee of Congress one of the telegraphs "of the plan and invention of Morse"; that he should give his time and personal services to the work, and assume the expense of exhibiting the apparatus and of procuring patents in the United States. In consideration, Vail was to receive one-fourth of all rights in the invention in the United States. Provision was made for securing to Vail an interest in any foreign patents which he might furnish the means to obtain.

An interesting account of the operations at Speedwell during the construction of the early apparatus has been given by William Baxter, a skillful mechanic and inventor, well known as the designer of the "Baxter Engine." Mr. Baxter, who was an apprentice at Speedwell at that time, died in 1885, and was perhaps the last of those who were associated with the invention in its inception. Mr. Baxter says:

As it was important to keep the invention a secret from the public until it had been perfected and a patent secured, a special room in the shop was fitted up with tools and provided with a lock and key. It was necessary to employ a mechanic who could comprehend new ideas, execute accurate work, and who at the same time had the necessary judgment and discretion to keep an important secret. I was at that time an employee of the works and was in my fifteenth year. It was a high compliment for a boy of that age to be selected for such a trust, but it is not for me to criticise the judgment of those who were responsible for the appointment. For many months Alfred Vail and myself occupied that room, sharing each other's confidences, and experiencing alternating emotions of elation and depression, as the vicissitudes of the experiment gave promise at one time of a glorious success and at another of a humiliating failure.

When the shop was rebuilt, several years ago, this room was preserved intact, and the descendants of Judge Vail still cherish it as a memorial of the infancy of one of the grand achievements which mark the progress of modern civilization.





It is interesting, in looking back, to contrast the prevalent ignorance and misconception of that day with the present realization. No one could be made to believe that an electric telegraph, even if practicable, was either necessary or desirable. The more intelligent conceded that it might perhaps prove an interesting scientific toy, but the hard-fisted New Jersey farmers looked upon the experiment as a wanton and inexcusable waste of money, and were accustomed to speak of it as the one solitary instance of bad judgment on the part of the Vails..

The mechanical difficulties of the undertaking can scarcely be comprehended by an electrician of the present day, who finds every conceivable material and appliance in the market ready to his hand. Our first voltaic battery was constructed of a rectangular box of cherry wood, subdivided into eight compartments, and lined with beeswax, in order to resist the action of acids. The form of the zinc and copper elements- and, in fact, the elaboration of every detail-involved a new series of experiments. Insulated wire was then unknown in the market, the best substitute obtainable being milliner's wire, such as was used to give outline to the sky-scraper bonnets of the day. It was of copper, that it might be made to take and retain any form that the deft fingers of the artist chose to give it, and was found to serve sufficiently well as a conductor, although the insulation of the cotton covering was somewhat imperfect. However, it was the best obtainable, and the entire New York market was drained for our experiments.

the apparatus, which at that time formed the only material embodiment of the invention. The identical machine is still preserved, at the office of the Western Union Telegraph Company in New York City. The support for the mechanism is a rectangular frame of pine, x x, which, when in use, was fastened in an upright position to the edge of a table. Upon the lower part of this frame three wooden rollers, A B C, are mounted. A ribbon of paper is so arranged that it may be unwound from the first roller, passed over the second, and finally rewound upon the third. This movement is effected by the machinery, D, of a wooden clock put in motion by a weight, E, and cord passing over a pulley. A wooden pendulum, F, suspended from the upper part of the frame, swings transversely across the paper as it moves uniformly over the middle roller. A pencil, g, in the lower end of the pendulum has its point in constant contact with the paper. Midway of the length of the pendulum an electro-magnet, h, is mounted upon a stationary shelf, facing a soft-iron armature fastened upon the pendulum. This constituted the register, or recording apparatus. The arbitrary signs are written or drawn upon the moving paper by a transverse movement to and fro of the pendulum. This movement is effected by the alternate magnetization and demagnetization of the iron of the electro-magnet, caused by the alternate flow and cessation of an electric current traversing the wire coiled upon it. The manipulation of the current from battery, 1, was to be effected by a circuitbreaking device at the transmitting point, consisting of metallic type, representing by convention numerical characters, set up in a "typerule," M, in an order depending upon the matter to be transmitted. The type-rule and type were then placed upon an endless band of carpet-binding, and were carried forward by points extending downward into the band which passed over two rollers, L L, and was turned by a crank. The projections upon the face of the type impinged upon a tooth affixed to the extremity of a lever, oo, which carried a metallic fork. Thus, as each successive projection upon the type came in contact with the tooth upon the lever, the fork was caused to dip into two mercury cups, JK, completing the circuit of the battery through a few feet of wire and the coils of the electro-magnet.

Before giving a further account of the work of Vail at Speedwell, in the autumn of 1837, it is desirable to understand the precise point of development which the original apparatus of Morse had reached when it was placed in his hands for reconstruction, and we there- to Professor Gale, fore give a sketch and a brief description of

This was the state of the invention when first shown


« AnteriorContinuar »