Morse-Vail Telegraph Key

Alfred Vail made this key, believed to be from the first Baltimore-Washington telegraph line, as an improvement on Samuel Morse's original transmitter. Vail helped Morse develop a practical system for sending and receiving coded electrical signals over a wire, which was successfully demonstrated in 1844.
Morse's telegraph marked the arrival of instant long-distance communication in America. The revolutionary technology excited the public imagination, inspiring predictions that the telegraph would bring about economic prosperity, national unity, and even world peace.
Object Name
telegraph transmitter
telegraph key
Date made
used date
Morse, Samuel Finley Breese
Vail, Alfred
Vail, Alfred
Morse, Samuel Finley Breese
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 3 in x 2 in x 6 3/4 in; 7.62 cm x 5.08 cm x 17.145 cm
Place Made
United States: New Jersey, Morristown
United States: Maryland, Baltimore
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Computers & Business Machines
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Government, Politics, and Reform
Industry & Manufacturing
National Treasures exhibit
Artifact Walls exhibit
American Enterprise
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
National Treasures exhibit
Artifact Walls exhibit
American Enterprise
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
from Western Union Telegraph Co.
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL
Additional Media

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