Speedwell Ironworks

Alfred Vail

Speedwell Ironworks was an ironworks in Speedwell Village, on Speedwell Avenue (part of U.S. Route 202), just north of downtown Morristown, in Morris County, New Jersey where Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse first demonstrated their electric telegraph.

Speedwell Ironworks also provided most of the machinery for the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The site is still open to the public, and has seven buildings on display. The site, now named Historical Speedwell, is a historic site of the Morris County Park Commission and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, preserving seven buildings

Situated at a natural gorge of the Whippany River, several hydraulic powered forges existed, predating the establishment of the ironworks by Stephen Vail and two business partners. Vail became sole owner of the works in 1815 and expanded it, producing a variety of agricultural and industrial machinery. The ironworks innovated the first durable iron tire for railroad locomotives in January 1836. With changing industrial trends and a decline in the flow of the Whippany River, the ironworks were shut down in 1873, its equipment being sold to ironworks in Brooklyn and Coatbridge, Scotland. The remains of the Ironworks buildings burned in 1908, and the property is now a public park

Today, the site is maintained as a public park and museum by the Morris County Park Commission. It includes nine buildings furnished to depict life at Speedwell during the early 19th century. The Vail House, a historic house museum restored to 1840s period style, possesses some original family furniture and Vail memorabilia. The Wheel House houses an operational 24-foot overshot waterwheel.

The old factory building on the grounds of the ironworks, a national historic landmark, was constructed by Stephen Vail for hobby purposes upon his retirement. It is the site of the first public demonstration of the Morse electromagnetic telegraph on January 11, 1838. Although Morse and Alfred Vail had conducted most of the research and development in the ironworks facilities, they chose the factory house for demonstration. Without the repeater, the range of the telegraph was limited to two miles. The inventors had pulled two miles of wires inside the factory house for the demonstration. The first public transmission was witnessed by a mostly local crowd.


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