Historic Speedwell - History and Facts | History Hit

Historic Speedwell

Morristown, New Jersey, United States

Speedwell Ironworks is an historic site in New Jersey most noted for being the location of the first public demonstration of the telegraph.

Peta Stamper

24 May 2021

About Historic Speedwell

Speedwell Ironworks is an historic site in Morristown, New Jersey, noted for being the location of the first public demonstration of the telegraph by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail on January 11, 1838. As a result, in 1974 the Speedwell Village was declared a United States National Historic Landmark.

Today, the site showcases the restored estate of Vail, proprietor of the Speedwell Iron Works and is open to the public. Visitors can explore mid-19th century life as well as visiting the site of the telegraph demonstration. Guided tours are available of the historic home, factory site and the site’s wheelhouse.

Historic Speedwell history

At the height of America’s industrial revolution, Stephen Vail established an ironworks at a natural gorge on the Whippany River, extending the water-powered forges that already existed. These ironworks created the first durable iron tire for trains in 1836.

Vail also bought a 40-acre plot of land by the ironworks on which he retired in 1844. The site featured several residential buildings, a granary and 2 carriage houses. One of the buildings Vail constructed was a for hobby purposes, but it was here that in January 1838, Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail demonstrated the first Morse electromagnetic telegraph.

The pair had been researching and working on the project within the ironworks, and had pulled 2 miles worth of wires inside the factory house for the demonstration, witnessed by a local crowd. However, changing industrial trends combined with a reduced flow of the river meant the ironworks were shut in 1873, their remains burned down in 1908.

Historic Speedwell today

Today, Historic Speedwell is an open air 19th century estate that boasts 9 buildings restored to give an authentic 19th century experience. The Factory Building – ‘Birthplace of the Telegraph’ – is a 3-storey interactive museum about telecommunications, while Stephen Vail’s original 1840s home furnishings, antiques and period artwork are also preserved for visitors to step back in time to the mid 19th century.

At the Visitor’s Centre inside the Homestead Carriage House there is also an exhibit on S. S. Savannah: the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean, many of its parts made at the Speedwell Ironworks. Outside, the peaceful setting nestled within the woods by the water is a lovely place to take a picnic.

Getting to Historic Speedwell

Located just off Route 287 and highway 202, Historic Speedwell is a 40 minute drive west of New York City. Otherwise, the Morris Plains train station is 24 minute walk away and serves regular trains to New York Penn Station and Dover.