Speedwell Ironworks

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The Factory, Speedwell Village
File:Speedwell Ironworks factory building.jpg
The Factory House, birthplace of the electric telegraph
Location 333 Speedwell Avenue, Morristown, New Jersey[2]
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Built 1837
NRHP Reference # 74001186[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 13, 1974[1]
Designated NHL May 30, 1974[2]

Speedwell Ironworks was an ironworks in Speedwell Village, on Speedwell Avenue (part of U.S. Route 202), just North of Morristown, in Morris County, New Jersey, United States. At this site Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse first demonstrated the electric telegraph.[3] Speedwell Ironworks also provided most of the machinery for the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.


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, Coatbridge, Scotland. The remains of the factory buildings burned in 1908, and the few surviving walls and foundations remain unrestored.

Stephen Vail also bought an adjacent 40-acre (160,000 m2) lot to which he eventually retreated in 1844 for an active retirement. The Vail Homestead or Speedwell Village, as it is now known, is the site of Historic Speedwell, a National Historic Landmark, part of the Morris county Park Commission. The site is set up as an open-air 19th century farm, complete with residential buildings, a granary and carriage house.

The museum 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 (7.3 m) overshot waterwheel. The Granary displays hand-crafted wooden farm tools and ice-harvesting equipment. The Homestead Carriage House houses an exhibit on the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean, with an engine built at the Speedwell Ironworks, and an exhibit about the history of the ironworks. The Ford Cottage is a 19th-century saltbox cottage, the Moses Estey House is an 18th-century Georgian mansion, and the early 19th century L'Hommedieu-Gwinnup House houses changing exhibits and education space.


Of particular interest is the old Factory Building, a National Historic Landmark, which Stephen Vail had constructed for hobby purposes upon his retirement. It is the site of the first public demonstration of the electric telegraph on January 11, 1838. Although Morse and Alfred Vail had done most of the research and development in the ironworks facilities, they chose the factory house as the demonstration site. Without the repeater, the range of the telegraph was limited to two miles (3 km), and the inventors had pulled two miles (3 km) of wires inside the factory house through an elaborate scheme. The first public transmission was witnessed by a mostly local crowd.

The Speedwell Village was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, preserving seven buildings.[2][3]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "The Factory, Speedwell Village". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 James W. Sheire (January 20, 1974). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: The Factory - The Speedwell Village / The Factory" (pdf). National Park Service.  and Accompanying one photo, exterior, undated PDF (32 KB)

External links[edit]