Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology

By Lance Day; Ian McNeil | Go to book overview

V

Vail, Alfred Lewis

b. 25 September 1807 Morristown, New Jersey, USA

d. 18 January 1859 Morristown, New Jersey, USA


American telegraph pioneer and associate of SamuelMorse; widely credited with the invention of 'Morse' code.

After leaving school, Vail was initially employed at his father's ironworks in Morristown, but he then decided to train for the Presbyterian ministry, graduating from New York City University in 1836. Unfortunately, he was then obliged to abandon his chosen career because of ill health. He accidentally met Samuel Morse not long afterwards, and he became interested in the latter's telegraph experiments; in return for a share of the rights, he agreed to construct apparatus and finance the filing of US and foreign patents. Working in Morristown with Morse and Leonard Gale, and with financial backing from his father, Vail constructed around his father's plant a telegraph with 3 miles (4.8 km) of wire. It is also possible that he, rather than Morse, was largely responsible for devising the so-called Morse code, a series of dot and dash codes representing the letters of the alphabet, and in which the simplest codes were chosen for those letters found to be most numerous in a case of printer's type. This system was first demonstrated on 6 January 1838 and there were subsequent public demonstrations in New York and Philadelphia. Eventually Congress authorized an above-ground line between Washington and Baltimore, and on 24 May 1844 the epoch-making message 'What hath God wrought?' was transmitted.

Vail remained with Morse for a further four years, but he gradually lost interest in telegraphy and resigned, receiving no credit for his important contribution.


Bibliography
The Magnetic Telegraph.

Further Reading
1845, American Electrotelegraph 135.
J.J. Fahie, 1884, A History of the Electric Telegraph to the Year 1837, London: E&F Spon.

KF


Varian, Russell Harrison

b. 24 April 1898 Washington, DC, USA

d. 28 July 1959 Juneau, Alaska, USA


American physicist who, with his brother SigurdVarianand others, developed the klystron.

After attending schools in Palo Alto and Halcyon, Russell Varian went to Stanford University, gaining his BA in 1925 and his MA in 1927 despite illness and being dyslexic. His family being in need of financial help, he first worked for six months for Bush Electric in San Francisco and then for an oil company in Texas, returning to San Francisco in 1930 to join Farnsworth's Television Laboratory. After a move to Philadelphia, in 1933 the laboratory closed and Russell tried to take up a PhD course at Stanford but was rejected, so he trained as a teacher. However, although he did some teaching at Stanford it was not to be his career, for in 1935 he joined his brothers Sigurd and Eric in the setting up of a home laboratory.

There, with William Hansen, a former colleague of Russell's at Stanford, they worked on the development of microwave oscillators, based on some of the latter's ideas. By 1937 they had made sufficient progress on an electron velocity-bunching tube, which they called the klystron, to obtain an agreement with the university to provide laboratory facilities in return for a share of any proceeds. By August that year they were able to produce continuous power at a wavelength of 13 cm. Clearly needing greater resources to develop and manufacture the tube, and with a possible war looming, a deal was struck with the Sperry Gyroscope Company to finance the work, which was transferred to the East Coast.

In 1946, after the death of his first wife, Russell returned to Palo Alto, and in 1948 the brothers and Hansen founded Varian Associates

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Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • How to Use the Dictionary xiii
  • A 1
  • B 33
  • C 122
  • D 187
  • E 228
  • F 247
  • G 277
  • H 315
  • German Organic Chemist. 347
  • I 368
  • J 374
  • K 391
  • L 412
  • Bibliography 418
  • M 451
  • N 513
  • O 528
  • P 535
  • Q 582
  • R 583
  • S 619
  • T 689
  • U 721
  • V 722
  • W 734
  • X 778
  • Y 779
  • Z 785
  • Index by Subject Area 790
  • Index of Topics 808
  • Index of Names 823
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