Morse did not limit his connections to land telegraphy. In 1854, when Mr. Cyrus Field brought out the Atlantic Telegraph Company, to lay a cable between Europe and America, he became its electrician, and went to England for the purpose of consulting with the English engineers on the execution of the project. But his instrument was never used on the ocean lines, and, indeed, it was not adapted for them.
During this time Alfred Vail continued to improve the Morse apparatus, until it was past recognition. The porte-rule and type of the transmitter were discarded for a simple 'key' or rocking lever, worked up and down by the hand, so as to make and break the circuit. The clumsy framework of the receiver was reduced to a neat and portable size. The inking pen was replaced by a metal wheel or disc, smeared with ink, and rolling on the paper at every dot or dash. Vail, as we have seen, also invented the plan of embossing the message. But he did still more. When the recording instrument was introduced, it was found that the clerks persisted in 'reading' the signals by the clicking of the marking lever, and not from the paper. Threats of instant dismissal did not stop the practice when nobody was looking on. Morse, who regarded the record as the distinctive feature of his invention, was very hostile to the practice; but Nature was too many for him. The mode of interpreting by sound was the easier and more economical of the two; and Vail, with his mechanical instinct, adopted it. He produced an instrument in which there is no paper or marking device, and the message is simply sounded by the lever of the armature striking on its metal stops. At present the Morse recorder is rarely used in comparison with the 'sounder.'
The original telegraph of Morse, exhibited in 1837, has become an archaic form. Apart from the central idea of employing an electro-magnet to signal--an idea applied by Henry in 1832, when Morse had only thought of it--the development of the apparatus is mainly due to Vail. His working devices made it a success, and are in use to-day, while those of Morse are all extinct.
Morse has been highly honoured and rewarded, not only by his countrymen, but by the European powers. The Queen of Spain sent him a Cross of the Order of Isabella, the King of Prussia presented him with a jewelled snuff-box, the Sultan of Turkey decorated him with the Order of Glory, the Emperor of the French admitted him into the Legion of Honour. Moreover, the ten European powers in special congress awarded him 400,000 francs (some 80,000 dollars), as an expression of their gratitude: honorary banquets were a common thing to the man who had almost starved through his fidelity to an idea.
But beyond his emoluments as a partner in the invention, Alfred Vail had no recompense. Morse, perhaps, was somewhat jealous of acknowledging the services of his 'mechanical assistant,' as he at one time chose to regard Vail. When personal friends, knowing his services, urged Vail to insist upon their recognition, he replied, 'I am confident that Professor Morse will do me justice.' But even ten years after the death of Vail, on the occasion of a banquet given in his honour by the leading citizens of New York, Morse, alluding to his invention, said: 'In 1835, according to the concurrent testimony of many witnesses, it lisped its first accents, and automatically recorded them a few blocks only distant from the spot from which I now address you. It was a feeble child indeed, ungainly in its dress, stammering in its speech; but it had then all the distinctive features and characteristics of its present manhood. It found a friend, an efficient friend, in Mr. Alfred Vail, of New Jersey, who, with his father and brother, furnished the means to give the child a decent dress, preparatory to its' visit to the seat of Government.'
When we remember that even by this time Vail had entirely altered the system of signals, and introduced the dot-dash code, we cannot but regard this as a stinted acknowledgment of his colleague's work. But the man who conceives the central idea, and cherishes it, is apt to be niggardly in allowing merit to the assistant whose mechanical skill is able to shape and put it in practice; while, on the other hand, the assistant is sometimes inclined to attach more importance to the working out than it deserves. Alfred Vail cannot be charged with that, however, and it would have been the more graceful on the part of Morse had he avowed his indebtedness to Vail with a greater liberality. Nor would this have detracted from his own merit as the originator and preserver of the idea, without which the improvements of Vail would have had no existence. In the words of the Hon. Amos Kendall, a friend of both: 'If justice be done, the name of Alfred Vail will for ever stand associated with that of Samuel F. B. Morse in the history and introduction into public use of the electro-magnetic telegraph.'
Professor Morse spent his declining years at Locust Grove, a charming retreat on the banks of the River Hudson. In private life he was a fine example of the Christian gentleman.
In the summer of 1871, the Telegraphic Brotherhood of the World erected a statue to his honour in the Central Park, New York. Delegates from different parts of America were present at the unveiling; and in the evening there was a reception at the Academy of Music, where the first recording telegraph used on the Washington to Baltimore line was exhibited. The inventor himself appeared, and sent a message at a small table, which was flashed by the connected wires to the remotest parts of the Union, It ran: 'Greeting and thanks to the telegraph fraternity throughout the world. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill towards men.'